What is Oregano?
Oregano is a herb commonly used in cooking and is native to the Mediterranean region. It belongs to the mint family, and related to marjoram, which is much milder in flavor. Oregano has a strong and aromatic flavor, often described as earthy, pungent, and slightly bitter.
The leaves of the the plant are the primary part used for culinary purposes. They can be used fresh or dried, with the dried form being more common. It is a staple ingredient in Italian, Mediterranean, and Mexican cuisines. Often used in tomato-based sauces, soups and stews. It is also a must as a topping on pizzas and it also pairs well with various meat and vegetable dishes. You can also mix it with ingredients like tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil.
Oregano oil, extracted from the leaves, is sometimes used as a natural remedy for digestive issues, respiratory conditions, and as a topical treatment for skin conditions.
History & background
Oregano has a rich history and background that dates back thousands of years. Here are some key points:
- It has been used since ancient times. Interestingly the name is derived from the Greek words “oros” meaning mountain and “ganos” meaning joy or splendor – so maybe we should start calling it Mountain Joy, or Mountain Splendor. It was commonly found in the mountains of Greece and other Mediterranean regions.
- The ancient Greeks and Romans greatly valued it for its fragrance and flavor. They used it in cooking, as a perfume, in religious ceremonies, and even as a symbol of happiness. It was also believed to have medicinal properties and was used to treat various ailments.
- It has a long history of medicinal use. Ancient Greek physicians, such as Hippocrates, considered it beneficial for digestion and respiratory issues. It was also used as an antiseptic and to relieve pain and inflammation.
- Its popularity spread throughout Europe via trade routes. It became a popular herb in Mediterranean cuisines, particularly Italian cuisine, where it is a key ingredient in many traditional dishes like pizza, pasta sauces, and herb mixes.
- It was eventually introduced to the Americas by European settlers and quickly gained popularity in Latin American and Mexican cuisines.
- There are several varieties, with the most common being Origanum vulgare. Other notable varieties include Greek oregano (Origanum heracleoticum), Italian oregano (Origanum x majoricum), and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). Each variety has its own distinct flavor and aroma.
- Adding depth and flavor to numerous dishes it is widely used in both dried and fresh forms. It is also associated with cultural traditions and is often included in traditional recipes passed down through generations.
What form does it come in?
Oregano is available in different forms, including:
- Seasoning blends
Fresh oregano consists of the leaves and stems of the plant. It is typically sold as sprigs or bunches in grocery stores or farmers’ markets. It has a strong flavor and aroma, and it is often used in recipes where its fresh and vibrant qualities are desired.
Dried oregano is the most common form found in stores. The leaves of the plant are harvested and dried, which concentrates the flavor. Dried oregano is available in whole leaf form or ground into smaller particles. It has a more concentrated flavor compared to fresh oregano and is a versatile pantry staple used in many recipes.
Oregano oil is derived from the leaves of the plant through a process of steam distillation or cold pressing. It is highly concentrated and potent. The oil is primarily used for its medicinal properties and is available in liquid form in small bottles. It is used in alternative medicine practices and should be used with caution due to its potency.
Oregano is often combined with other herbs and spices to create seasoning blends. These blends typically include dried oregano, along with ingredients like basil, thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, and onion powder. These seasoning blends are convenient for adding flavor to dishes like pasta sauces, marinades, and dressings.
The leaves can also be used to make herbal tea. The leaves are steeped in hot water, similar to other herbal teas, to extract their flavors and potential health benefits. Oregano tea is known for its soothing properties and is sometimes consumed for its potential medicinal effects.
We have included a link for Dried Oregano, so you will always have some ready to use in your cooking.
Organic Dried Oregano – medium cut – by Organic Express.
We are proud of the fact that the leaves are grown in Mexico, Peru, Turkey and United States, and have full traceability from earth to table.
Non GMO, Kosher, USDA Certified Organic Oregano Leaves
5 ounce airtight container – store in a cool dark space.
Is Oregano good for you?
Oregano has several potential health benefits, although it’s important to note that individual results may vary, and it should not be considered a cure-all. Here are some potential health benefits:
- Antioxidant Properties: It contains compounds such as phenols and flavonoids that have antioxidant properties. Antioxidants help protect the body against oxidative stress and damage caused by harmful free radicals.
- Anti-inflammatory Effects: It contains compounds like carvacrol and rosmarinic acid, which have been found to exhibit anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is a natural response by the body, but chronic inflammation is associated with various diseases. Therefore it may help reduce inflammation, although further research is needed.
- Antimicrobial Activity: It has shown antimicrobial properties, particularly due to its content of carvacrol and thymol. These compounds have been found to have antibacterial and antifungal effects. Oregano oil, in particular, has been studied for its potential to combat certain strains of bacteria and fungi.
- Digestive Aid: It has traditionally been used to aid digestion. It may help stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, promote bile flow, and support overall digestive health. However, more scientific research is needed to establish its effectiveness in this regard.
