Cooking a dish that needs oregano but don’t have any? No need to panic! Whether you’ve run out or you aren’t keen on the taste, there are lots of easy alternatives.
Read on to find out which are the best substitutes for this popular herb! You’ll probably find most of them in your pantry already. 🙂
Before we get started…
If you find this guide helpful, you may also like to take a look at this list of easy dill substitutes as well!
What is Oregano?
Oregano is a herb from the mint family that people have used for thousands of years to add flavor to food.
Who uses it?
Oregano is often used in Italian cuisine. It’s a key ingredient in tomato sauces, pizzas and for adding flavor to grilled meat.
It’s also often used in Greek cooking. You won’t find a Greek salad or Greek chicken gyro (souvlaki) without the distinct taste of oregano tickling your taste buds!
It’s also popular in Argentinian, Turkish and Mexican cuisine. It’s a pretty versatile herb!
Fun fact: The Greeks and Romans associated oregano with joy and happiness. The name comes from the Greek words ‘oros’, meaning mountain, and ‘ganos’, meaning joy.
What does it taste like?
Oregano has a warm, slightly bitter, and punchy flavor. But there’s also a subtle hint of sweetness.
The taste is perhaps best described as earthy and aromatic, with notes of mint and pepper.
Fresh Vs. dried
Herbs tend to produce a stronger flavor in their dried form. However, some cooks claim that fresh oregano actually has a stronger taste.
Whatever you think, it’s good practice to check the ‘use by’ dates on any dried herbs you have due to their potency reducing over time. Make sure that jar of dried oregano from 1995 doesn’t make it into your dish!
Fresh oregano leaves are also excellent to use as a garnish. They taste particularly good coupled with hearty vegetables such as zucchini, cauliflower or eggplant. Try this easy moussaka recipe to experience the delicious pairing of eggplant and oregano together!
Fresh Thyme is a great substitute for fresh oregano. They’re like twins!
Love the taste of oregano? Check out some of my easy Mediterranean recipes. Many of them contain lots of oregano! (especially the Greek recipes!).
Here are my 20 best ideas for substituting oregano:
- Bear in mind that no alternative herb will have the exact same flavor as oregano. Each of the options below has its own unique flavor, so you may need to adjust the other ingredients in the recipe to achieve the desired taste.
- Remember that the choice of substitute ultimately depends on your personal preference and what dish you’re making!
- Generally you can substitute other herbs for oregano in a ratio of 1:1, although there are some exceptions (see individual sections below).
- It’s always a good idea to taste test a small amount of the substitute before adding it to your dish to see if it complements the other flavors.
Switch dried oregano for fresh or vice versa
This simple swap may be all that’s needed to enhance your dish. Usually a 1:1 exchange is about right. But it’s always best to add just a little at first, then taste to see if you need any more.
Despite the name, Mexican oregano is a completely different herb to the Mediterranean oregano you’re probably most familiar with. Mexican oregano (also known as Mexican sage or Mexican marjoram) is from a different botanical family and has a stronger taste.
For this reason, you won’t need as much of this herb in your dish due to its stronger, almost peppery flavor. Alternatively, you could use a combination of Mexican oregano and another herb, such as marjoram or thyme, to achieve a more similar taste to oregano.
Of course, Mexican oregano naturally lends itself to Mexican dishes like chilli, tacos and stews but would work in lots of other dishes too.
Just make sure you taste as you go!
Dried Marjoram has a similar taste to oregano. They’re closely related in the herb world and even look quite alike.
Marjoram’s probably not a herb everyone has in their pantry but it works so well as an oregano alternative. It has a sweeter, more subtle taste but works really well in lots of the same dishes.
Use equal amounts of marjoram as you would oregano in the recipe.
Tarragon can be a good choice for a herb to use in place of oregano since it too has a sweet, slightly licorice-like flavor with notes of anise.
French Tarragon is probably the most popular variety with its strong aromatic flavour. Tarragon works particularly well in dressings, tomato based dishes, chicken dishes and French style dishes.
If you want to use tarragon as a substitute for oregano, use about 1.5 to 2 times the amount of tarragon as you would oregano in the recipe.
Parsley is another herb that works really well in tomato based dishes. It’s widely used as a garnish but is great for flavoring food, too.
Bear in mind that parsley has a milder, sweeter taste than punchy oregano but it’s still good for adding some freshness, flavor and color.
You may need to use a bit more parsley than you would oregano to get the desired flavor.
For Mediterranean dishes, Basil is perhaps an obvious swap for oregano since its flavor profile is similar in some ways. Basil has a sweet and slightly minty flavor that can work as a substitute in some dishes, especially in Italian cuisine, of course.
Try substituting basil for oregano in tomato-based sauces and with mozzarella cheese!
Use about 1.5 to 2 times the amount of basil as you would oregano in the recipe.
If you want to add flavor to slow cooked dishes like soups or stews, bay leaf is a great choice. It has a different flavor profile to oregano with a more floral, aromatic scent.
Its flavor develops as its slowly simmered. So while it’s different to oregano, it’s still perfect for those Mediterranean inspired slow cooked dishes such as slow cooked Greek lamb.
Try adding 1 to 3 bay leaves to the dish at the start of cooking. Combine with another Mediterranean herb such as thyme or marjoram to achieve a more similar taste to oregano.
