The Oregano Throwdown: Mediterranean vs Mexican

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The Oregano Throwdown: Mediterranean vs Mexican
The Oregano Throwdown: Mediterranean vs Mexican

In the United States, we tend to think of oregano as being a singular type of herb. Ask around and you will probably discover that many people don't even know what the difference between Mediterranean and Mexican Oregano is. In fact, we get this question quite a bit ourselves. We've come to find out over time and plenty of recipes that there's a place for both types of oregano in our repertoire.

While they share the moniker "oregano," both are from different plants entirely. Mediterranean Oregano is indigenous to the Mediterranean region of the world, specifically in Turkey, Italy, Greece, France, Morocco, and Israel. These oreganos all come from the same plant but have slightly different flavor profiles based on where they were grown, with some food lovers claiming that Greek Oregano is the best of them all. Mexican Oregano is from a different plant, indigenous to Mexico, and maintains a more woodsy, earthy flavor than Mediterranean Oregano. Mediterranean Oregano, Origanum vulgare, is part of the mint family. Mexican Oregano, Lippia graveolens, is more closely related to the vervain family than to mint.

Why Do We Think of Mediterranean Oregano as the Default?

Mediterranean Oregano became popular in the 1940s when GIs returning from WWII craved it, remembering fondly the pizza they had eaten while stationed in Italy. We also got a cultural love for basil from them, too! Then in the 70s and 80s, Mexican Oregano became increasingly popular as Americans began to embrace more Mexican dishes. So, the simple answer to this question is that we think of Mediterranean as being the default because culturally it was embraced first and it has an older presence in our own food history. Mexican Oregano has its place in our cuisine as well, though it is relatively newer and less commonly known.

Which is better- Mediterranean Oregano or Mexican Oregano?

Neither is truly "better" than the other, but each one is better suited to a certain type of cuisine. Mediterranean Oregano is crucial for Italian cuisine, but it also holds a place in Turkish, Spanish, and Moroccan cuisines. Mediterranean Oregano tastes lovely with cream sauces, vinegars, salad dressings, soups, and herb butters. Mix it with olive oil and brush it on food you're preparing to grill or add it to a fresh piece of crusty bread. It pairs harmoniously with basil, garlic, thyme, and parsley, as well as egg-based dishes like quiche or frittatas. It has a mild flavor that is somewhat reminiscent of rosemary. This is the herb to use when you have strong flavors that lean towards cheesy or indulgent.

What Does Mexican Oregano Taste Like?

Mexican Oregano on the other hand has a stronger, more intensely earthy flavor that is much more suited to the flavors of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisines. It has also been described as having a citrusy lime flavor. It tastes good with chile con carne, moles, beans, burritos, enchiladas, fish, pork, salsas, soups, stews, tacos, and anything tomato heavy in these cuisines. In terms of spices, it partners well with cumin, chili powder, dried Mexican chiles, garlic, and black pepper. This is the herb you would want to use for strong meaty flavors, or for dishes that are intensely spicy.

Can I Use Mediterranean Oregano or Mexican Oregano Interchangeably?

Since food preferences really come down to personal opinion, you can technically use whatever you want to season whatever food you'd like. However, Mediterranean Oregano and Mexican Oregano have different flavor profiles and cannot be swapped in recipes that specifically call for either or. Whatever your preference, both types of Oregano have a variety of wonderful uses!

At the end of our throwdown then, we've discovered a draw! Both types of oregano are good and have their own strengths in different cuisines across the world. If you've been erroneously throwing Mediterranean Oregano into your Mexican dishes, switch it up with Mexican Oregano and see if you find the flavor is greatly improved!

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