Oregano and marjoram are two of the staple herbs in every serious cook’s spice cabinet. They both belong to the Origanum genus, which makes marjoram a type of oregano. In some places, “wild marjoram” is one of the names used for oregano.
Some of the questions that we will consider for this week’s SPICEography Showdown include how similar are oregano and marjoram? Do oregano and marjoram look alike? Can you use oregano and marjoram as substitutes for each other? We look at both of these herbs and find out just where their differences and similarities lie.
Do oregano and marjoram taste the same?
Experts describe oregano’s flavor as being both floral and earthy with lemon and camphor notes. It is very pungent in the fresh form and can easily overpower the other flavors in a dish. On the other hand, marjoram’s flavor is more refined. Despite being a close relative of oregano, its flavor is lighter with stronger floral notes and without the earthiness of oregano.
Oregano is flavorful both in dried and fresh forms; in fact, many cooks recommend the dried form over the fresh due to its pungency. The fact that marjoram’s flavor is comparatively sweeter and milder is the main reason that many chefs recommend that you use marjoram in its fresh form rather than dried.
Can you use marjoram as a substitute for oregano and vice versa?
As you might expect, marjoram and oregano can serve as excellent substitutes for each other. Aside from the fact that marjoram is sweeter and less earthy, the flavors are actually very similar as long as you allow for the differences in pungency. Because of oregano’s strong flavor, you will use less of it when using it in place of marjoram. For most recipes, you will reduce the amount needed by a third. This means that if a recipe calls for three teaspoons of marjoram, you would use two teaspoons of oregano. You will reverse this when using marjoram in place of oregano. If a recipe calls for two teaspoons of oregano, you would use three teaspoons of marjoram. Oregano’s pungency also means that you have to consider cooking times. When using marjoram in place of oregano, you should add it later in the cooking process.
How are marjoram and oregano used?
Most recipes that call for oregano will usually have it alongside other strong flavors; for example, it is difficult to find a recipe that contains oregano that does not also contain garlic. It is arguably the most popular herb in Mediterranean cuisine and you can find it in recipes for a large number of Greek and Italian dishes. In the US, most people will recognize oregano due to its starring roles in pizza and marinara sauces but it is also widely used for poultry stuffing.
Marjoram is a more common ingredient in English and French cuisines where it is included in some liqueurs and beers. Its most popular use is as a flavoring in vinegars and salad dressings. Other traditional preparations that require marjoram include stews, cheese sauces and seafood.