Mexican oregano is known to many by various names such as Mexican marjoram, wild oregano, and even Mexican wild sage. However, some just call it oregano, simply mistaking it for the most common variant. The reason for this is because it’s not as popular in some parts of the U.S. as it is in the Southwest and Mexico. In these places, the herb is usually employed in a variety of traditional Mexican and even Cuban dishes like ropa vieja.
But, the bottom line still stands. The Mexican variant of oregano is different from regular oregano (also known as the “pizza herb”), which you may use when making tomato-based dishes like pizza and pasta.
Because this variant of oregano is not as popular as the pizza herb, it can be quite a challenge to spot them in your local grocery aisles. And you will be left wondering: are there Mexican oregano substitutes I don’t know about that I can use for cooking?
What Is Mexican Oregano?
Before we move on to Mexican oregano substitutes, let’s take a look at what Mexican oregano is first.
Mexican oregano is from the family of Verbenaceae or Verbena family that is native to the Southwestern United States, Mexico, and Central America. Contrary to its name, it’s more closely related to lemon verbena than the common oregano as it comes from the same plant family (hence the name “verbena”). The common oregano, on the other hand, is from the origanum family. So you can say that this Mexican herb is not really a “true” oregano.
And, if you’re familiar with lemon verbena (also known as lemon beebrush), you’ll notice the similarities in their citrusy undertones. Mexican oregano just has a stronger, more robust flavor compared to its cousin.
Mexican Oregano vs Oregano
Although Mexican oregano shares somewhat the same name as the famous pizza herb, it has a slightly different taste and aroma. While the Mexican variant possesses the strongest flavor profile and aroma among other varieties. Its bold and strong peppery taste also better fits with Mexican dishes like salsas, chilis, burritos, and tacos. If you want your Tex-Mex Migas recipe to have a more authentic and traditional taste of Mexican dishes, then you may add some of the Mexican herb. Trust us, you’ll notice the improvement in taste immediately!
Meanwhile, the common oregano, also called by a variety of names such as Greek oregano, Mediterranean oregano, Italian oregano, and wild marjoram, is the most common type of oregano you can find in the grocery store. This herb is popularly used in Mediterranean and Italian dishes, hence its name. This herb has a slightly woodsy yet aromatic taste that creates strong and bold flavors, the choice for dishes such as this Mediterranean vegetable moussaka.
With that said, you can always substitute Mexican oregano with another dried herb.
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4 Good Mexican Oregano Substitutes
If you’re having a hard time searching for the unique Mexican oregano in the grocery, your next best pick is this herb from Southern Europe: marjoram. Marjoram has the closest flavor profile with the Mexican herb. Only, it has a minty sweetness to it. Though they share the same flavor notes, the difference is still very noticeable as Mexican oregano’s overall flavor is quite strong. Marjoram also lacks the same peppery kick because it is simply milder in flavor.
To boost and give your marjoram a stronger flavor, add a dash or two of basil. Basil will get your marjoram much closer to Mexican oregano’s flavor. It’s still not the same, but it’s almost the perfect doppelganger.
Greek Oregano (common oregano)
Minty, woodsy, and an earthy flavor with a strong aroma and warm pungent taste — these are all flavor descriptions for Greek oregano. But Greek oregano also shares it with its not-so-oregano step-brother, Mexican oregano.
The difference? The Mexican herb packs a stronger peppery and licorice punch. In addition to the minty flavor, it also has citrusy notes to it. It’s a slight change, but that change makes all the difference. To compensate, simply double the number of oregano leaves specified in the recipe. You can also add in a dash of ground coriander or any coriander substitute in your pantry. You’ll be able to mimic Mexican oregano’s stronger taste!
The biggest takeaway when you use this substitute is that it’s the most common variant of oregano everywhere. You can even find this popular herb in your local grocery. It won’t be as pricey too when compared with the Mexican variant, so you won’t be feeling guilty when you spare some for this fried cheese recipe that calls for a few dashes.
Lemon verbena or lemon beebrush has the same citrus flavors that Mexican oregano has. Additionally, lemon verbena and the Mexican herb also come from the same plant family. Thus, making this herb one of the best substitutes for recipes that call for Mexican oregano and lemongrass alike. It’s also useful since not all recipes ask for strong and robust flavor. Some recipes just ask for strong citrusy, yet herby flavor.
Lemon verbena can also be used to stand in for any recipe with lemongrass like this lemongrass tea recipe. Replace lemongrass with lemon verbena and you’ll have a very refreshing way to cool off on a hot summer day.
When you use lemon verbena in place of Mexican oregano for citrusy and herby flavor, just remember to double the amount. But, you can also adjust depending on the level of flavor you want to achieve.
Just like the Mexican oregano, this familiar herb is popular in the Southwest United States and Central America. Cilantro is mainly used in Mexican dishes like this corn and bean tacos recipe.
The Mexican herb will give you a more darker and robust flavor. While cilantro will give you a much brighter taste with lemony and citrusy notes that’s perfect for salads. Both have herby and earthy flavors though, enough that you can use it for any dish that asks for Mexican oregano.
To use this herb in place of the evasive Mexican herb, add it late during cooking. Otherwise, cilantro will lose its flavors as it doesn’t handle heat very well.
Use These Substitutes in Place of Mexican Oregano
Mexican oregano can give any dish a more authentic Mexican taste. It also packs a more intense flavor than that of the common oregano. However, this herb is also hard to find when you’re outside the Southwest and Mexico. So, in case you run out of this complex and extraordinary herb, check this substitutes list and you’ll be able to cook Mexican dishes again.