Whether you're looking for a Greek or Mexican oregano substitute or are still starting to get familiar with these types of oregano, I'm here to help you make your ingredient selection less stressful. I have also been in a situation when I'm unsure about the kind of ingredients to use, leaving me standing still in the herb section of the grocery longer than I want or need to.
What a waste of time, right? Not anymore! Just browse through this guide I prepared. I'll share the key differences between the two herbs and what to substitute for oregano in your recipe.
Greek Oregano vs. Mexican Oregano
When asking, "What can I substitute for oregano?", you first have to know what kind of oregano your recipe needs. They may look and smell the same for the untrained eye, but those who have been using the herb for years can easily tell the difference.
What Is Greek Oregano?
Also known as Mediterranean oregano, Italian oregano, "pizza" herb, wild marjoram, or just oregano, Greek oregano belongs to the mint family and is commonly used in Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It has a sharp, piney, peppery flavor with a bit of an earthy flavor and hints of lemon and menthol undertones.
What Is Mexican Oregano?
Mexican oregano, also known as Mexican wild sage, Mexican marjoram, wild oregano, or sweet herb, is just starting to gain popularity in the US. Some also call it oregano, so many beginner cooks mistakenly use Mediterranean oregano when the recipe calls for Mexican oregano.
Yes, I also did! And that's a mistake I don't want you to make because the flavor profile is a bit different, and the herb belongs to another plant family.
It has grassy, earthy tones with a bit of anise flavor and signature citrus or lemon flavors. It's why it's one of the most famous ingredients in many Mexican, Cuban, and other Latin American cuisines.
What Are the Key Differences Between the Two Oreganos?
Here's a table that sums up the main differences between Greek or Mediterranean oregano and Mexican oregano that you can use as a quick reference:
|Point of Difference||Greek or Mediterranean Oregano||Mexican Oregano|
|Flavor||Sharp, piney, and peppery with an earthy base and lemon and menthol undertones||Grassy, anise-like with citrus or lemon and strong savory undertones|
|Best Paired With||Chicken, fish, eggplant, tomatoes, capers, garlic, peppers, cilantro, cumin, cheese, and vinegar||Pork, ground meat, beans, garlic, onions, cumin, chile peppers, and paprika|
|Best For||Italian and Mediterranean dishes||Mexican and Latin American cuisines|
Can You Substitute Mexican Oregano for Mediterranean Oregano and Vice Versa?
While these two herbs don't have an exactly similar flavor, I sometimes use one of them to substitute the other when I run out. But you must remember that Mexican oregano's flavor profile is stronger than the Mediterranean herb's.
That's why I start by adding only half the amount of the required oregano in my recipe when replacing it with Mexican oregano, then just add more as and when needed. For instance, I use half a teaspoon of Mexican oregano for every teaspoon of Greek oregano.
On the other hand, I start by adding the exact amount of Mexican oregano (1:1 ratio) to a recipe requiring the common (Greek) oregano and then just add more as and when needed.
Marjoram: The Best Substitute for Oregano
Whether your recipe needs Greek or Mediterranean oregano in fresh or dried form, fresh or dried marjoram should be number one on your list.
Flavor and Aroma
Marjoram is pungent and slightly bitter and has an aroma that will remind you of lemon and oregano. I have to say though that the flavor and aroma profiles of dried or fresh marjoram are milder than any of the two oreganos. It's why I make sure I add more marjoram than when using oregano.
The Right Amount to Use
When substituting fresh oregano with fresh marjoram, I add half the amount more than what my recipe requires. For instance, I add a teaspoon more of fresh marjoram when my dish needs two teaspoons of fresh oregano. Thus, that's a total of three teaspoons of the fresh variety of marjoram.
What if the recipe needs dried oregano? I highly recommend that you just add ¼ teaspoon more of dried marjoram for any amount of dried oregano the recipe calls for.
Another thing to remember is that marjoram has a bit of sweetness, which I often refer to as minty sweetness. Hence, I highly suggest that you reduce the amount of any sweet ingredient included in your recipe.
6 Other Best Greek Oregano Substitutes
Now, what if you don't have marjoram and Mexican oregano? What can you use as a fresh or dried oregano substitute?