- Potential Anti-Cancer Effects: Some studies have suggested that oregano and its components may have anti-cancer properties. The antioxidants and other bioactive compounds in oregano may help protect against certain types of cancer. However, further research is required to understand the full extent of its potential anti-cancer effects.
It’s worth noting that while oregano can be beneficial, it is typically consumed in small amounts as part of a balanced diet. The potential health benefits of oregano should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. If you have specific health concerns, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional.
Flavor profile of Oregano
Oregano has a distinct flavor profile that is often described as pungent, earthy, and slightly bitter. The flavor is intense and aromatic, with a warm and slightly peppery undertone. You should note that the taste can vary depending on the variety and freshness of the herb.
When used in small quantities, it adds depth and complexity to dishes. It has a strong herbal and savory character that complements a wide range of ingredients. It is particularly well-known for its compatibility with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil.
The dried form of oregano tends to have a more concentrated flavor compared to fresh oregano. It retains its aromatic qualities even after drying, making it a popular choice for seasoning dishes. Dried oregano is often used in Italian and Mediterranean cuisines, where it imparts a distinctive flavor to pasta sauces, pizzas, soups, and grilled meats.
Fresh oregano has a brighter and more vibrant flavor compared to its dried counterpart. It has a milder intensity, and the herbal notes are more pronounced. Fresh oregano is commonly used in salads, marinades, dressings, and as a garnish for dishes like grilled fish or roasted vegetables.
Cooking with Oregano
Cooking with oregano can add a delicious and aromatic touch to your dishes. Here are some ways you can use it in your cooking:
- Oregano is a key ingredient in many pasta sauces, especially tomato-based ones. Add dried oregano to your marinara sauce or bolognese for a savory and herbaceous flavor. Always add towards the end of cooking for a burst of freshness.
- Sprinkle some dried oregano over the sauce or directly on the pizza before baking for an authentic Italian flavor. You can also use fresh leaves as a topping after the pizza is cooked for added freshness.
- Use it to can enhance the flavors of soups and stews. Add dried oregano to vegetable soups, lentil stews, or bean-based dishes for a robust and aromatic taste.
- When roasting vegetables, sprinkle some dried oregano along with olive oil, salt, and pepper for extra flavor. It complements roasted potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and other vegetables beautifully.
- Oregano can be a flavorful addition to marinades and rubs for meat, poultry, or fish. Combine with garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and other spices to create a marinade or rub for grilling or roasting.
- Fresh oregano leaves can be minced and added to homemade salad dressings for a fresh and herbaceous note. It pairs well with lemon, vinegar, olive oil, and other herbs like basil or parsley.
- Mix finely chopped fresh oregano with softened butter, salt, and pepper to create an herb butter. Spread it on bread, melt it on grilled meats, or use it to flavor vegetables for an added layer of taste.
Remember that it has a strong flavor, so start with a small amount and adjust to your taste preferences. Whether using dried or fresh oregano, it can elevate the flavors of various dishes, especially those inspired by Mediterranean and Italian cuisines.
In addition to its culinary uses, oregano has several other applications. Here are some alternative uses:
- It has been used in traditional medicine for its potential health benefits. Oregano oil, in particular, is believed to have antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. It is sometimes used as a natural remedy for digestive issues, respiratory conditions, and skin ailments.
- Oregano essential oil is used in aromatherapy for its invigorating and stimulating properties. It can be diffused or used in massage oils to promote a sense of energy and uplift the mood. Due to its potency, oregano oil should be used with caution and diluted properly before use.
- Oregano oil has been suggested as a natural insect repellent. It may help repel mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects. However, further research is needed to confirm its effectiveness and appropriate usage for this purpose.
- The aromatic leaves can be dried and used in potpourri mixtures or incorporated into scented crafts. The pleasant scent of oregano can add a herbal and invigorating aroma to your living spaces.
- It can be beneficial in gardens as a companion plant. It is believed to deter pests and attract beneficial insects, such as bees and butterflies. Planting oregano near other vegetables or herbs can help protect them from certain pests.
- It can be used to infuse oils and vinegars with its flavor and aroma. This can be done by steeping dried oregano leaves in oil or vinegar for several weeks. Use to enhance the taste of salads, marinades, and various dishes.
While oregano offers these alternative uses, it’s important to note that scientific research may be limited, and its effectiveness can vary. It’s always best to consult reliable sources or professionals for guidance and use caution when using it for purposes beyond its culinary applications.
If you are looking for alternatives to oregano in your recipes, try using thyme, marjoram, basil or sage. Even a little bit of rosemary or parsley might do the trick.
Remember, while these herbs can provide similar flavor profiles, they may not be exact substitutes for oregano. The choice of alternative will depend on the specific recipe and your personal taste preferences. Feel free to experiment and adjust the amounts according to your desired flavor profile.
Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what you can use in place of oregano.