You’ll probably be familiar with sage in stuffings and in meat dishes, especially during holidays like Thanksgiving. It tends to be quite distinctive and strong in flavor, with notes of mint and eucalyptus.
As a general guideline, you can use sage as a 1:1 replacement for oregano. However, it could be best used in recipes that call for just a small amount of oregano since sage has quite a different flavor profile.
Take a look in your pantry. Maybe you already have some sage lurking there!
If you’re a fan of licorice then fennel might be one to try. Its flavor is different to oregano but it can still really enhance lots of the same dishes. They both have earthy undertones and are common in Mediterranean inspired dishes.
Chopped fresh fennel is wonderful in salads while the seeds work best in soups and casseroles. The feathery fronds of a fennel bulb are also great as a garnish. They look very similar to dill but you can also use them where you’d normally add a sprinkle of fresh oregano to make a Mediterranean dish look pretty.
Try this 6-ingredient sausage bolognese with fennel – it’s so delicious and very simple to make either on the stovetop or in your Instant Pot!
Use fennel fronds as a 1 to 1 substitute for garnishes.
Ajwain leaves (carom)
You may not even have heard of carom, but it’s a popular ingredient in India. It can be used on its own and in spice blends.
Carom has a bitter taste that is fairly similar to oregano, so you can certainly use it as an oregano replacement if you want to.
Start with a smaller amount of carom and taste the dish before adding more. Carom has a stronger, more pungent flavor than oregano.
The flavor profiles of oregano and dill are quite different. Oregano has a warm, slightly bitter, and pungent flavor, while dill has a more delicate, sweet, and slightly anise-like flavor.
However, both are popular herbs used widely in Mediterranean dishes, so used in the right recipe dill can still be a good substitute for oregano.
Usually found in fish dishes, potato salads, pickles and yogurt based sauces, dill can add a distinct but pleasant flavor to your food.
Try this 10-minute Greek tsatziki sauce. It’s refreshing and creamy and tastes best when you add a little chopped dill.
Fresh thyme is a pretty good substitute for oregano. The herbs look similar and in their fresh states their earthy flavors are somewhat reminiscent of one another.
Thyme does have a more savory, earthy flavor than oregano, however, with notes of mint and lemon, so don’t expect the recipes to taste exactly the same.
Use about 3/4 teaspoon of thyme for every 1 teaspoon of oregano.
Rosemary has a distinctive taste that is similar to pine and has a slightly bitter flavor. If you’re looking for a replacement for oregano in recipes that call for a more robust and aromatic herb, rosemary can work well as a substitute.
In general, rosemary’s aromatic qualities are perfect paired with meat (especially lamb), potatoes and other hearty recipes.
If you don’t have any oregano, try rosemary with its robust flavor in this recipe for Greek lamb!
Use about half the amount of rosemary as you would oregano in the recipe.
Italian seasoning is a blend that includes several herbs, including oregano itself, thyme and marjoram. So you could say it’s a perfect alternative to oregano! Italian seasoning (as the name suggests!) is ideal for Italian dishes, Mediterranean and tomato-based dishes.
It’s best to always have some mixed herbs such as Italian seasoning in your pantry for quick herb substitutions!
Fenugreek is perhaps a more unusual herb to have in your pantry but its nutty and sweet flavors are actually ideal as a stand-in for oregano. Especially good in spicy or Indian food, the sweet and earthy tones are reminiscent of oregano.
As a general guideline, you can use about half the amount of fenugreek as you would oregano in the recipe.
Adding Carraway Seeds to your dish in place of oregano can work really well. Carraway seeds will give a subtle, nutty, earthy and slightly sweet flavor. A carrot relative, carraway seeds are used in many cuisines all around the world.
However, watch you don’t add too many to your dish as the flavor can take over! Try using about half the amount of caraway seeds as you would oregano in the recipe.
You may not have heard about this one and don’t worry, you’re not alone!
Popular in German cooking, summer savory is really similar to oregano and if you happen to have some lying around, can be used in many of the same recipes. Some of the bigger supermarkets may stock this herb but summer savory can be bought fairly easily online if not.
If you’re looking to substitute summer savory for oregano in a recipe, you can use it in the same quantity as you would oregano.
Basil and parsley
Since these herbs are so popular in recipes, you’re more than likely to have dried versions in your pantry already. A combination of these two would be great used as a substitute for oregano.
Particularly good in anything tomato-based or with meat.
Basil and marjoram
If you want your food to really sing then combining dried basil and dried marjoram in place of oregano can work well. The two herbs are fantastic when used together and are also especially good with meat and tomato-based recipes.
Thyme and marjoram
These two also have such similar flavors to oregano that they work perfectly together as a substitute!
Favorite recipes using oregano
- If there’s one oregano recipe you should try it’s these Greek Potatoes. They really are the best ever potatoes! The combination of garlic, stock, olive oil, lemon juice and oregano is perfection.
- This perfect Greek Salad is such a simple, nutritious and delicious light meal or side, and it wouldn’t be a Greek salad without a heavy sprinkle of oregano!
- Fan of one pan meals? Everyone loves this Greek chicken and potatoes. Don’t forget a Greek salad and some tsatziki sauce on the side.
Check out more Mediterranean recipes for lots more recipes that use oregano.
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