Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and regular oregano (Origanum vulgare) have similar tastes and can often be used interchangeably in recipes. However, there are some key differences between these herbs that you should consider before substituting one for the other.
In most cases, yes, you can substitute Mexican oregano for regular oregano. The two herbs have a very similar flavor profile featuring earthy, woodsy, and mildly bitter notes. Both oreganos provide a pungent aroma and taste that enhances many savory dishes, especially Italian, Mexican, and Mediterranean cuisine. However, regular oregano has a slightly more pungent, minty taste while Mexican oregano is lemonier. Keep this flavor difference in mind, adjust amounts accordingly, and substitute conservatively until you’re comfortable with the new proportions.
Mexican oregano and regular oregano taste very similar at first bite, but there are subtle flavor differences.
- Regular oregano is more intensely herbal, earthy, woody, and minty.
- Mexican oregano has those flavors too but is a bit more mild. It has a notable lemony citrus flavor.
- Regular oregano has an extra peppery spiciness and pungency.
- The lemon notes in Mexican oregano provide a brighter, fresher taste.
So in summary, regular oregano is woodier and more bitter while Mexican oregano has more citrusy brightness. Start by using a bit less Mexican oregano than you’d use of regular oregano since it’s less pungent. You can always add more later to taste.
Mexican and regular oregano also look quite different from each other:
- Regular oregano has olive green oval leaves.
- Mexican oregano has smaller grayish-green rounded leaves.
- Mexican oregano’s stems are purple-tinged.
- Regular oregano has a more familiar look while Mexican oregano appears more shrubby.
So if appearance matters, keep this visual difference in mind too. Overall though, the flavor similarities make these herbs interchangeable despite their divergent looks.
Mexican and regular oregano come from different plant species:
- Regular oregano is from the mint family Lamiaceae. Its scientific name is Origanum vulgare.
- Mexican oregano is from the verbena family Verbenaceae. Its scientific name is Lippia graveolens.
They both hail from the same wider Mediterranean, Euro-Asian region. But regular oregano is more European while Mexican oregano originated in Mexico. Their unique origins contribute to their distinct flavor profiles.
When it comes to cooking with Mexican oregano vs. regular oregano, you can use them interchangeably in most recipes. However, there are some technique differences:
- Mexican oregano has a lower moisture content. It can burn faster, so add it toward the end of cooking.
- Regular oregano can handle longer cooking times without losing flavor.
- Mexican oregano’s lemon notes fade the longer it’s cooked. Add it at the last minute for optimal flavor.
- Mexican oregano better stands up to spicy dishes thanks to its citrus kick.
To summarize, regular oregano can handle more cooking time while Mexican oregano does best added near the end. Adjust the timing of when you add the substitute oregano accordingly.
Dried vs. Fresh Differences
Both oregano varieties are sold fresh or dried. Here’s how they compare:
- Fresh oregano has a more refined, gentle flavor while dried is more intensely concentrated.
- Dried Mexican oregano is much spicier than fresh.
- Regular dried oregano has more minty bite than the fresh version.
- Use one third the amount of dried oregano to equal the same quantity of fresh oregano.
Keep the intensity differences between fresh and dried oregano in mind when substituting. And since dried oregano packs a bigger punch, use less of it.
When it comes to growing oregano plants, Mexican and regular oregano have some key differences:
- Mexican oregano is a tender perennial best grown as an annual. Regular oregano is a hardy perennial.
- Mexican oregano needs hot sun and well-drained soil. Regular oregano is more flexible.
- Mexican oregano starts easily from seed. Regular oregano is best propagated from cuttings.
- Mexican oregano flowers more readily than regular oregano.
So if you want to grow your own substitute oregano, know that Mexican oregano can be a bit more challenging requiring perfect conditions. But both grow well in backyard herb gardens!
Both oregano varieties provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Here’s how their nutrition profiles differ:
- Mexican oregano is higher in antioxidants, containing rosmarinic acid.
- Regular oregano has more vitamin K, iron, calcium, and manganese.
- Mexican oregano contains some omega fatty acids while regular oregano does not.
- Regular oregano provides more fiber per gram compared to Mexican oregano.
So regular oregano has a slight edge nutritionally with more minerals and fiber. But Mexican oregano contains healthy antioxidants. Overall, their nutrition is comparable.
Throughout history, oregano varieties have been used for their medicinal benefits. Here’s how the two herbs differ as remedies:
- Mexican oregano has stronger antibacterial properties from thymol compounds.
- Regular oregano aids digestion thanks to its carminative effect.
- Mexican oregano is richer in antioxidants to fight disease.
- Regular oregano’s rosmarinic acid content boosts immune health.