Here are five of my favorite dried and fresh herbs to use in my recipes:
1. Fresh Thyme
Belonging to the same herb family, thyme is the first ingredient that comes to mind when someone asks me, "What is a substitute for oregano?"
One thing I want to emphasize is that although you can find fresh and dried thyme, it's best to use the fresh variety. The leaves from the herb closely resemble the fresh oregano in terms of flavor and aroma, but it tends to lose some of it when the dried variety is stored for a long time.
That said, you can always dehydrate your fresh thyme using your oven. Simply follow these steps:
- Place the herbs on a parchment paper-covered baking pan with enough space between them.
- Put it in your oven that has been preheated to 120F or 50C.
- Leave for two to four hours until the leaves are brittle and crumbly.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Mesurement-wise, you won't need to make any adjustments when substituting thyme for oregano.
Best for Mediterranean dishes with beef, beans, tomatoes, and/or potatoes as main ingredients, salad dressings, and bread.
This popular herb usually used in Mediterranean and Italian meals also belongs to the mint family, so it's a favorite substitute for oregano among chefs and home cooks, including me.
After all, you don't need to do any maths when using it, as the amount of fresh oregano or dried oregano your recipe calls for is the same as the amount of basil you need.
Pro Tip: If you're preparing sweet dishes that include oregano in the ingredient list, I suggest you look for Italian or sweet basil. I was surprised at how much it made my Mediterranean and Italian cuisine and sauces tastier, and you're sure to be in for a surprise as well!
Best for bread and Mediterranean and Italian dishes.
3. Bay Leaf
Like the fresh and dried form of oregano and basil, bay leaf is one of the most common ingredients used in many Mediterranean dishes. But one important thing to remember is you need to allow this herb to cook slowly to bring out its flavor and aroma.
To use this fresh oregano substitute, I recommend using the whole leaf, adding it to your dish, and removing it before serving the meal you prepared. The reason is that I find it isn't the tastiest when it stays longer in the cooked dish, as it continues to be cooked, bringing out its more concentrated flavor.
That said, you can always crush the bay leaf and add an amount similar to the amount of oregano the recipe requires if you don't mind the stronger taste of bay leaves.
Best for soups and simmered sauces.
As an aromatic, peppery herb with an earthy taste, parsley is among my top options when it comes to what to substitute for oregano in tomato-based recipes. You can use it as either seasoning or a garnish.
In terms of the amount to use, you won't need to make any adjustments when you use dried parsley as a substitute for dried oregano or fresh parsley as a substitute for fresh oregano.
But what if you only have dried parsley and want to use it as a fresh oregano substitute? In this case, you must use twice the amount of fresh oregano your recipe calls for.
Best for tomato-based dishes and sauces.
5. Fresh Sage
Some of you might find sage a surprising answer to "What can you substitute for oregano?" because of its overpowering scent and taste. That's why I don't recommend using dried sage, only the fresh variety.
Fresh sage has well-balanced eucalyptus and citrus notes that enhance the flavor of several ingredients, especially vegetables, and turkeys, as well as how oregano does. Ratio-wise, use the same amount as how much your recipe calls for oregano.
Best for Greek dishes.
6. Italian Seasoning
When asking, "What can I substitute for oregano if I don't have any fresh or dried herbs?", Italian seasoning is your best bet!
When you look at the ingredient list of Italian seasoning mixes, you'll find oregano, so your dish will still have the distinct oregano flavor and aroma it needs. Even better, most Italian seasoning products contain two or more of the best oregano substitutes: marjoram, thyme, and/or basil.
Ratio-wise, add the same amount of your Italian seasoning as the oregano your recipe requires. However, make sure you reduce the amount of the spices and herbs you use because Italian seasoning already has several spices and dried herbs included. You don't want to serve an overly seasoned dish, right?
Best for tomato-based dishes, chicken, fish, soup, and pasta.
3 Other Best Mexican Oregano Substitutes
Now, what can you substitute for oregano when you don't have (Greek) Italian oregano and marjoram or the grocery runs out of stock? Here are my tried and tested substitutes for Mexican oregano that you should also try:
1. Lemon Verbena (Lemon Beebrush)
Adding the strong herby and citrusy flavor Mexican oregano brings to your dish, sauce, and marinade won't be a problem when you have lemon verbena. It belongs to the same family as Mexican oregano and can be used in both savory and sweet recipes.
