Mexican oregano, also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage, is a Latin American herb that is closely related to regular Mediterranean oregano. However, Mexican oregano has a very distinctive taste and aroma that sets it apart from other oregano varieties. Many describe Mexican oregano as having intense, earthy, and citrusy notes that are much bolder than regular oregano. This leads to the common question – is Mexican oregano stronger than regular oregano? Let’s take a deeper look.
How Does Mexican Oregano Differ From Regular Oregano?
Mexican oregano, scientifically known as Lippia graveolens, is a different plant species altogether from regular oregano, Origanum vulgare. Here are some key ways Mexican oregano differs from regular oregano:
- Mexican oregano has a stronger, more pungent flavor. It provides a robust herbal, earthy taste compared to the more delicate, mildly spicy flavor of regular oregano.
- The scent of Mexican oregano is also more potent, with distinct citrus and floral undertones.
- Mexican oregano leaves are smaller and grow densely along thin fragile stems. Regular oregano has larger, broader leaves and thick woody stems.
- Mexican oregano is native to Mexico and Central America, whereas regular oregano originated in the Mediterranean region.
- In terms of culinary use, Mexican oregano works better in dishes from Latin American cuisines, while regular oregano suits Mediterranean dishes more.
These differences arise from the different biochemical makeup of the two plants. Let’s analyze the key compounds that give Mexican oregano its uniquely bold flavor.
Key Compounds in Mexican Oregano
The intense flavor of Mexican oregano comes from its high concentration of essential oils, specifically carvacrol. This aromatic compound provides antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits and is found abundantly in oregano plants.
Studies show that Mexican oregano contains over 10 times more carvacrol than regular oregano grown in similar conditions. Carvacrol makes up 50-75% of its essential oils compared to just 4-7% in regular oregano.
Besides carvacrol, Mexican oregano also contains high levels of two other flavorful compounds – thymol and sabinene hydrate. This unique combination of aromatic compounds gives Mexican oregano its distinctive strong, citrusy, and spicy taste.
How Does the Taste Compare?
The best way to compare the taste of the two oreganos is through a side-by-side tasting. Let’s examine some key flavor differences:
Regular oregano has a mild, earthy, slightly bitter, and minimally spicy flavor. It provides subtle herbaceous notes.
Mexican oregano, on the other hand, delivers a powerful punch of flavor. It has strong citrus and herbal notes and leaves a lingering spicy finish. The robust flavor is further intensified when dried.
Many describe the taste as a cross between lemon, mint, and oregano. The combined effect is a sharp, tangy flavor that stands out and intensifies other flavors in a dish.
So in terms of taste, Mexican oregano is undoubtedly more intense and bold than regular oregano. A little Mexican oregano goes a long way in providing big flavor.
Heat and Spiciness
In terms of heat and spiciness, Mexican oregano packs a much bigger punch than regular oregano.
Regular oregano has only mild spiciness from small amounts of the phenolic compound thymol.
Mexican oregano derives most of its heat from the highly concentrated carvacrol. The spiciness intensifies as the herb dries. The flavor has been described as peppery and chili-like.
So Mexican oregano certainly provides a greater level of spicy heat and makes dishes taste spicier. Keep this in mind when substituting in your recipes.
When it comes to fragrance, Mexican oregano has a remarkably stronger scent. When smelled side-by-side, regular oregano comes across as subtler and one-dimensional compared to Mexican oregano.
The latter has a multidimensional aroma with three main layers – herbal, citrusy, and floral. The smell is so potent that it is said to repel insects due to the high carvacrol content.
So if you close your eyes, you’ll be able to easily tell the difference between the two oreganos through smell alone.
Cooking With Mexican Oregano
Now that we know Mexican oregano packs much stronger flavor, how does that affect cooking with this herb? Here are some tips:
Use Lesser Quantity
Since Mexican oregano is so strongly flavored, you need much less of it in your cooking. Use only about 1/3rd the amount specified for regular oregano in a recipe.
Even a teaspoon of dried Mexican oregano can provide plenty of robust flavor to a dish. Too much can make the dish taste bitter and soapy.
Add Towards End of Cooking
To better preserve the flavor, add Mexican oregano towards the end of cooking. This prevents the essential oils from evaporating or breaking down from excessive heating.
For stews and braises, add it in the last 30 minutes. For quicker sautés and roasts, sprinkle it on right before serving.
Use More Sparingly With Bold Foods
Mexican oregano can overpower other strong flavors like chili peppers, garlic, onions, etc. When using it with such bold ingredients, cut back on the quantity even more.
Start with 1/4 teaspoon oregano for 4 servings. You can always add more later.
Pair Well With Tomatoes, Chicken, Fish
Mexican oregano pairs exceptionally well with recipes featuring tomatoes, chicken, and fish. The herbs bright flavors bring these ingredients to life.
