Oregano gives Mediterranean cuisine its warm, aromatic, slightly tangy flavor. Italian immigrants helped to make the herb famous around the world through their cooking.
Oregano as an Herb
Oregano has an herbaceous, subtly smoky and warm flavor akin to marjoram and thyme. This Mediterranean herb is unique in the fact that it has a stronger flavor when dried than when it is freshly picked. There are several varieties of oregano, though they are very similar in terms of taste. The dried and ground leaves of the perennial herb are used to season dishes. For a long time, though, oregano was not really used in cooking outside of Italy and Greece: Its current reputation as a staple herb is mainly down to Italian immigrants, who introduced it to the world through their pizza and pasta dishes and took it to new levels of popularity.
Oregano is an exceptional addition to meat, fish, cheese, seafood and salads. As it retains its flavor well during cooking, it is well suited to use in sauces. In terms of flavors, oregano is a great choice to pair with preserved olives, tomatoes, capers and lovage. If using dried oregano, remember that it can be used more sparingly than fresh oregano with the same effect. Along with Greece, Turkey and Italy, America has really adopted oregano into its cuisine: It can be added to Tex-Mex dishes like burritos and enchiladas or to typical American grilled dishes with their marinades and sauces to enhance the flavor.
If using fresh oregano, it's best to add it at the end. Dried oregano, on the other hand, should be added at least 15 minutes before the food is cooked to allow its full flavor to be released.
Oregano stems are hairy, reddish in color and have leaves of varying sizes. The plant was also used for medicinal purposes in ancient times. This was probably on account of its high level of essential oils, which are what gives the perennial plant its intense flavor. Today, oregano is grown in the Mediterranean region. Differences in the climate, season and soil have a big influence on its flavor. When pronouncing “oregano”, the emphasis is on the second syllable — the “reg” sound. Its original Greek name translates as “joy of the mountain” due to the fact that it flourishes at altitude.
- Scientific Name
- Origanum vulgare
- Mint family (Lamiaceae)
- Other Names
- Common oregano, wild marjoram, origanum
- Mediterranean region