This herb has a milder flavor and a softer aroma than Mexican oregano. Hence, make sure you use twice as much of the oregano your recipe needs when using it as a fresh or dried Mexican oregano substitute.
Best for meat dishes and desserts.
Cilantro has an earthy, herby flavor with citrusy or lemony notes and is available in fresh and dried varieties. It's used in many Mexican dishes, such as enchiladas, tacos, and guacamole, making it an excellent oregano substitute.
When replacing oregano with cilantro, follow a 1:1 ratio but make sure you add it later in the cooking process. Based on my experience, the herb tends to lose its flavor when left cooking for longer periods because it can't handle heat well.
Best for just about anything.
Whether you need a dried oregano substitute or a fresh oregano alternative, epazote will give your recipe its needed savory, pungent or spicy, anise, peppery flavor, and minty and citrusy aroma. It's a famous ingredient used in Mexican and Latin American cuisine, which is also popular in Central and Southern America.
However, I noticed that it has a stronger flavor than oregano, so the change in the taste would be noticeable. It's for this reason that I advise you to add the dried or fresh herb gradually when using it as a substitute for Mexican oregano.
Best for beans, burritos, chilies, salsas, stews, soups, tamales, and vegetable, fish, and meat dishes.
Oregano Substitute FAQs
Yes, if you have dried (or fresh) oregano in your pantry, you can use it in your recipe that requires fresh (or dried) oregano. However, you will need to adjust the measurement because the dried version is more potent than the fresh one.
When I substitute fresh oregano for dried oregano, I use one tablespoon of fresh Greek or Mexican oregano for every teaspoon of the dried form. Meanwhile, I add the same amount of fresh Greek or Mexican oregano as the recipe needs when using the dried version and then just add more as and when needed.
In every type of cuisine, you'll find chili dish, paste, and oil recipes that list oregano as one of their ingredients.
What if someone is allergic to the herb, or you simply run out? What is a substitute for oregano in this situation?
My top pick for an oregano substitute in chili recipes is, of course, marjoram, but if it isn't available, I use thyme, sage, or a combination of the two. All these three will help bring out the flavors of chili ingredients without making it too overpowering. Their savory flavor profile will help balance the chili-based recipe's taste, aroma, and aftertaste.
Yes, you definitely can, but you need to be careful with your herb combinations. It can take a few experimentations before you can end up with good ones, so I will share with you the combinations I use.
Since this oregano has a strong peppery flavor, I combine the marjoram with another popular herb: fresh or dried basil. You won't need too much of this versatile herb; just a dash or two. This marjoram basil mix won't 100% mimic Mexican oregano, but it will give your dish the strong flavor it needs.
For regular oregano, there are two perfect pairings. You can combine an equal amount of marjoram and thyme or an equal amount of parsley and basil.
What To Substitute for Oregano: Problem Solved!
The days when you need to rack your brain to decide what's the best substitute for Mexican oregano and Greek Oregano are long gone. Most of the herbs I included in this list I took the time to prepare for you are easily accessible and, I'm sure, are already available in your pantry.
You can even combine one substitute for dried oregano or substitute for fresh oregano with another alternative to give you the flavors and aroma your dish, sauce, and marinade needs. Just always make sure you use the correct ratio.
Best Oregano Substitutes
- Baking Pan
- Parchment Paper
- 3 teaspoon Marjoram
- 1 teaspoon Fresh Thyme
Option 1: Marjoram
- When substituting fresh oregano with fresh marjoram, add half the amount more than what the recipe requires. For instance, I add a teaspoon more of fresh marjoram when a dish needs two teaspoons of fresh oregano. That's a total of three teaspoons of the fresh variety of marjoram.
Option 2: Fresh Thyme
- To dehydrate your fresh thyme using an oven, cover a baking pan with parchment paper and place the thyme on it, leaving enough space between the herbs.
- Preheat your oven to 120F or 50C, then put the baking pan inside.
- Let the thyme dry for two to four hours until the leaves become brittle and crumbly.
- Take the pan out of the oven and allow the thyme to cool before using it.
You can find the video in the post above. If you don't see a video, please check your browser settings.