Indispensible in the kitchen, oregano is strongly aromatic, with a somewhat bitter, pungent flavor and notes of musty earth, green hay, and mint. Its spicy quality creates a slightly astringent, even numbing mouthfeel. Oregano comes in varying flavors and strengths. Generally, a hot Mediterranean climate produces mild, peppery oregano; while cooler European climates yield sweeter, stronger varieties.
Oregano and Mediterranean Cuisine
Ancient Egyptians and Greeks flavored vegetables, meats, fish, even wines with oregano. (The herb was a symbol of happiness for the Egyptians.) Today, oregano is still found in much Mediterranean cooking, including Greek and Italian favorites like pizza, lasagna, souvlaki, Greek salads, and tomato-based pasta sauces.
Oregano in the USA
Oregano gained popularity in the U.S. after World War II. Servicemen stationed in the Mediterranean had picked up a taste for it overseas, and back home began asking for the “pizza herb.” Today, it’s a common ingredient in everyday American cooking.
While not part of the same mint family, Mexican oregano has a similar, though typically stronger, flavor profile than Mediterranean oregano--less minty and bitter, more hay-like. Mexican oregano is found in chili powders and adds flavor to chili con carne and other Mexican dishes.