Oregano vs. Mexican Oregano: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie

Cooks love oregano for how it can instantly lift a dish. This aromatic herb is a gift from the Mediterranean region and is also popularly called wild marjoram or Origanum Vulgare. It is a fragrant herb used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Oregano, sometimes called common oregano, has different varieties. Many think that Mexican oregano is just a variety and that they are essentially the same. Well, that’s not really an accurate way of putting it. Although these two herbs are called oregano, they are not quite alike.

So what’s the difference between oregano and Mexican oregano? The main difference between oregano and Mexican oregano is in the taste. Oregano is pungent, earthy, minty, and slightly bitter. It tastes of hay and smells of camphor. It has a subtle sweet taste to it. Mexican oregano is more grassy, earthy, and pungent. It is also peppery or citrusy and spicy. It has a licorice taste to it. One could also recognize the profile of rosemary in Mexican oregano.

What are Other Differences Between Oregano and Mexican Oregano?

There are other differences between oregano and Mexican oregano.

Firstly, they belong to different plant families. Oregano belongs to the mint and sage family, Lamiaceae, while Mexican oregano (Lippia Graveolens) belongs to the family Verbenaceae.

It is interesting to note that while these two do not belong to the same family, Mexican oregano contains high essential oils that are found in common oregano. That’s why it has the same flavor and scent as oregano.

Secondly, they differ in availability. Common oregano (sometimes called Greek oregano) is widely available in fresh and dried form. But Mexican oregano is mostly available only in dried form in the US.

Lastly, these herbs vary in supply. Oregano (sometimes called Mediterranean oregano) is widely available in supermarkets, but Mexican oregano is mostly found in specialty shops, spice stores, and Latin markets.

Does Oregano Taste Like Mexican Oregano?

Yes, oregano and Mexican oregano have similar base flavor profiles. However, we should point out that Mexican oregano is more complementary to Mexican cuisine since it has a stronger and spicier flavor.

Can You Substitute Oregano for Mexican Oregano in Recipes?

Yes, you can substitute oregano for Mexican oregano in recipes and the other way around. Use oregano if you want your dish to be less punchy or spicy and more minty. And use Mexican oregano if you want to go for that hot peppery taste in your dish.

When using oregano in place of Mexican oregano, you can add some coriander to compensate for the difference in flavor profiles. Also, if you are in a specialty shop and there’s no Mexican oregano, you can grab some epazote leaves instead if they have it there.

Marjoram is another substitute you can use for either oregano or Mexican oregano. You can start with half the amount and increase amounts as you prefer. Marjoram is lemony and a bit sweeter. It is woodsy, but its aroma is less strong.

When Should You Use Oregano?

Oregano is a basic ingredient in many Italian, Turkish, Greek, Aregentine, and Mexican cuisine. You should use oregano for grilled meats and burgers, fish and seafood, vegetables, Greek salads, or other salads.

Make sure to sprinkle some on your pizza because oregano is the great pizza herb. Flavor your meat with oregano as the Turkish cooks do. It’s great on muttons, lambs, and just about any barbecues and kebabs. All oregano, even Mexican oregano blends well with tomatoes and cucumber. These herbs elevate any potato and eggplant dish. Put some in your pasta sauces along with paprika and pepper.

You can also try making oregano pesto for a change. Or mix some fresh, dried, or ground oregano in olive oil and lemon. Use oregano for your marinades, sauces, dips, vinaigrettes, and drizzles. Lather and drop them in your homemade casseroles and more.

Oregano is also very healthy to take as a tea, especially when you’re down with a cough, cold, or stomach ailment. Brew some fresh leaves in boiled water and enjoy it hot. The essential oils (Carvacrol and Thymol) of oregano have antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Research suggests it bears anti-inflammatory effects. But caution is given to the pregnant, diabetic, and those who are scheduled for surgery.

Lastly, you can use fresh oregano leaves as a garnish or as a finishing touch to your cooked meal. Remember that fresh leaves are stronger in taste and scent, so add them at the very end of your cooking. And pay attention to the amounts you put in.

You can store what’s left of your fresh oregano leaves in the refrigerator. Wrap them in a damp paper towel and put them in a plastic bag. You may also freeze them.

When Should You Use Mexican Oregano?

You can use Mexican oregano for the same purposes as regular or common oregano. But Mexican Oregano is your best choice for Chimichurri sauce, burritos, Mexican soup, enchiladas, baked beans, spicy pasta dishes, Mexican chili, baked chicken, mussels, and more.

The earthy, peppery, and grassy Mexican Oregano is also recommended for making your own chili powder to use on tacos, salsa, and other Mexican or Latin dishes.

A most excellent feature of dried or ground oregano, whether common or Mexican oregano, is that they keep for a long time. These herbs are powerful and potent. They will retain their properties if you store them properly in airtight containers and in a dark, dry place.

Final Thoughts

  • Oregano is minty and slightly bitter and sweet, with a scent of camphor.
  • Mexican oregano is peppery and spicy, with a taste of licorice.
  • Oregano comes from the mint family, Lamiaceae, while Mexican oregano comes from the Verbenaceae family.
  • Oregano is widely available in the US, but Mexican oregano is usually available only in specialty shops.
  • You can buy oregano fresh or dried, but you can only buy dried Mexican oregano in the US.
  • Both oregano and Mexican oregano can be used in the same recipes, but Mexican oregano is best for Mexican dishes and spicy, flavorful meals.

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