By Erin Marissa Russell
Are you curious about the differences between Mexican oregano (sometimes called Puerto Rican oregano) and Mediterranean oregano (often simply called oregano)? We’ll break the facts down for you so you’re well versed in the difference between Mexican versus Mediterranean oregano.
Mexican oregano is a drought tolerant plant that’s native to the dry climates of Central America, Mexico, and the southwestern portion of the United States. Mediterranean oregano comes from the Mediterranean, as you may have suspected, as well as western and southwestern Europe and Asia.
Mexican oregano is related to lemon verbena, while Mediterranean oregano is a part of the mint family, related to marjoram. Mexican oregano comes from the plant Lippia graveolens, while Mediterranean oregano comes from the plant Origanum vulgare.
If you’re trying to differentiate between the two plants, Mexican oregano comes from a larger plant and has leaves with more jagged edges. A Mexican oregano plant can grow to reach a height of six feet tall, while Mediterranean oregano maxes out around two feet tall.
Remember that Mexican oregano is in the same plant family as lemon verbena? You’ll notice the similarity, as Mexican oregano has citrus undertones that blend with its earthy flavor. Mexican oregano has a floral, citrusy taste with a touch of anise.
Mediterranean oregano has a slightly sweet taste, with bitter or peppery secondary notes.
There is also a textural difference between Mexican and Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano is a bit chunkier than Mediterranean oregano, which comes in a finer form. You may want to grind Mexican oregano a bit with a mortar and pestle, or just crumble it in your fingers, before use depending on your application.
While Mediterranean oregano is used in Italian and Greek cuisine, you’re more likely to find Mexican oregano used in Mexican dishes, as the name suggests. You’ll find Mediterranean oregano used in dishes like pizza or pasta, while Mexican oregano works better in chili or adobo. Some parts of Mexico use Mexican oregano in salsa. You can even find Mexican oregano used in té de pais, also called “country tea.”
Because of their flavor differences, you shouldn’t really substitute Mexican and Mediterranean oregano for one another in recipes. If you don’t have Mexican oregano, a better substitute is marjoram with a bit of coriander, or you can substitute in lemon verbena. Marjoram will also work as a substitute for Mediterranean oregano, or you can use thyme, basil, or sage.
Mexican oregano’s flavor is so strong that it can overpower a dish if Mediterranean oregano was supposed to be used. So if you do decide to substitute Mexican oregano for Mediterranean oregano, use a little less than what’s called for.
Now you know all about Mexican oregano versus oregano. You’ve learned about the botany of the two plants as well as their use as culinary herbs, and you know how to substitute them. You’re ready to use Mexican and Mediterranean oregano in the kitchen and love the results.