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Marjoram vs Oregano: 10 Key Differences between oregano and marjoram

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Although marjoram and oregano are similar-looking herbs, each has unique features and aromas.

Learn 10 key differences between marjoram vs oregano, including their distinctive flavors, origins, and appearances. Find out which herb is fuzzy green and which is from the Mediterranean region.

Growing these herbs in my herb garden allows me to use and observe them daily. Whether brewing marjoram in tea for cough or adding flavor to otherwise ordinary dishes such as potatoes or grilled vegetables. One technique I found exceptionally useful is infusing them in oils that capture their distinct aromas and flavors and have various uses.

Despite their unique aromas and tastes, oregano and marjoram share a similar appearance, including their Latin name, making it challenging for many to distinguish them at first glance. I have pointed out ten key differences that will enable you to differentiate between them confidently. 

10 Key Differences between oregano and marjoram

1. Plant type: Are both perennial herbs?

Both marjoram and oregano belong to the same genus, Origanum, within the mint family Lamiaceae, which already indicates their similarities.

Even though they come from individual branches within this genus, their taste, appearance, and geographical roots set them apart. Similar to other culinary herbs such as basil, sage thymemint, or lemon balm.

While there is primarily one well-known type of marjoram, often referred to as sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana), there are many varieties of oregano, each with its distinct flavor profile and characteristics. This includes common oregano (Origanum vulgare), as well as regional varieties like Greek oregano, Italian oregano, Mexican oregano, and Cuban oregano, each of which brings its own unique flavors and uses to the culinary world.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) in Greek, “ornament of the mountains,” is the #8 herb on the list of most popular herbs worldwide. It is sometimes referred to as “wild marjoram,” Although it can be misleading, oregano is by no means the wild form of marjoram.

Notably, marjoram and oregano are perennial herbs growing through multiple seasons, thus great for herb gardens with their presence year after year.

Infused oil with culinary herbs
Infused oil with culinary herbs

2. Appearance: Marjoram vs Oregano

Leaves

Regarding appearance, marjoram’s fuzzy green leaves are oval, smaller, lighter, more delicate, and have a slightly sweet aroma. In contrast, darker and more vibrant green leaves of oregano give more pronounced, peppery flavor.  

Marjoram leaves
Marjoram leaves

In addition, marjoram leaves often have a finer texture, with a smoother surface and fewer leaves clustered on each stem. They tend to be less hairy than oregano leaves, which are usually more densely packed on the stem and can be hairier, especially on the underside. Fresh oregano leaves are milder than dried ones and are great for garnish.

Oregano leaves
Oregano leaves

Stems

Marjoram is a tender perennial shrub with less woody and more tender upright stems with a subtle purplish hue. When fully grown outdoors, it can reach a height of around 80cm (32 inches) and a width of 45cm (18 inches). 

Conversely, oregano is a perennial herb with slightly shorter upright stems than marjoram with a height of about 60cm (24 inches). However, it can grow up to the same width of 45cm (18 inches).

Compared to marjoram, oregano stems are sturdier, displaying a woody texture and a deeper shade of green. 

Flower of Marjoram
Flower of Marjoram

Flowers

Oregano’s flowers are usually larger and can vary in color, often leaning towards shades of pink, purple, or lavender. These flowers also form clusters at the ends of the stems and contribute to the overall visual appeal of the plan.

In contrast to oregano, marjoram’s flowers are typically small, white, and delicate. They often cluster at the tips of the stems and have a subtle, understated beauty.

Flowers of oregano
Flowers of oregano

3. Difference in taste

The taste is one of the most significant differences between marjoram and oregano.

Marjoram has a delicate, mild, and slightly sweet flavor with hints of citrus and pine. Its taste is often more subtle than oregano, making it a popular choice for dishes like soups, marinades, salad dressings, seafood sauces, and poultry, where you want to add a gentle herbal note without overpowering the other flavors. Leaves of marjoram are best fresh, as their flavor is sweeter and milder.

Oregano gives a stronger, more robust flavor with earthy, peppery, and slightly bitter undertones. Its taste profile is more intense than marjoram, making it a key ingredient in seasoning savory dishes like this easy Italian pasta salad, pizza, sauce, stew, and olive oil-based dishes. 

4. Marjoram and Oregano Scent

The scents of marjoram and oregano also help differentiate these two herbs:

Marjoram has a gentle and pleasant aroma with citrus and pine notes, often described as sweet and floral. Its scent is mild and not overpowering, making it a suitable choice for dishes where you want a subtle hint of herbal fragrance.

Oregano, in contrast, emits a more robust and intense aroma. Its scent is earthy, peppery with slightly bitter undertones. Oregano’s fragrance is more pungent and can be easily recognized, primarily when the leaves are crushed or dried.

Tea for cough with marjoram
Tea for cough with marjoram

5. Culinary Uses: Marjoram or Oregano?

Marjoram

Marjoram is used for its sweet herbal flavor in lighter dishes like:

Seasoning for Meats: Elevate the flavor of grilled meats by generously rubbing marjoram onto cuts like chicken, pork, lamb, and even seafood before grilling or roasting for additional flavors. Marjoram is also a common ingredient in the seasoning of German sausages.

Salad Dressing: Incorporate marjoram into your homemade salad dressings for a delightful twist. Just a teaspoon of dried marjoram can give the dressing a pleasant hint of sweetness.

