Oregano and mint are related. They belong to the same big family as thyme and rosemary, but that doesn’t mean they are interchangeable since the mint family is particularly diverse. If you are trying to understand the difference between oregano and mint, the SPICEography Showdown below can help.
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How does oregano differ from mint?
Despite belonging to the same botanical family, oregano and mint are different plants. Oregano is Origanum vulgare, also called wild marjoram. The term mint typically refers to members of the Lamiaceae family, such as spearmint, which is Mentha spicata and Mentha piperita or peppermint.
Oregano and mint have different appearances. Oregano leaves are oval-shaped and have smooth edges. Mint leaves are narrower and more almond-shaped, with serrated edges. Mint leaves also have a more wrinkled appearance. Varieties like peppermint and spearmint have fine hairs on both the leaves and the stems.
Oregano and mint have different flavor profiles. Oregano is savory, warm, and slightly camphoraceous with a hint of pepperiness and lemon. Mint is much sweeter and offers a bright herbaceous note with the distinctive cooling note of menthol.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
You can use oregano to replace mint in a handful of savory applications, but it won’t work in any of the sweet recipes that require mint. For example, oregano isn’t typically combined with chocolate or fruit. Oregano can work in salads, marinades and similar applications where it will enhance the dish with its savory notes, but it can’t replicate mint. While it won’t dramatically change the flavor profile, the oregano substitution will stand out in a dish if mint was one of the main flavors.
Mint can work in some oregano applications, though it probably shouldn’t be your first choice for a substitute. Mint can be an especially effective replacement if oregano was just one of several flavorful ingredients in the dish. In that case, the switch might go unnoticed. For example, mint might do a fine job replacing oregano as a marinade ingredient. Mint might be too sweet for a pizza sauce, but it might effectively replace oregano in some salads and salad dressings.
When should you use oregano? And when should you use mint?
All the traditional ways to use oregano are in savory dishes. Its best-known applications are mostly from the Mediterranean, and the recipes usually require the dried herb rather than the fresh. Drying mellows oregano so that it is less likely to hide other flavors with its intensity. Dried oregano is used in long-simmering dishes like tomato-based sauces for pasta and pizza.
Oregano also gets combined with olive oil and used in Greek marinades for grilled meats and in French vinaigrettes, as well as in the Provencal herb blend herbes de Provence.
Mint is better suited to desserts, though it can show up in a few savory dishes. Mint typically shows up in fruit salads, or it can get muddled for sweet cocktails like mojitos and mint juleps. Use it as a flavoring for ice cream or cheesecake.
Mint is known to pair especially well with chocolate and may be added to everything from chocolate cookies to brownies. In the savory category, mint gets used in English minted peas and is combined with yogurt to make Greek tzatziki. It is sometimes a savory salad green and is added to salad dressings.