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Pungent and Spicy Herbs - Oregano and Marjoram - Origanum species

DK PublishingDK Publishing 2/07/2014 DKBooks
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© Provided by DKBooks

Oregano and Marjoram - Origanum species

Low, bushy perennials of the mint family, the marjorams and oreganos are native to the Mediterranean and western Asia. The plants are often confused, partly because marjoram used to have its own genus, Majorana, but also because the word “oregano” is often used simply as a term for a certain type of flavor and aroma. Thus, unrelated plants with a similar aromatic profile may also be called oregano.

Culinary uses

Oregano has become an essential ingredient in much Italian cooking, especially for pasta sauces, pizza, and roasted vegetables. For the Greeks it is the favorite herb for souvlaki, baked fish, and Greek salad. In Mexico, it is a key flavoring for bean dishes, burrito and taco fillings, and salsas. Throughout Spain and Latin America, it is used for meat stews and roasts, soups, and baked vegetables. Combined with paprika, cumin, and chili powder it flavors Tex-Mex chile con carne and other meat stews. Its strong flavor works well with grills and in stuffings, hearty soups, marinades, vegetable stews, even hamburgers. It will also flavor oils and vinegars.

The more delicate flavor of marjoram is easily lost in cooking, so it should be added only at the last moment. It is good in salads, egg dishes, and mushroom sauces, with fish and poultry. It makes more delicate stuffings than oregano. Fresh, it makes a great sorbet. Use leaves and flowerknots in salads, and with mozzarella and other young cheeses.

Sprigs of either marjoram or oregano placed on the coals of a grill give a fine flavor to whatever is cooked on top.

Good with anchovies, artichokes, beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cheese dishes, chicken, corn, duck, eggplant, eggs, fish and shellfish, lamb, mushrooms, onions, pork, potatoes, poultry, spinach, squash, sweet peppers, tomatoes, veal, venison.

Combines well with basil, bay, chili, cumin, garlic, paprika, parsley, rosemary, sage, sumac, (lemon) thyme.

Tasting notes

The basic taste is warm, slightly sharp, and bitterish with a note of camphor. To this, marjoram adds a sweet, subtle spiciness, even in temperate climates. Oregano is more robust and peppery, with a bite and often a lemony note. These qualities diminish in colder climates.

Parts used

Leaves, flowerknots.

Buying and storing

Marjoram and oregano plants can be bought from herb nurseries. To dry the herbs, pick stems after the flowerbuds form and hang bunches in a well-ventilated, dry place. Rub the leaves off and store them in an airtight container. In supermarkets oregano is more easily available dried than fresh. Dried oregano keeps for a year.

Grow your own

Most varieties are upright bushes with woody stems. They can be grown from seed or propagated by division. They need well-drained soil and much sun. Cutting back plants before winter prevents them from growing straggly. Leaves can be picked freely at any time; harvest for drying just after the flowerbuds form. Although perennial, marjoram is often grown as an annual in cooler climates.

Common oregano - O. vulgare

This plant has reddish stems that are slightly woody; the leaves are mid-green and hairy underneath; the flowers deep pink, white, or mauve.

Dried leaves

Dried marjoram and oregano are more intensely aromatic than fresh and have a stronger flavor. Several varieties of oregano are sold dried under the Greek name rigani.

Sweet marjoram - O. majorana

This pretty plant, also called knotted marjoram, has gray-green, slightly hairy leaves and clusters of white flowers. Its taste is more delicate and somewhat sweeter than that of common oregano and it does not lend itself to long cooking.

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