The Nelsons

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The Oregano/Marjoram Mess!

it’s best to think of oregano as a flavor rather than a genus or species.
Dr. Arthur O. Tucker, herb expert HSA

Varieties of "Oregano"

The genus Origanum consists of over 44 species, 6 subspecies, 3 botanical varieties and 18 naturally occurring hybrids, and includes several types of oregano as well as sweet marjoram (O. majorana) and dittany of Crete (O. dictamnus). Plants known and used as oregano don’t necessarily belong to the genus Origanum, however.

Carvacrol, a creosote-scented phenol, is the signature chemical responsible for the sharp, pungent flavor of the culinary oreganos and can be found in plants from other genera, including Lippia graveolens (Mexican oregano), Lippia micromera (Jamaican oregano), Plectranthus amboinicus (Cuban oregano), and Poliomintha bustamanta (Mexican oregano).

Conversely, just because a plant is an Origanum doesn’t mean it tastes like oregano. Some Origanum species and subspecies, such as Origanum vulgare subsp. vulgare, have little or no carvacrol and are not used in cooking.

According to HSA member and herb expert Dr. Arthur O. Tucker, “it’s best to think of oregano as a flavor rather than a genus or species.”

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Mexican vs Mediterranean

Mediterranean oreganos

Mediterranean oreganos are members of the mint family, Mediterranean oregano grows throughout the region, from Greece to Italy, Spain, Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco. They are also known as wild marjoram. Oreganos from these areas is robust in flavor, though different varieties may be more bitter, sweet, or peppery than others. Greek oregano tends to be the most savory and earthy, while Italian is milder and Turkish is more pungent. Used fresh or dry, Mediterranean oregano is the choice (naturally) for dishes from the Mediterranean region, tomato sauces, pizzas, grilled meats, and other dishes with strong flavors.

Mexican oreganos

Mexican oregano
s are relatives of lemon verbena and are members of the verbena family.
Native to Mexico, it also grows in Central and South America and is sometimes referred to as Puerto Rican oregano. Although this herb shares the basic pungent flavor of Mediterranean oregano, it also has notes of citrus and mild licorice. Used fresh or dry, Mexican oregano pairs well with chile peppers, cumin, and paprika. Add it to Latin American dishes, Tex-Mex chili, and salsa

Flavor Intensity

Mexican Oregano

(Lippia graveolens)
Mexican oregano is actually from a different botanical family from "true" oreganos, is also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage, and is considered the strongest of the "oreganos". Spanish oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) and Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum) follow Mexican Oregano in depth of flavor.

Greek Oregano

(Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum)
Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum commonly called Greek oregano or winter sweet marjoram, and is a hardy perennial grown primarily in herb gardens for culinary use. It is very similar to Origanum vulgare (common oregano), except it is much more pungent and is a better choice for cooking purposes. This plant has a low, creeping growth habit with foliage usually not exceeding 6-8" in height, and produces highly aromatic, flavorful, dark green leaves which are commonly used in cooking as a seasoning. Leaves may be clipped fresh as needed or dried for year-round culinary use. Tiny, white flowers appear in terminal or axillary spikelets in July.

Italian Oregano

(Origanum xmajoricum)
OreganoItalian 4646a
Italian Oregano is a hybrid resulting from a cross between sweet majoram (O. majorana) and common Oregano (O. vulgare) The hybrid has small, light-green, fragrant leaves with spikes of tiny white to off-white flowers.

Common Oregano

(Origanum vulgare)
Common oregano has no real flavor, though it is covered with ornamental lavender flowers in summer, which dry well and are often used in wreaths.

And then, Marjoram,…

Sweet Marjoram

(Origanum majorana)
Sweet marjoram is a bushy half-hardy perennial sub-shrub that is often grown as an annual. Origanum majorana is 1-2 ft (0.3-0.6 m) tall with descending, multi-branched stems that spill over to create a mound. Since the stems take root where they touch the soil, the mound gradually increases in diameter. If grown in a hanging basket, the stems form a a cascade of attractive gray-green foliage. Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) is gentler flavor and its aroma not quite as pungent, as oregano. Sweet marjoram has leaves which are slightly hairy and more gray-green in color.