Mexican oregano is an underdog herb. The zesty plant is the lesser known cousin of Greek oregano. More like step cousins by association, because the two don’t even share a taxonomic family. Greek oregano is part of the mint or Lamiaceae family, and Mexican oregano is part of the verbena or Verbenaceae family. The two smell very similar, especially in dried form. This is due to the high presence of thymol in the essential oils of each plant. Thymol is a chemical compound found in more commonly known herbs such as Greek oregano, wild bergamot, and thyme. Mexican oregano was named after its smell and flavor, which is why it’s also been referred to as Mexican sage, and Mexican marjoram.
Mexican oregano is stronger than its Greek doppelgänger and less sweet. It is a robust additive that adds a perky top note to many dishes. You can add it to salsas, guacamole, stews, soups, queso dip, and tomato sauces. The zesty nature of this herb lends itself to familiar hearty foods like beans, chili and mole sauce. It also works well in milder marinades for pork, poultry, and fish, especially when paired with citrus and alliums.
You can simply use it to garnish your tacos, beans or rice. Crushing it gently between your fingers as you sprinkle it over. A simple and delicious marinade can be made using fresh lemon juice, minced garlic, and a sprinkle of Mexican oregano. Whisk it all together and it’s ready for fish, chicken, or summer squash. Swap the lemon juice for orange and try using it to marinate pork. As the name suggests, Mexican oregano is a key ingredient in much of Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. At many Mexican restaurants and taquerias you're often served complimentary pickled vegetables, including carrots, onions and jalapeños. Those pickled veggies are often seasoned with a pinch of this oregano. Chili powders are incomplete without this ground herb. Practically all of our Mexican and Southwest inspired blends tip their sombrero to Mexican oregano. We offer this herb in both its whole and ground forms. The ground form is more popular for certain barbecue rubs and many, if not most, chili recipes. Many of our readers will happy happy to hear that Mexican oregano makes an excellent substitute for cilantro.
The two herbs are not perfect substitutes for each other, however Mexican oregano satisfies the final herbal accent needed when cilantro is removed from a dish, particularly freshly made salsa or guacamole. A select population of humans claim that cilantro has an awful taste like soap or metal. There may be science to support those claims, according to this report. Some of you may even frequent ihatecliantro.com...
“Hate” is not in our vocabulary at the Spice House, but we do love our Mexican oregano as a delicious alternative to cilantro. Try starting out with this Cilantro-free Salsa recipe. Even as a cilantro fan, I find myself favoring Mexican oregano more and more. If you can help it, let the salsa sit overnight. All the flavors will improve and intensify, especially with your new favorite herb.
Article and recipe by Geoff Marshall, Spice House Staff Writer