Oregano is the go-to herb for adding that extra zest underlined by a peppery bite. It’s a common ingredient in a lot of recipes: think pizza or pasta sauce, or even Mediterranean cuisine. With a taste that’s easily recognizable, it’s no surprise that cooks—from professional chefs and food aficionados, to home cooks just starting out—often reach for it as one of their go-to spices to make their cooking shine. Don’t have any on hand and looking for oregano alternatives that’ll do in a pinch? You’ve come to the right place! Here are the best oregano substitutes.
Originating from the mountains of Greece, oregano is an herb that’s been used in various ways for centuries. A part of the mint family, not only has it been used to flavor food, but it has also been used in herbal medicine to treat many health conditions. Bold and earthy, oregano subtly straddles a sweet and spicy flavor profile, providing a slightly more bitter taste and savory counterpart to marjoram, another herb that’s a member of the mint family. It’s an aromatic herb whose leaves work well fresh or dried.
Oregano is know for bringing potatoes, soups, salads, beans, pickles and more come alive with its robust flavor and delightfully strong aroma.
However, while dried oregano, often sold as powdery flakes, is rather easy to come by and quite affordable to boot, fresh oregano leaves may not be widely available. But nothing to worry about! Below is a list of oregano substitutes that work just fine, allowing you to find a suitable replacement to make any dish stand out.
5 Best Oregano Substitutes
The best substitute for oregano is marjoram, which also comes from the same botanical family. The two have enough similarities that oregano is also known as “wild marjoram”—something of a bolder cousin, with a more assertive punch to marjoram’s sweeter and lighter note. Though oregano is a tad more bitter and marjoram more floral, the differences in their flavor profiles aren’t too noticeable, especially in heavier dishes. Do take note that marjoram’s flavor is more delicate, which means you benefit more by adding it later to a dish than you would oregano. Another tip is to adjust your proportions: add an extra portion of marjoram for every two parts of oregano.
Another herb to substitute for oregano is thyme. Like marjoram, thyme also comes from the mint family, which allows for a similar flavor. Like oregano, thyme can be used fresh or dry; in its fresh state, it approximates oregano’s flavor to a great extent. Using it dried necessitates some caution, though: dried thyme has a slightly stronger flavor than dried oregano the longer you cook it. You may also want to look out for what variety to use, as there are many to choose from. When substituting for oregano, try to look out for English or French varieties.
Basil is a popular substitute for oregano, especially for tomato-based recipes. Like oregano, it has something of a minty flavor with a pronounced peppery tone, making it one of the more well-known oregano alternatives. Like marjoram, it tends to be a little sweeter; it has a lighter, more floral profile, without the more pronounced bitterness you might look for in oregano. There’s also a hint of anise to it, complementing the mint and pepper. Use it fresh for a stronger flavor. If using dried, mind the portions: you may want to use more.
Like oregano, sage has Mediterranean roots. If you’re looking for that minty and peppery kick, but with a citrus-based twist, sage is the perfect alternative for oregano. It has that earthy herbal flavor that pairs with a lot of recipes, as well as other herbs. It works particularly well with heavy dishes with bold flavors, considering its strong flavor and that hint of bitter-sweetness. When substituting sage for oregano, try to use it fresh for more flavor; unlike oregano, dried sage does not work as well as fresh sage does. Proportion-wise, you can use as much as you would oregano.
Tarragon has a very strong flavor and, like oregano, is very aromatic. It’s another substitute that works well in tomato-based dishes, as well as mixed greens, replicating the bitter-sweetness that oregano gives while lending a dynamic kick. Because it has a distinct flavor, be careful to use it in moderation.
Oregano is a very useful herb, with a flavor that’s become an unmistakable favorite. Hopefully, this list proves useful when looking for substitutes for oregano!