The difference between marjoram vs. oregano is a very common question. But in this question lies many other questions. The first question within this question is how they differ as plants. The second question is how they differ for culinary purposes. Also, many people who ask this question want to find out why marjoram and oregano are usually grouped. We will answer these 3 questions as much as possible. But one thing for sure is that these differences are often blurred so much that you may find it hard to distinguish them if you are a layman. The only seeming apparent difference is in how they taste. More so, there are various types of oregano. There are at least over 50 types. And to cap it all up, marjoram and oregano can cross-breed very easily if you grow them together in a garden. This makes it even harder to differentiate them.
Technically speaking, the major difference between oregano and marjoram is in how their calyces are shaped. There is no apparent difference in their leaves. They also have similar in their hairs and growth habit. Now, this can be a problem for some gardeners, let alone common buyers like you. Maybe you don’t even know what a calyx is! As such, most times, you will have to trust the experts if you are Oregano or Marjoram, either as plants or seeds. That is why you must buy only from merchants who are reputable and that you can trust. But who says you can’t know some of the differences too? We will show you some of them. Read on
Marjoram vs. Oregano: A Few Basic Facts
Oregano is a species of plant that belongs in the Origanum genus. Marjoram belongs to the same species too. The name of this genus comes from a root word in Greek, original. It means the joy or brightness of the mountains.
Plants in the Origanum genus are native plants of the Mediterranean, western Asia, and North Africa. These people have cultivated Origanum plants for many millennia. These include the ancient Greeks and Romans.
Even ancient Greek mythology makes references to both oregano and marjoram. It claims Aphrodite (one of the Greek goddesses) grew these two plants.
Some other common plants popularly called “oregano” include the following:
- Origanum heracleoticum (also winter marjoram). This is a popular plant in Italy
- Origanum vulgare (also wild marjoram or common oregano). This has quite large leaves. It also has a strong flavor of oregano. This is by far the most popular oregano species in Europe.
- Origanum onites (also pot marjoram). This plant has small leaves. It is also not as sweet as origanum Vulgare. This pairs so well with onion and garlic.
Now, you see that some oregano species are sometimes referred to as marjoram. But they are still different from true marjoram. So how do you know true marjoram? Its common name is sweet or knotted marjoram.
The Difference Between Oregano and True Marjoram
As we have said before, the clearest difference between these two plants is in the taste. These two herbs taste very differently. So this is very easy and clear to define. For instance, Oregano has a stronger taste than Marjoram. It also has a certain spicy taste.
Oregano also has some individual aromas and flavors, such as cloves, pine, and peppermint. But then, the flowers of all of these varieties taste the same and are very edible too. Many people use oregano to flavor their foods because of its strong flavors.
Oregano plays a vital role in famous recipes like pizza, tomato sauces, and pasta. However, it is also used widely in lots of other Italian, Mexican, and Greek dishes. More so, each tsp. of oregano (dried) contains only six calories and 0.2g fat.
The main flavor in oregano is a result of a chemical called carvacrol. But then, it is not the only chemical that gives oregano its taste. The distinctive taste of oregano comes from a combination of many different natural chemicals.
One variety of Origanum that tastes very strongly is the Origanum vulgare species. Many people prefer to call it Greek oregano. It contains carvacrol at very high levels.
True marjoram (remember, sweet marjoram) might be your best bet for culinary purposes. This is because its taste is quite mellower. Its pine flavor is also sweeter. Its cloves and citrus flavors are also sweeter, although to a lesser degree.
Many cooks will choose marjoram instead of oregano because the flavor it provides is more of a background flavor. This is different from Oregano that provides a dominant flavor.
Instead of carvacrol, the main chemical that gives marjoram its flavor is Sabinene hydrate. But aside from this, it has lots of similar chemicals, although in varying degrees. One tsp of marjoram (dried) contains two calories and 0.04g fat.
Let’s be honest here, you are not likely to find pure dried oregano in supermarkets. Most of those products also contain some marjoram in them. Anyway, tastes are quite personal. And most times, it takes a mix of the two herbs to give an ideal flavoring in many recipes.
Some people say that the flavor of oregano compares well with thyme flavor. Well, this is not far-fetched. Thymol, the chemical that gives thyme its flavor is also present in oregano. But maybe not as much thymol as you will find in oregano.
Marjoram vs. Oregano: Can You Use Them Interchangeably?
Fresh oregano can replace fresh marjoram very well. But then, its flavor is more pungent than and not as sweet as that or marjoram. So you should use about half tsp of oregano in place of 1 tsp. of marjoram. This formula only works for the dried varieties, though.
Fresh oregano has a much stronger taste than the dried stuff. So remember to factor that in when you are replacing Marjoram with fresh oregano in your recipe. More so, remember that oregano has varieties of flavor.
These are the basic things to bear in mind while differentiating marjoram vs. oregano. The differences may be subtle. But reputable merchants will not give you one in place of the other.