Sometimes adding herbs and spices can really be the missing ingredient in a dish. Whether you are making pizza sauce, salsa, or a salad, you might need oregano.
We’re here to show that all is not lost, there are viable swap outs and substitutes for the italian herb that will taste similar and some that will help you find new herbs for your classic dishes.
Discovering new herbs and spices means that in the future if you run out of oregano again you now easily have the power to swap it out for something else and know it will still taste good.
The oregano we all know and love is sourced from the origanum genus which has many offsprings nad variants across the world, the most recognisable origanum variant to a western person is origanum vulgare which is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and Northern hemisphere generally.
Oregano has a unique taste profile which makes it so hard to replace. Many describe oregano as having a pleasant bitterness and herbal profile which is great for balancing out sweetness in dishes.
For these reasons oregano is commonly associated with tomatoes and in turn Italian cuisine. Growing oregano is easy and guarantees that you will never run out.
Read on to learn the best substitutes when you don’t have oregano so you are never caught empty handed in the kitchen.
Basil is another favored spice among Italian cuisine. Basil has a great umami flavour that will easily replace oregano in a recipe. Because these are used fairly interchangeably in Italian cooking they are good swaps for each other.
This works as a great substitution in any Mediterranean dish. Dried basil could be ideal as in its fresh form it has more unique pungency.
Zaatar is a herb we may not be so familiar with in the western world, but it is a very similar herb to oregano. Zaatar is actually a mixture of different herbs, amny of which are the arabian or middle eastern variants of the origanum plant which produces the oregano we know and love.
Zaatar is a herb that has a similar flavour to thyme and oregano. It is commonly used in middle eastern dishes to provide the same bitter, nutty undertones to dishes.
Marjoram is another italian herb that is a great swap for oregano. Marjoram is definitely the most overlooked of the italian herbs but is often what people find is missing from their tomato sauces and Italian or Mediterranean dishes. This has a similar taste to oregano and looks quite similar too.
Marjoram, like oregano, can be both dried or fresh. In its dred form it will be most similar to oregano as its herbaceous nose is quite strong in fresh form.
Tarragon is another overlooked herb that has some similar features to oregano in both dried and fresh forms.
Some people love to add oregano into their salads for herbaceous kick. Tarragon is another great herb that works well in salads, as, like oregano, it pairs really well with tomatoes.
Another great herb that brings the winter warmth to soups and italian winter dishes that is missed without oregano. Sage can come in different forms but is pretty fragrant and distinctive when fresh, especially when fried.
In its dry form Sage is a more suitable swap out for oregano, but is still one to keep in the pantry.
Another overlooked herb! Many suggest that bay leaves actually don’t impart any flavor to a dish. However, blind taste tests would suggest differently, sometimes the fragrance of the bay leaf is often recognisably missing in a dish that does not have bay leaf.
This fragrance is similar to the fragrance of oregano, so if you have a dish that requires bay leaf and oregano but you don’t have oregano then simply add another bay leaf or so and this could give you the fragrance the dish needs.
Rosemary is a pretty great substitution for oregano in its fresh form. It has the perfume and fragrance of oregano that works well with meats and potatoes and is a great swap for fresh oregano.
These perfumed fragrances are fundamental to compliment the umami flavours in a dish.
Dill is often overlooked but has the desirable bitterness we might want in oregano. In addition, dill could add a lot of grassy and herbal flavor to a dish, so if this isn’t desired in your specific use then maybe add a little less dill than you would oregano to compensate.
Dill works well with tomatoes, like oregano, and is great with eggs. Dill balances dishes really well.
Parsley is a great sub for tomato based dishes that ask for oregano. Parsley is always easy to get your hands on and is something you may already have laying around. Use parsley to give your tomato dishes a little more zing.
Parsley also works well with greens in salads as a sub for oregano. Parsley works well with tomatoes and mushrooms just like oregano.
Thyme is a great swap out for oregano in most dishes. In its fresh format it resembles oregano quite a lot. They look pretty similar and have similar plant terpenes which allow their peppery bitterness to give a kick to any dish.
Although, dry thyme is often too perfumey to be a straight swap for oregano, so use fresh as necessary.
This is another Middle Eastern herb that we may not have heard of in the Western world. The dried leaves of the Hyssop plant are used in Middle Eastern dishes similarly to oregano and zaatar.