Baked goods: Marjoram’s charm is wider than savory dishes. It lends its magic to baked goods as well. Experiment with marjoram-infused baked treats like homemade bread or pretzels.

Herb Blends: Embrace Marjoram’s versatility in herb blends like Herbes de Provence. This classic blend, often used in French cuisine, benefits from marjoram’s mild sweetness.

Leaves of Marjoram
Leaves of Marjoram

Oregano

Oregano is a staple in Mediterranean, Italian, and Mexican cuisines and is known for its bold and robust flavor. Because it retains its flavor well, you can use oregano fresh or dried. If you are using the fresh herb, use twice the amount of it as you would the dried called for in a recipe.

Oregano also goes well with Greek and Mediterranean dishes like souvlaki, gyros, and Greek pasta salad.

Soups and Sauces: Oregano is also a secret weapon in enriching sauces for pasta and pizza, particularly those with tomato bases. It adds depth and creates a harmonious symphony of flavors.

Mexican dishes and Middle Eastern cuisine: Oregano also works well with tacos, enchiladas, salsas, chili con carne, and za’atar spice mix, providing a spicy and aromatic kick. 

Oregano

6. Oregano and Marjoram Health benefits

Oregano and marjoram are closely related and share some health benefits. However, oregano generally stands out for its stronger antimicrobial power and higher antioxidant content. 

While marjoram also contains antioxidants, oregano boasts a higher antioxidant content, mainly due to compounds like rosmarinic acid and thymol that help combat oxidative stress and protect cells from damage. 

Both oregano and marjoram contain compounds with anti-inflammatory properties. Oregano’s carvacrol and marjoram’s terpinen-4-ol reduce inflammation in the body.

Oregano essential oils are rich in carvacrol and thymol, which possess strong antimicrobial and antibacterial properties. Much like oregano, research suggests that the essential oils found in marjoram have mild antibacterial effects.

Both herbs have historically been used to aid digestion and alleviate stomach discomfort. Marjoram may be more suitable for soothing digestion for it’s milder flavor.

Marjoram is often associated with relaxation and mood enhancement due to its calming aroma and potential effects on the nervous system. Oregano doesn’t have this particular aspect.

7. Medicinal uses for marjoram vs oregano

You can prepare marjoram, known for its soothing qualities, as a gentle herbal marjoram tea to aid digestion and promote relaxation. Infusing marjoram leaves in oil creates a topical remedy proper for massage to relieve sore muscles and induce tranquility. Its calming scent is embraced in aromatherapy for its potential to alleviate stress. 

Alternatively, oregano herbal tea made by steeping dried oregano leaves supports the immune system and addresses cold symptoms. When applied topically, Oregano oil is valued for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties beneficial for the skin. Additionally, inhaling steam infused with oregano essential oil clears respiratory passages. 

Growing herbs
Growing herbs

8. Growing oregano vs marjoram. Can they grow together?

Oregano and marjoram are both Mediterranean herbs and share similar growth requirements. Both herbs thrive in well-draining soil and require plenty of sunlight to develop their flavors and aromas, thus suitable to be grown together in a garden or container.

Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings, as overwatering can lead to root rot. I also prune both herbs regularly to encourage bushy growth and prevent them from becoming too leggy. You can harvest the fresh leaves as needed, and this will also help promote new growth.

9. Difference between oregano and marjoram history and origins

Marjoram and oregano are two herbs originating from the Mediterranean. Oregano’s roots delve into Greek and Italian cuisines, while marjoram’s influence extends across European landscapes. 

Oregano comes from sun-kissed lands of Greece and Italy, where Its robust flavor and earthy undertones quickly made it a staple in Greek and Italian cuisines. From rustic pizzas to hearty pasta sauces, oregano became a hallmark of Mediterranean flavors. As it traversed borders, it embedded itself in the hearts of cultures, becoming an essential ingredient, symbolizing the joy of Mediterranean culinary heritage.

Marjoram, too, embarked from the Mediterranean cradle, but ss marjoram traveled, its delicacy and floral sweetness found resonance in European kitchens. It wove into French and English dishes, often appearing in herb blends and lending a graceful touch to culinary creations. 

10. What are the differences between marjoram and oregano nutritional value?

According to the Herb Society of America, a standard teaspoon of dried marjoram contains 2 calories, a small amount of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and a touch of dietary fiber. It also provides some calcium, potassium, vitamin A, and traces of other vitamins and minerals.

Comparatively, a teaspoon of oregano offers 6 calories and slightly higher protein, fat, carbohydrates, and fiber. It also contains more calcium, potassium, and vitamin A.

What sets oregano apart is its additional benefits. Oregano contains two flavonoids, galanin, and quercetin, known for their antioxidant activity.

Can I use oregano and marjoram interchangeably?

Indeed, oregano is the nearest counterpart to marjoram with a similar taste and is the primary substitution when marjoram is unavailable. However, due to their distinctions, there are key considerations to consider when using oregano instead of marjoram.

Reduced Quantity of Oregano: Oregano tends to have a more robust and spicier flavor profile. Therefore, using a smaller amount than the suggested marjoram quantity is better. Tasting as you progress is prudent—starting conservatively (perhaps a third of the recommended measure) and adjusting incrementally if you want a richer taste.

Stems Matter: When recipes necessitate full marjoram stems, using oregano sprig might entail later stem removal. This differentiation stems from the inherent hardiness of oregano stems compared to the more delicate marjoram counterparts.

Marjoram vs Oregano

 

Vladka Merva on August 31st, 2023

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