What Is Mexican Oregano?

We’ll tell you everything you need to know about Mexican oregano, a spice that you need in your kitchen if you want to make authentic Mexican dishes. 

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An Overview of Mexican Oregano

Mexican oregano comes from a plant that is native to Mexico, Central America, and the American southwest. This flowering plant is resistant to drought, so it is perfect for these hot, dry regions. The plant is part of the same family as lemon verbena, which gives them a similar flavor. 

As you might have guessed, Mexican oregano is a staple in Mexican cuisine. Beloved for its earthy flavor and citrus undertones, Mexican oregano is a foundational spice in pozole,  traditional pork and hominy stew, seasoned black beans, and several meat dishes. For many Latin American cuisines, Mexican oregano is a popular seasoning for almost every dish!

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Mexican Oregano vs. Greek Oregano 

If you’ve never heard of Mexican oregano, chances are you’ve heard of oregano, also referred to as Greek oregano. You might be wondering: how similar are these spices? Surprisingly, they’re not very similar. 

As previously mentioned, Mexican oregano is part of the verbena or Verbenaceae family, whereas Greek oregano is part of the mint or Lamiaceae family. Although they come from two different plant families, they smell very similar, especially when dried. The similarity in smell between the two types of oregano is due to the thymol in both. Thymol is a chemical compound found in several spices such as bergamot, thyme, marjoram, and both types of oregano. 

Greek oregano has a sweet flavor with notes of anise, whereas Mexican oregano has a more grassy, earthy flavor with strong notes of citrus. For this reason, although it might be tempting, the two types of oregano cannot be substituted for each other. 

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Substitutes for Oregano

Given that the two oreganos cannot be substituted for each other, we’ll take a look at a few different substitutes for Mexican oregano and a few spices that Mexican oregano can fill in for in this section of the article. 

What Can Substitute for Mexican Oregano? 

If your recipe calls for Mexican oregano, but you don’t have any on hand, you can try using marjoram as a substitute. Like Greek oregano, marjoram is in the mint family, but it has a milder flavor than Greek oregano and is more similar to Mexican oregano. 

That being said, marjoram does not have the same citrusy notes as Mexican oregano, which you might be craving, especially if you’re seasoning meat or fish. If you want to capture some of the citrus notes of Mexican oregano, you can try adding a pinch of coriander to your dish. If you don’t have marjoram, you can try adding dried verbena to your dish. Make sure to substitute both marjoram and verbena in direct spoonful-for-spoonful quantities. 

What Can Mexican Oregano Replace in A Recipe? 

Although it can be hard to find in the United States, if you have Mexican oregano in your pantry, then you have an excellent cilantro substitute. Even though Mexican oregano and cilantro do not have the exact same flavor, Mexican oregano can provide the perfect herbal finish for a dish when you don’t want to use cilantro. 

Recipes With Mexican Oregano 

If you want to try cooking with Mexican oregano but don’t know where to start, check out this section where we’ve compiled some fun, easy recipes with Mexican oregano. 

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Chicken Pozole 

To make this tasty Mexican stew, you’ll need chicken thighs, tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, chicken broth, Mexican oregano, salt, cilantro, canned white hominy, and any garnishes of your choice. Simply add the chicken thighs, tomatillos, onion, jalapeño, chicken broth, Mexican oregano, and salt to a pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat, allowing it to simmer until the chicken is tender. 

Once the chicken is tender, transfer it to a cutting board and shred it for later. Take the tomatillos, onions, and jalapeño out of the pot and blend with cilantro and the cooking liquid. You want the mixture to be completely smooth. Finally, add the blended mixture, hominy, and shredded chicken back into the pot. Let it simmer for 15 minutes or so. Serve with garnishes such as lime juice, radish, cilantro, and Mexican oregano. Enjoy!

Cilantro-Free Pico De Gallo 

If you love Pico de Gallo but can’t stand cilantro, try making this recipe with Mexican oregano instead. You’ll need tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, garlic, lime juice, and Mexican oregano. Dice the tomatoes, onion, jalapeño, and garlic. Mix them together and add the lime juice and Mexican oregano, making sure to roll the leaves of the Mexican oregano between your fingers as you add it. Serve with tortilla chips or on top of any of your favorite Mexican street food!

Chicken Tinga Tacos 

The perfect pair for cilantro-free pico de gallo chicken tinga tacos! Chicken tinga is known for its smoky, spicy sauce. To make these easy, delicious tacos, all you need is canned fire-roasted diced tomatoes, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, onion, garlic, Mexican oregano, salt, olive oil, and shredded chicken. In a blender, mix the tomatoes, chipotle peppers, Mexican oregano, garlic, salt, and onion. Blend the mixture until it is completely smooth. 

In a large pan, add olive oil and the blended sauce. Allow the sauce to cook for about ten minutes before adding the shredded chicken. Toss the chicken with the sauce until it is totally covered and then reduce the heat to low, allowing the mixture to simmer for ten more minutes. You can serve your chicken tinga in warm tortillas with whatever toppings you like, such as cotija cheese, diced onions, and cilantro. 

A Tip To Keep In Mind 

Spices in Mexico are traditionally ground with a molcajete or a mortar and pestle. The process of grinding the spice together with the mortar and pulverizing the seeds allows additional, complex flavors to be released from the spices. In order to facilitate this release without a molcajete, spend a few minutes rubbing Mexican oregano between your hands before you use it. 

Purchasing and Storage

In this section, we’ll answer some of the important questions regarding purchasing and storing Mexican oregano. 

Where Can I Buy Mexican Oregano?

In the United States, it can be hard to find Mexican oregano in most large grocery stores such as Walmart, Publix, or Target. However, you can normally find Mexican oregano, especially dried Mexican oregano, at Latin markets or specialty stores. 

Given that the most common way to buy Mexican oregano is dried, you can also have it shipped straight to your door from a large-scale, online spice company or from a Latin store that ships. 

How Do I Store Mexican Oregano? 

There are no specific instructions for storing Mexican oregano, so you can store it along with all your other spices. As long as you keep your Mexican oregano in a cool, dark place, you can save it for months.

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Conclusion 

Mexican oregano is a delicious, versatile spice that is one of the most commonly used flavors in Mexican cuisine. Distinct from Greek oregano that is often used in Mediterranean and Italian cooking, Mexican oregano has a grassy, citrusy flavor that is the perfect addition to many dishes. 

If you’re making a recipe that calls for Mexican oregano and you don’t have any in your kitchen, you can try substituting it with marjoram. If you have Mexican oregano, you can use it as a substitute for cilantro. Just remember, if you’re cooking with Mexican oregano, roll the leaves in your hands before adding them to your dish to get the most flavor out of this wonderful spice! 

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Sources:

Thyme | Penn State University

Marjoram | Penn State University

Potential Health Benefit of Garlic Based on Human Intervention Studies: A Brief Overview | NCBI

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