Oregano Vs. Thyme: SPICEography Showdown

Two of the most popular herbs in the spice rack, thyme and oregano are both staple herbs in Mediterranean cooking. They both originated in that part of the world and feature heavily in the local cuisines. Another similarity between the two herbs is that they are both members of the mint family, which means that they have a lot in common in terms of flavor and pungency. Whether you are a novice cook or have lots of experience in the kitchen, you may have questions about these herbs. Are there differences in flavor? Do they look the same? We will answer those questions and more below in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.

Do oregano and thyme differ in flavor?

There are many varieties or thyme, some with notes of lemon or mint. There are even varieties that have notes of caraway. When it comes to the most common varieties, the flavor is pungent with a delicate green element. There are also hints of its mint heritage along with clear woodsy notes. Thyme imparts its pungent aroma along with its woodsy notes when used to flavor tomato sauces and meats. In addition, it works as an excellent complement to other common herbs like marjoram and oregano.

In comparison to thyme, oregano is far more pungent, with strong lemon and floral notes. There are also earthy notes and a mild peppery edge that shows up well in tomato-based dishes. Oregano works well with other common herbs from the mint family like marjoram and basil.

Can you use oregano in place of thyme and vice versa?

Both oregano and thyme are considered workable substitutes for each other, though their differences mean that they are not perfectly interchangeable. They have the flavor notes common to herbs in the mint family and both pair well with tomato-based sauces and most meats. Both herbs can also be used to similar effect in vinaigrettes. Note that only the English and French varieties of thyme are considered effective oregano alternatives.

Do oregano and thyme look the same?

The leaves of both herbs grow in a similar pattern on the stems of their respective plants. The fact that they are both mints is clear upon inspection; however, thyme leaves are much smaller than those of oregano so it is unlikely that the two would be mistaken for each other.

What are some common uses for thyme and oregano?

Both oregano and thyme can be used in pasta sauces, for cooking meats and in salad dressings but oregano is especially valuable in dishes where you want the herb itself at the forefront. Its distinctive boldness is why it is the most easily discerned herb in pizza sauces. The Mexican version of the herb is used in a range of dishes including tacos as it pairs well with another Mexican favorite: cumin.

Thyme is one of the French fines herbes and is often used in one of the fundamental tools of classic French cooking, the bouquet garnis. Along with the fact that it pairs well with meats, thyme is versatile enough be used for flavoring many different vegetables. Many cooks use it to flavor herbed butter and herbed mayonnaise.