Use it abundantly in salsa, chicken fajitas, chilaquiles, ceviche, and the likes.
Substitute Carefully For Regular Oregano
While you can substitute Mexican oregano for regular, make sure to use much less – about 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano for every tablespoon regular oregano called for.
This ratio can vary based on the dish. Start low and increase slowly.
Also, adjust other spices in the recipe accordingly, especially if they contribute heat like chili powder.
To Subdue Flavor, Wait Until Halfway Through Cooking
If a dish calls for regular oregano, but you only have the more potent Mexican oregano, here’s a tip – wait until halfway through the cooking time before adding it. This allows the intensity to mellow down slightly.
For example, for a 40-minute braise or stew, add the Mexican oregano only at the 20-minute mark.
Keep Away From Baking
While Mexican oregano shines in savory cooking, avoid using it in baked goods.
The intensity overpowers more delicate flavors like vanilla, chocolate, etc. Stick to regular oregano for baking.
What Gives Mexican Oregano Its Strong Flavor?
As discussed earlier, Mexican oregano gets its remarkably stronger flavor from these key compounds:
This aromatic compound makes up 50-75% of Mexican oregano’s essential oil content. In contrast, regular oregano contains only trace amounts of carvacrol.
The high concentration of antibacterial and anti-inflammatory carvacrol provides Mexican oregano with a strong spicy, peppery flavor. It also enhances the herb’s fragrance.
Thymol is another phenolic compound that adds to the spicy, pungent taste. Along with carvacrol, it gives Mexican oregano its heat and potency.
Thymol also boosts the preservative properties of Mexican oregano.
This compound adds citrusy and peppery notes to Mexican oregano. Sabinene hydrate provides a tangy undertone to balance the strong earthy flavor.
This is a flavorful terpene found in essential oils of many herbs. In Mexican oregano, it imparts floral aromas and a subtle sweet note.
Borneol is a terpene alcohol that gives woody, camphoraceous aroma to Mexican oregano. It rounds off the multilayered fragrance.
So in summary, it is the rich combination of aromatics, terpenes, and phenolic compounds that sets Mexican oregano miles apart from regular oregano in terms of flavor.
Along with outstanding flavor, Mexican oregano also provides greater health benefits. Let’s examine some key ones:
The concentration of flavonoid antioxidants in Mexican oregano is very high. Carvacrol and thymol act as antioxidants and fight oxidative stress and inflammation.
Regular oregano also contains antioxidants but Mexican oregano delivers them in greater amounts.
More Anti-microbial Activity
Several studies prove that Mexican oregano has powerful antibacterial and antifungal properties. This is again attributed to high carvacrol content.
The essential oils fight infections and foodborne illnesses. They also provide preservative benefits.
Better Immunity Booster
By fighting bacteria and inflammation, Mexican oregano acts as an excellent immunity booster.
It is especially great during cold and flu season. The herbs antiviral properties help fight respiratory infections.
Mexican oregano enhances digestion by stimulating bile production and digestive enzymes. This helps improve gut health.
The carminative properties provide relief from gas and bloating as well.
So with both taste and health benefits amplified, Mexican oregano surely packs a more powerful punch than regular oregano.
Recipes To Try
Here are some delicious recipes that showcase the intense flavor of Mexican oregano:
This herbaceous green sauce from Argentina gets a flavor boost from Mexican oregano. Pairs fantastically with grilled meats.
Chicken Fajita Marinade
Mexican oregano infuses this chicken fajita marinade with smoky, spicy flavor. Goes great in fajitas, burritos and more.
The tangy citrus flavors of ceviche get along amazingly with Mexican oregano. Adds spice to the seafood dish.
The tomatillo base of this salsa verde gains fresh herby notes from Mexican oregano. Delicious with tortilla chips.
This popular Mexican marinade uses the smokiness of Mexican oregano beautifully. Marinate meat or fish in it.
Black Bean Soup
Earthy black bean soup gets a lift with the pungent flavor of Mexican oregano. Garnish bowls with it.
So spice up your dishes by grabbing some Mexican oregano on your next grocery run. A little goes a long way in adding big flavor.
Yes, Mexican oregano is decidedly stronger in flavor compared to regular Mediterranean oregano. This is mainly due to its significantly higher concentration of aromatic compounds like carvacrol.
Mexican oregano has a robust earthy and citrusy flavor with hints of mint and chili pepper. It has a stronger fragrance and provides a greater level of spicy heat.
When cooking with Mexican oregano, use about 1/3rd the quantity you would use for regular oregano. It partners exceptionally well with ingredients like tomatoes, chicken, and fish.
Along with big flavor, Mexican oregano also provides greater health benefits. It contains higher levels of antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds. This makes it an immunity booster with digestive benefits as well.
So if you are a fan of bold, intense flavors, Mexican oregano is a must-try. A little bit can amp up the flavor of many Latin recipes.