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How to know if you are buying the marjoram or oregano herb or even something else?

Updated on December 23, 2009
marjoram herb
marjoram herb
oregano herb
oregano herb

It is not easy to tell the difference between the marjoram and oregano herbs. They are similar in aroma and flavor. But there are differences. In addition when you are buying the marjoram or oregano herb do not trust the label because sellers often label them incorrectly. So if you buy a starter plant you need to make sure you are buying from a reputable source.

Of course if you grow both plants in your home herb garden can you be sure to tell the difference!

Both marjoram and oregano - and some other plants - contain a substance called carvacrol, which gives them a distinctive aroma and is responsible for the confusion. It helps to This is to refer to the plants by their Latin names in order to avoid confusion.

Marjoram's Latin name is O.majorana and oregano is called O.vulgare

Both marjoram and oregano come from Europe and Eurasia. They are members of the mint family which provides us with many well known culinary herbs. However there are unrelated plants In Mexico, Jamaica and Cuba which are also referred to as oregano because they too contain carvacrol. .

If you have been getting different results from using marjoram or oregano it could be because you were using different herbs, wrongly labeled. You also need to know that oregano does not produce the same flavor when grown in different climates.

Marjoram and oregano do have different tastes. Marjoram is milder and is described as having a sweeter aroma and a slight after taste of mint. Oregano is a stronger slightly peppery tasting herb with an after note of lemon. In Europe oregano has a very strong taste. Continental cuisine often used carefully balanced herb mixes such as bouquet garni , Herbes de Provence and fines herbes. In these marjoram is preferred because its milder taste is less dominating than oregano would be.

There is a big overlap in the ways the two herbs are used. Oregano is used for pizza, however marjoram can be a milder substitute. Both marjoram and oregano can be used in soups and stews, with meat and fish dishes and go well with eggs and vegetables. In Europe there is a saying,"when in doubt, use marjoram". It is the preferred herb for poultry stuffing and in meats that are to be cured or smoked and also homemade sausages. Oregano is used in dips and spreads and with strong tasting foods such as capers, olives and anchovies. Both are used in salads and in vinegars. Marjoram can be added to the oil or rubbed into the meat prior to cooking at barbecues or for grilling.

Fresh herbs are better added at the end of the cooking process. This way they retain their flavor. However if the herbs are dried, they need to be added earlier in the cooking process so that they can give up their flavor. Depending on the effect you wish to create you can select either the marjoram or oregano herb.

If you are buying fresh herbs in packets for cooking , make sure the leaves are fresh and crisp. They will last in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for about three days. The leaves of both oregano and marjoram can be frozen or dried. Dried herbs need to be kept in an air-tight container and the flavor will last for about six months.

Both these herbs are easy to grow perennials. They will die back in winter and reemerge the following spring. The are widely used in so many dishes that you definitely should put them into your home herb garden.

Good herbs gardening!


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    • profile image

      Deborah Skilton 

      5 years ago

      I believe this article has helped me to tell the difference between my existing pot of oregano and my new marjoram. The pictures were very useful. Thanks for your help.

      Deborah's Culinary Creations.

    • profile image

      Andy A 

      5 years ago

      NOTHING in this article answers the question posed in the title. Seriously, HOW can you tell?


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