The herb oregano is a native of the Mediterranean region where it grows abundantly. Its Latin name, Origanum vulgare, means “joy of the mountains” (where it is often found growing). Oregano is well adapted to growing in the UK and has a better flavour if you grow it yourself.
Oregano is closely related to marjoram; in fact oregano is wild marjoram. Oregano is stronger in flavour than marjoram and has different uses in the kitchen. When cooking with oregano you should regard it as an entirely separate herb and use it in a completely different way. The oregano plant bears tiny leaves, which have a pungent scent and strong flavour. Its edible flowers are pink or purple and may be eaten in salads or used as a garnish. Oregano leaves may be used fresh or dried (the flavour is more pungent when the leaves are dried).
Oregano is the ultimate herb to use in tomato bases in pizzas. If you do not think you know the flavour of oregano, try eating a pizza without the herb, or smell a bunch of freshly picked oregano – it should remind you of pizza without you even having to try it. However it is widely used to flavour a number of other dishes, including spaghetti bolognaise, chilli and in a bouquet garni to flavour soups, stocks and stews.
Using Oregano in Cooking
If you grow your own oregano, simply cut off the desired amount with scissors or secateurs, leaving enough remaining so that the plant can grow back properly. To use oregano as a fresh herb, wash the bunch thoroughly and strip the leaves away from the tough, woody stems (if you are using oregano in a bouquet garni, don’t strip the leaves away from the stem but tie them to stems of other herbs).
Oregano works well with many tomato dishes, including pizza, spaghetti bolognaises, chilli and a variety of Italian dishes. It may also be added fresh to salads. Oregano compliments a variety of meats and vegetables with strong flavours such as those containing zucchini, broccoli, cauliflower, aubergine and lamb. Oregano also works well with other herbs and flavourings, for example garlic, onion, thyme, basil, parsley, and olive oil.
Tips for Using Oregano in Cooking:
- Add the oregano towards the end of the cooking process to maximise its flavour
- Use oregano a little at a time – too much can cause the meal to become bitter
- If you run out of oregano, you can substitute it with marjoram (however because of its milder flavour, use twice as much marjoram)
- Crush dried oregano in the palm of your hand before cooking to help release the essential oils trapped within the leaves
- Use 1tsp dried oregano for every 1bsp fresh oregano
Oregano is a versatile herb, used in many dishes and especially tomato-based dishes such as chilli, pizza and spaghetti bolognaise. It may be used fresh or dried, and has a more concentrated flavour in its dried form. It is a popular herb and is commonly used in Italian dishes.