Mexican oregano, also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage, is a flavorful herb used in Mexican cuisine. It has a stronger, more pungent taste than Mediterranean oregano. If you don’t have Mexican oregano on hand, there are several good substitutes you can use.
The best substitutes for Mexican oregano are Mediterranean oregano, marjoram, or a blend of oregano, cumin, and chili powder. In a pinch, you can also use regular oregano or Italian seasoning.
Mediterranean oregano is the most common and readily available type of oregano. It has a mild, woodsy, slightly bitter taste. Mediterranean oregano makes a good substitute for Mexican oregano, though it won’t be quite as bold and pungent. Use about 25% more Mediterranean oregano than the recipe calls for. The flavor won’t be identical, but it will work well in most Mexican dishes.
How to Use
Replace Mexican oregano with Mediterranean oregano in tacos, enchiladas, chili, or fajitas. Add more oregano than the recipe specifies to account for its milder flavor. Start with about 25% more and adjust to taste.
Marjoram is a cousin of oregano with a mild, sweet flavor similar to Mediterranean oregano. Its taste complements Mexican food well. Replace Mexican oregano with an equal amount of marjoram.
How to Use
Marjoram can be used in place of Mexican oregano in any Mexican recipe. Use the same amount the recipe calls for. Its flavor is less pungent than Mexican oregano, so consider adding a little more marjoram or combine it with a pinch of chili powder.
Oregano-Cumin-Chili Powder Blend
For a closer match to Mexican oregano’s robust flavor, make your own blend:
- 2 parts Mediterranean oregano
- 1 part ground cumin
- 1 part chili powder
Cumin adds earthiness while chili powder brings smoky heat. Combine the spices and use in place of Mexican oregano.
How to Use
Use this homemade blend in any amount specified for Mexican oregano. Try it in tacos, salsa, guacamole, chili, or Mexican rice dishes for authentic flavor.
Regular, Mediterranean oregano is readily available in most grocery stores. While it has a mellower, less pungent flavor than Mexican oregano, it can work well as a stand-in in a pinch. Use about 25% more regular oregano and add a pinch of chili powder to intensify the flavor.
How to Use
Boost the flavor of regular oregano by adding a bit more than the recipe calls for and sprinkling in some chili powder. Use it in recipes like chicken fajitas, tacos al pastor, or chimichurri sauce.
Italian seasoning contains oregano along with other herbs like basil, rosemary, and thyme. While it won’t perfectly mimic Mexican oregano, it can substitute in a recipe when you don’t have anything else on hand. Use about 50% more Italian seasoning than the recipe specifies for Mexican oregano.
How to Use
Spike up Italian seasoning with a little cumin and chili powder. Use it to season meat for tacos, stir into chili, or sprinkle on before roasting vegetables or meat.
In a pinch, thyme can work as a stand-in for Mexican oregano, though the flavors are quite different. Thyme has a delicate lemon-herbal taste. Use about 50% more fresh thyme leaves or 1.5 times more dried thyme to substitute for Mexican oregano.
How to Use
Boost thyme’s flavor by combining it with cumin and chili powder. Use it in sauces, stews, or on meat and veggies before roasting. The flavor won’t be very close to Mexican oregano, so only use thyme as a last resort.
If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of Mexican oregano, here is how much of each substitute to use:
|Mediterranean oregano||1 1⁄4 teaspoons|
|Oregano-cumin-chili powder blend||1 teaspoon|
|Regular oregano||1 1⁄4 teaspoons|
|Italian seasoning||1 1⁄2 teaspoons|
|Thyme||1 1⁄2 teaspoons (dried) or 1 1⁄2 tablespoons (fresh)|
While these substitutions will work, keep in mind that the flavor won’t be exactly the same as authentic Mexican oregano. Here’s how their taste compares:
|Mexican oregano||Strong, earthy, bold, pungent, citrusy|
|Mediterranean oregano||Woodsy, mildly bitter, subtle|
|Marjoram||Delicate, sweet, slightly minty|
|Oregano-cumin-chili blend||Robust, earthy, spicy, warm|
|Regular oregano||Woodsy, mildly bitter|
|Italian seasoning||Herbal, savory|
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is Mexican oregano different than Mediterranean oregano?
Mexican oregano comes from a different plant species than Mediterranean oregano. Mexican oregano is derived from the Lippia graveolens plant, while Mediterranean oregano comes from the Origanum vulgare plant. They have different flavor profiles and Mexican oregano is considered spicier.
What gives Mexican oregano its distinctive flavor?
The unique taste of Mexican oregano comes from the high concentration of essential oils in the leaves. The oils contain thymol, carvacrol, and limonene, which give Mexican oregano its citrusy, spicy flavor.
Is it okay to substitute regular oregano for Mexican oregano?
Yes, in a pinch regular oregano can work as a substitute for Mexican oregano. The flavor won’t be as bold. Use about 25% more regular oregano and consider adding a pinch of another spice like cumin or chili powder to intensify the flavor.
Can I grow Mexican oregano myself?
Yes, Mexican oregano can easily be grown in gardens in zones 9-11. Plant it in well-draining soil in full sun. Growing it yourself is a great way to have fresh Mexican oregano readily available.
Is dried Mexican oregano a good substitute for fresh?
Dried Mexican oregano makes a good substitute for fresh in most recipes. Use about one third of the amount of fresh oregano called for. For example, replace 1 tablespoon of fresh with 1 teaspoon of dried.
While Mediterranean oregano, marjoram, an oregano-based spice blend, or Italian seasoning can stand in for Mexican oregano, they won’t perfectly replicate the bold, citrusy flavor. If using a substitute, start with a smaller amount and adjust up if needed. For best results, try to track down real Mexican oregano. With its spicy, robust flavor, it makes Mexican dishes truly authentic.