Both provide antioxidants and disease prevention benefits. Mexican oregano may have stronger antibacterial effects while regular oregano benefits digestion more.
When shopping for oregano, you’ll find some differences in availability:
- Regular oregano is easily found fresh or dried in any grocery store.
- Mexican oregano may only be available dried in the spice aisle at well-stocked stores.
- Growing regular oregano is easier than finicky Mexican oregano.
- Prices are similar, but Mexican oregano is a bit more expensive.
So regular oregano definitely has the upper hand for convenient availability fresh or dried. Seek out Mexican oregano in Hispanic markets or specialty spice shops for best selection.
Taste Test Ideas
To get a feel for how these oreganos differ in flavor, do a taste test with some of these ideas:
- Sprinkle a pincheach over raw tomatoes
- Add to simple salad dressings
- Mix into olive tapenade
- Rub onto chicken, beef, or fish before grilling
- Add to tomato sauces and gravies
- Flavor vinaigrette to dress cooked veggies
Taste the oreganos side-by-side in dishes you enjoy. Pay attention to the differences in pungency, woodiness, mint, lemon, and bitterness. Seeing how they compare in your favorite recipes will give you the best sense of how to use them interchangeably.
Start with about 3/4 teaspoon of Mexican oregano for every 1 teaspoon regular oregano called for. You may need to adjust up or down after tasting.
Their flavor potency differs though depending on whether it’s fresh or dried. Here are more precise substitution ratios:
- 1 tablespoon fresh Mexican oregano = 1 tablespoon fresh regular oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano = 3/4 to 1 teaspoon dried regular oregano
- 1/3 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano = 1 teaspoon fresh regular oregano
Again, these ratios provide a helpful starting point. But your taste preferences and the particular dish may call for slightly more or less Mexican oregano for best results.
Dishes That Highlight Oregano
Both Mexican and regular oregano beautifully complement these flavorful dishes:
- Pasta sauce
- Marinades and rubs for meat
- Vegetables like tomatoes, mushrooms, zucchini, and eggplant
- Salad dressings and marinades
In Italian and Mexican cuisine, oregano provides a signature flavor. Use them generously with recipes featuring tomatoes, chilies, olive oil, chicken, beef, and pork.
Oregano’s woody herbal notes pair deliciously with these ingredients:
- Onions and garlic
- Cheese like parmesan, feta, mozzarella
- Wine and vinegar
- Bay leaf
Next time you use oregano, enhance the flavor by adding ingredients like tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, mushrooms, lemon, and cheese.
In a pinch, some possible oregano substitutes include:
These Mediterranean herbs all complement similar dishes. While their flavors differ, a combination can closely replicate oregano’s woodsy, lemony, minty notes.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Mexican oregano the same as regular oregano?
Mexican oregano and regular oregano are very close relatives in the mint family of herbs. Their flavor is nearly identical, sharing woodsy, earthy, and lemony notes. Mexican oregano is a little milder with more citrus flavor while regular oregano has extra minty bite. The two herbs can be used interchangeably in most recipes.
Can you substitute Mexican oregano for regular oregano?
Yes, in most recipes you can substitute Mexican oregano 1:1 for regular oregano. However, start with about 3/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano for every 1 teaspoon regular oregano. Adjust amounts as needed since Mexican oregano is slightly less pungent. The herbs have similar earthy, lemon flavors but regular oregano is a bit woodier and spicier.
Is Mexican oregano spicier than regular oregano?
No, regular oregano is actually spicier and more pungent than Mexican oregano. Regular oregano has a peppery minty bite while Mexican oregano is more mild and citrusy. However, dried Mexican oregano takes on a spicier flavor when the lemon notes concentrate.
Can I replace oregano with Mexican oregano?
Absolutely, Mexican oregano can readily replace regular oregano in any recipe. Start by using a bit less Mexican oregano compared to regular, about 3/4 teaspoon for every 1 teaspoon. Its flavor is comparable though a tad more mild and lemony. With a little adjustment, Mexican oregano makes an excellent oregano substitute.
Is Mexican oregano better than regular oregano?
Whether Mexican or regular oregano is “better” depends on the recipe and your taste preferences. They have nearly identical herbal, earthy flavor with some subtle differences. Regular oregano is woodier and more pungent. Mexican oregano has pleasant citrus notes. So the “better” oregano varies dish to dish based on what flavors you want to highlight.
The Bottom Line
Mexican and regular oregano can be used interchangeably in most recipes. They provide a similar woody, earthy flavor profile with some subtle differences. Regular oregano is more intensely minty and bitter while Mexican oregano has bright, lemony notes. When substituting, use a bit less Mexican oregano at first until the flavor balance is right. With its comparable taste, Mexican oregano makes an excellent stand-in for regular oregano.