Zaatar actually may commonly have Hyssop within its herbal mixture. Hyssop is well known for having a pleasant bitterness and floral notes to oregano in Western cooking.
Sounds stupid, but it’s likely that your italian seasoning will have some form of oregano in its ingredients. This one works well in the grocery store when they run out of oregano.
Italian seasoning works well in italian dishes obviously, but in other cuisines we might recommend another swap. This is almost always a combination of dried Italian herbs, it won’t come fresh.
Another one that might raise a few eyebrows, but hear me out. Oregano, along with other things, helps provide a bitterness in Italian dishes that helps balance out the sweetness of the vegetables and tomato that permeates all Italian cooking.
Some chefs have suggested that adding a spoonful of coffee ground to your stock will add this level of bitterness necessary to make those tomatoes sing. This works in the same way that adding coffee to your chocolate cake will: your food won’t taste like coffee, it’s purely an agent of bitterness.
Coleus amboinicus is the latin name for a herb that is of the Lamiaceae family, which is similar to mint and sage in genetic terms. This herb has many English names such as Indian borage, country borage, French thyme, Indian mint, Mexican mint, and most importantly cuban oregano.
While these names are confusing it illustrates that this herb is a pretty good swap for any herb you may not have. Although oregano does have a very similar taste and smell to oregano while not even being in the same genetic family.
Fenugreek is another herb that isn’t used as often as it could be. The leaves of the Fenugreek plant have a similar nutty and sweet taste that you might desire from oregano.
While it’s commonly used in Indian dishes it is a good swap out for oregano in more Mediterranean dishes. When eaten fresh and raw Fenugreek, much like oregano, is pretty strong. It requires the usual cooking time of oregano in order to mute some of these stronger flavors.
While fennel is very much a vegetable, it often has fronds that protrude from the top. While these are often thrown away they are pretty common ‘herb’ within Italian and Mediterranean dishes.
They have a certain aniseed flavor to them that is expected from the fennel plant, but adding it to a dish can balance out the relative flavors that oregano does by compensating for bitterness.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is oregano the same as Italian seasoning?
No, Italian seasoning is actually a combination of spices that are regularly used in Italian cooking. Usually, although this is subject to change these herbs and spices are: basil, marjoram, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and many others. Oregano is actually one of the herbs in Italian Seasoning which is what makes it so good as a substitute.
Can mint work as a swap out for oregano?
Not really, they have quite different flavour profiles. Mint has a very uniquely strong taste and smell that isn’t similar to oregano. Mint will also be required in quite different dishes to oregano too.
What about cilantro?
Cilantro, or coriander, like mint, has a much different flavor profile to oregano. Swapping cilantro and oregano isn’t the best choice, but it depends what dish you are using.
Oregano is often used in Mexican dishes, adding cilantro instead could provide the different taste you desire.
Does oregano have unique medical benefits?
Fresh oregano is a great antibacterial food. It contains what is known as phytonutrients which are great for fighting infections. Moreover, oregano is loaded with antioxidants which help your blood flow and prevent cell damage.
Oregano is an excellent source of fibre as well as being good for your immune system. The health benefits of oregano are pretty similar to most herbs, so these can usually be swapped out.
Can you eat raw fresh Oregano?
Yes, you can, but it will taste quite strong. In many cases this is why dried oregano is used so often, as using fresh oregano too late in a dish could overwhelm the other flavours.
It’s always best to add fresh oregano earlier in the cooking process so the heat can absorb some of this pungency. Although, in it’s fresh form you can create oregano oil which is great on pizzas, salads, and pasta.
Can I grow my own oregano?
Of course! This is the best way to solve having to sub out oregano, by having a constant supply. Oregano can be grown from seeds as well as being propagated.
Seeds should be started inside, depending on your climate, and should regrow every year with correct watering. You can actually grow oregano seeds without even planting them in soil, as long as you water them regularly.
Does oregano have any hermetic medicinal qualities?
Oregano is often used in hermetic medicines and taken via the mouth. It’s said to work well for menstrual cramps, rheumatoid arthritis, urinary infections, headaches, diabetes, high cholesterol, and heart conditions. But always consult your doctor if you have persistent health issues.