Although there are dozens of species of oregano, it is typically classified into one of two categories -- Mediterranean, or regular, and Mexican. They are both called oregano and possess similar flavors, but they are two completely different species with distinct tastes and aromas. The Mediterranean version is more commonly used in Greek, Italian and American cuisine. The Mexican version appears more frequently in Latin American dishes.
Mediterranean vs. Mexican
"Oregano" is Greek for “joy of the mountains,” in reference to the rocky places the plant typically inhabits. Mediterranean oregano comes in about 40 species, including Greek oreganos, which tend to be stronger and more penetrating in flavor than Italian, Turkish and Spanish oreganos, which possess milder flavors. Mexican oreganos -- of which there are a dozen or more -- have a stronger, more robust flavor than Mediterranean oreganos and work especially well in spicy dishes.
The Perfect Pair
Mediterranean oregano is widely used in cooking, most notably to flavor pizzas and pasta dishes and to season grilled meats. Mediterranean oregano pairs particularly well with tomatoes, aubergine and lamb as well as artichokes, beans, chicken, eggplant, fish, mushrooms, peppers, pork, potatoes, rabbit, sausages and veal. Mexican oreganos are more suited to spicy dishes and condiments like Tex-Mex chili and salsa and pair well with chile peppers, cumin and paprika.
Purchase and Preservation
Mediterranean oreganos can commonly be found in supermarkets either in fresh bunches or dried in crumbled or powdered forms; Mexican oreganos can generally be found in dried form in Latin American grocery stores. When selecting fresh herbs make sure there are no signs of wilting or yellowing. Fresh herbs can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 3 days. Dried oreganos should be stored in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.
Both Mediterranean and Mexican oreganos are closely related to marjoram and thyme, each of which can be used as cooking substitutes in a pinch. Marjoram possesses a sweeter flavor than oregano, whose flavor is more pungent and robust. Many oreganos -- particularly Mediterranean varieties -- are similar in flavor to thyme. Some varieties of thyme possess a slightly minty flavor, while other flavors include lemon, pineapple, caraway and nutmeg.
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