The Oregano herb, a herb with very flavorful and aromatic leaves, is said to have originated from Greece. In fact, the term Oregano came from the Greek word “oros” meaning mountain or hill and “ganos” meaning joy or happiness. As such, Oregano literally means “joy of the mountain”. The early Greeks even regarded it as a symbol of joy and used it extensively for its medicinal properties. Overtime, the culinary uses of Oregano became prominent in many Mediterranean dishes.
Oregano, despite its popularity in Greece, Italy, and other Mediterranean countries, was almost unknown in the US until after the World War II when soldiers brought home the “pizza taste”. Its popularity around the world rose with the popularity of Italian foods, particularly pizza. Today, Oregano is a staple herb in Italian cuisine and is greatly famous for enhancing the flavor of tomato-based dishes. It is used in meat, fish, and poultry dishes. It’s great in salads, soups, vegetable dishes, pasta sauces and scrambled eggs.
The versatility of the Oregano herb was probably because there isn’t just one Oregano herb. The Oregano plant is classified into many types, and each type has its own distinct appearance, aroma, flavor, and use in cooking.
Greek Oregano is often referred to as the true Oregano. With its classic pungent and spicy flavor, it perfectly complements any tomato, cheese, and egg based dishes and is also known as the Pizza herb. Toss fresh Oregano leaves in salads for a zesty kick or use it with meat, fish, poultry, pasta, soup, and stew. It’s also great for stuffing and dusting for grilled dishes.
Mexican Oregano, which is native to Mexico, is actually more closely related to Lemon Herbena than the Oregano family. It has a deeper and more intense “Oregano” flavor with a slight citrus twist. It goes well with barbecue, seafood and chicken kebabs, and sausages.
Italian Oregano (also called Sicilian Oregano) is a cross of Oregano and sweet marjoram and inherits the pungent and sweet flavors of both plants. Use it as regular Oregano if you want your dish with a hint of sweetness, or use with “Marjoram enhanced” recipes for an added spice.
Marjoram is sometimes confused with true Oregano, but Marjoram is of the sweeter variety. In fact, aside from main dishes, Marjoram is also used to flavor desserts such as ice cream, custards, pies and fruit desserts.
There are also other varieties like the Hot and Spicy which obviously is spicier than the regular Oregano; Cretan, Syrian and Turkish Oregano are the types with an intense pungent and spicy flavor but are slightly more bitter; Russian Oregano is more similar to Greek Oregano in taste and aroma. With different varieties of the Oregano herb, it’s no wonder why it flavored some of the most famous cuisines.