Oregano, sometimes known as wild marjoram, is an abundant herb in southern Italian cooking; less so in the north of the country. Its popularization in North America is attributed to soldiers returning from Italy following World War II. It was often referred to as “Pizza Spice”, a dish where they likely encountered it the most often.
Unlike most herbs, oregano is a bit of an oddball in that its taste is stronger and more vibrant when it’s dried than when it’s fresh. Fresh oregano, grown in the Mediterranean basin, can have a mild numbing sensation on the tongue. The cultivars grown elsewhere usually do not have this property.
Dried oregano should be added to dishes at the beginning of the cooking time to ensure it has time to infuse into the other ingredients. Fresh oregano is added near the end of the cooking process to help preserve more of its flavour.
Oregano, part of the mint family, adds a warm and just ever so slightly bitter note to foods. It’s prized for its robust pungency. It’s often paired with tomato in sauces and soups to give some dimensionality to those dishes.
Oregano is a common herb in the cuisine of the Western Mediterranean where it grows wild. It’s used in Turkey to flavour meats, often lamb. In Greece, it provides a bit of zip to the Greek Salad. It’s used on pizza and other southern Italian tomato-based dishes. It’s used in Mexican taco seasoning. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the basic go-to spices in any kitchen… which means it’s easy to run out of it and usually at the worst time.
Substitutes for oregano — Other members of the mint family can often step in for oregano. Thyme is one but the closer choice is marjoram. Marjoram isn’t as heat-stable as oregano so add it at the end of your cooking. If you happen to have fresh oregano at hand, 1 teaspoon (tsp) of dried oregano is the equivalent of 1 Tablespoon (Tbsp) of fresh.