Marjoram or Oregano – What is the Difference?

By David Hugonin

Both herbs belong to the same family but many consider that Marjoram has a finer, sweeter flavour. They are closely related but Marjoram differs significantly in taste, because phenolic compounds are missing in its essential oil. Some species show a flavour intermediate between oregano and marjoram (gold marjoram = gold oregano)

Marjoram is Origanum majorana and Oregano is Origanum vulgare

Be adventurous and substitute Marjoram where you might usually use Oregano – you might be surprised!

MARJORAM

Marjoram (Origanum majorana, Lamiaceae) is a cold-sensitive perennial herb or undershrub with sweet pine and citrus flavors. It is also called Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram and Majorana hortensis.

Marjoram is cultivated for its aromatic leaves, either green or dry, for culinary purposes; the tops are cut as the plants begin to flower and are dried slowly in the shade. It is often used in herb combinations such as Herbes de Provence and Za’atar.

Oregano, (Origanum vulgare, sometimes listed with Marjoram as Origanum majorana) is also called Wild Marjoram. It is a perennial common in southern Europe in dry copses and on hedge-banks, with many stout stems 30-80 cm high, bearing short-stalked somewhat ovate leaves and clusters of purple flowers. It has a stronger flavour and a more penetrating quality.

Pot Marjoram or Cretan Oregano (Origanum onites) has similar uses to marjoram.

Hardy Marjoram or Italian marjoram is a cross of marjoram with oregano that is much more resistant to cold, but is slightly less sweet.

HISTORY

The name marjoram (Old French majorane, Medieval Latin majorana) does not directly derive from the Latin word maior (major)

Marjoram was called amaracum in Latin, which in turn was taken from Greek amarakos. The origin of the Greek name is not known, but maybe it came from further East.

Marjoram’s reputation as an aphrodisiac in Roman literature is probably due to the similarity of amaracum to Latin amor “love”, which is linguistically not related and which is probably why the claim was so spurious.

The forms in most modern European languages derive from amaracum and were additionally influenced by Latin maior “greater” via folk etymology. Examples include Lithuanian mairnas, Norwegian merian, French marjolaine, Serbo-Croatian mauran, Italian maggiorana, Romanian mghiran, Greek matzourana, and even Hebrew mayoran.

OREGANO

Oregano or Pot Marjoram (Origanum vulgare) is a species of Origanum, native to Europe, the Mediterranean region and southern and central Asia. It is a perennial herb, growing to 20-80 cm tall, with opposite leaves 1-4 cm long. The flowers are purple, 3-4 mm long, produced in erect spikes. The name means “Joy of the Mountains”

Oregano is an important culinary herb. It is particularly widely used in Greek and Italian cuisines. It is the leaves that are used in cooking, and the dried herb is often more flavourful than the fresh.

It is a conditio sine qua non in Italian cuisine. It is used in tomato sauces, fried vegetables and grilled meat. Together with basil, it makes up for the character of Italian dishes.

Oregano combines nicely with pickled olives, capers and lovage leaves. Unlike most Italian herbs, oregano works with hot and spicy food, which is popular in southern Italy.

Oregano is an indispensable ingredient for Greek cuisine. Oregano adds flavour to the Greek salad and is usually used separately or added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies almost every fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.

It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste. It varies in intensity; good quality is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climates often have a less satisfactory flavour. The influence of climate, season and soil on the composition of the essential oil is greater than the difference between the various species.

The related species Origanum onites (Greece, Asia Minor) and O. heracleoticum (Italy, Balkan peninsula, West Asia) have similar flavours.

Oregano and Marjoram – Is there that much of a difference?

I am David Hugonin, owner and operator of Luminescents and The Natural Herbalist, one of Europe’s most trusted raw herbal material suppliers – From the commonplace and familiar to the rare and hard to find

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