Mexican Oregano: Substitutes, Uses, Flavor, Equivalents

mexican oregano

What is Mexican oregano and why do you need it? For any Mexican food lover, it’s really curious to find answers to such questions.

Be it be ground beef tacos, chicken posole verde, or red posole, all of them have this peppery herb as a key ingredient in them. Adding in a spoon of ground-dried Mexican oregano to back bean soups, charro beans, or Mexican chorizo chili makes a big difference in their taste and aroma. So to say, this herb is an important part of Mexican cooking.

This article brings home to you the best Mexican oregano substitutes to use in a pinch, also a little about its flavor profile and uses in cooking.

What Is Mexican Oregano?

Lippia graveolens is a species of flowering plant in the verbena family, native to Mexico, the Southwest United States, and Central America. It is also known in different names like orégano cimarrón, red-brush lippie, scented mat-grass, or scented lippie.

Mexican oregano plant has oval-shaped green leaves and small white flowers. It’s a delicious leafy herb that is popularly used in several Mexican dishes. This herb is an annual plant that easily grows in both dry and wetlands, also drought tolerant. Usually, the leaves of scented lippie are dried and stored for year-round use.

Where to buy Mexican oregano? It’s commonly available in most grocery stores in Mexic0, Latin America, and the Southern United States. Also, you can buy any variety of oregano from online vendors. If nothing works for you, then use a Mexican oregano substitute in your cooking.

Mexican Oregano Vs. Traditional Oregano

There are several species of oregano plants belonging to different plant families with significant differences in taste and appearance. Among them, Italian/Mediterranean oregano, Greek oregano, Cuban oregano, and orégano cimarrón are the popular ones.

Italian oregano, considered as the traditional or regular oregano, is a Mediterranean spice with minty undertones. This oregano that belongs to the mint family of plants is the most commonly used type of oregano across the world. Italian oregano is mainly used in Mediterranean dishes like pasta sauces, grilled meats, and pizza.

On the other hand, Mexican oregano is a cousin of lemon verbena with pungent citrus notes and it’s mostly used in Mexican dishes. 

In short, Mexican and Italian varieties of oregano come from different species of plants. Italian oregano is mild and slightly sweet with subtle flavors, whereas Mexican oregano has strong pungent tangy notes with a subtle licorice undertone.

What Does Mexican Oregano Taste Like?

Mexican oregano tastes citrusy, a characteristic flavor common to all plants belonging to the family of lemon verbena. Like most other varieties of oregano, this one also tastes earthy and grassy.

The flavor profile of Mexican oregano seems to be a natural fit for Mexican cuisines known for pungent heat and citrus undertones.

How Is Mexican Oregano Used In Cooking?

Both fresh and dried oregano leaves are used in cooking.  One tablespoon of dried oregano is equivalent to two tablespoons of fresh oregano.

A rich, earthy flavor in Mexican dishes is a result of Mexican oregano. In fact, cumin and oregano are the two main herbs used in most spicy Mexican dishes.

Mexican variety of oregano is a frequently used herbal spice in several Mexican dishes like salsa, tacos, soups, posole, black beans, braised pork, and enchilada sauce. Also, this herb is an all-purpose seasoning that is commonly used in many traditional dishes of Cuba and Latin America.

What Is A Good Mexican Oregano Substitute?

In most places, home-cooks are unfamiliar with Mexican oregano as its use is primarily limited to Mexican dishes only, also not easily available outside Mexico. If you are cooking a recipe that requires this peppery herb and you can’t get it, then try one of the Mexican oregano substitutes listed below.

Marjoram

The flavor of Mexican oregano is closer to marjoram than Mediterranean oregano – which is the true oregano. Marjoram tastes like oregano but it also has a sweet minty flavor in addition.

A chemical compound called “thymol” present in both oregano and marjoram is responsible for their identical taste profile though they differ in other characteristics features.

Marjoram lacks the citrus notes of oregano thus adding a little fresh minced basil to marjoram is a good idea. A combination of marjoram and basil is a perfect substitution for Mexican oregano.

Regular Oregano

Mediterranean/Italian oregano is the regular or true oregano that’s most popularly used in numerous dishes across the world. Mediterranean oregano has a minty undertone but lippia graveolens has lemon and citrus flavor as well as some tones of licorice. The identical spicy taste of both these oregano varieties is derived from the thymol present in them. To your advantage, Mediterranean oregano is easily available in most grocery stores across the world.

To mimic the citrus flavor of orégano cimarrón, use a mix of Mediterranean oregano and ground coriander.

Mediterranean oregano has a milder flavor than its Mexican counterpart, thus when using it as a substitute for Mexican oregano use it in more quantity or adjust it according to your taste preferences.

Lemon Verbena

Both lemon verbena and Mexican oregano belong to the verbena family plants known for their citrus notes and lemony scent. Lemon verbena has a mild lemony scent unlike lemongrass and lemon thymes with a strong lemon scent. Mexican oregano does not have a lemon scent but its citrus flavor is similar to lemon verbena.

Lemon verbena is a nice alternative to Mexican oregano in dishes that call for the citrusy flavor. It’s a good substitute option provided you enjoy the mild lemony scent of verbena in your dishes.

Cilantro

Cilantro is a fantastic herbal spice with a blend of grassy and lemony flavor. Cilantro does not taste like oregano but its flavors are a lot similar to the earthy and grassy tones of Lippia graveolens. Cilantro is a manageable substitute for Mexican oregano, usable in some Mexican dishes, especially, when you are left with no better options.

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