Herb

Marjoram Is the Most Underrated Herb, Period

No, it's not the same thing as oregano.

January 11, 2022
Photo by Julia Gartland

Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which we break down our favorite unique seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more.

Today: We've been stocking up on fresh herbs to get our spring fix. Next up, marjoram.

Marjoram is like a thumb. (Stay with me here.) Earlier this week, I gave my daughter a preschool level anatomy lesson and explained the names we have for different fingers: thumb, pointer finger, and so on. Then I got cocky and added: “You have one thumb on each hand, and thumbs are fingers, but not all fingers are thumbs.” 

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My daughter got a little lost, but because you're not three-and-a-half-years-old, you might already know where I’m going: Marjoram (Origanum majorana) used to belong to its own genus, but now it belongs to the same genus as oregano (Origanum vulgare). This means that all marjoram is now a type of oregano, but just as all fingers are not thumbs, all oregano is not marjoram. It’s an herb that you can find year-round but is mainly in season during the summer, fall, and winter months. It’s known for its sweet, spicy flavor that is mild compared to oregano. But marjoram is its own herb, damn it, and we are finally giving it the spotlight that it deserves. 

What Does Marjoram Taste Like

Marjoram looks similar to oregano, which is perhaps not surprising since they are so closely related, but there are differences in flavor. As Deborah Madison explains: “Marjoram’s flavor lacks the oiliness and abrasiveness of oregano. Marjoram is more delicate and floral than oregano. It is sometimes called 'sweet marjoram' and for good reason.” Even if you think you're not familiar with marjoram's flavor, you’ve likely had it in its dried form. Dried marjoram often shows up in herb blends like za’atar and herbs de Provence.

By comparison, oregano is in season from late fall through early spring and has a more pronounced flavor than marjoram. Italian oregano is milder than Greek oregano, which brings even more of a kick to pizza sauce, grilled pork or chicken, fish, and egg dishes.

How to Store and Prep Marjoram

Store fresh marjoram in the refrigerator: First wrap it in a damp paper towel or tea towel, and then loosely wrap that bundle in plastic wrap or tuck it inside of an airtight container. When you're ready to cook with your fresh marjoram, separate the leaves from the stems (1, above), and then chop the leaves (2, below) as directed and proceed with your dish.

Fresh Marjoram

Start using more marjoram now, but continue to do so as warmer weather arrives, too. We often consider basil, one of marjoram’s relatives in the Mint family, to be the herb of summer, but Deborah Madison pushes us to consider using marjoram in place of basil “with many summer foods, from tomatoes to zucchini to corn.”

Health Benefits of Marjoram

You should first and foremost consume marjoram because it’s delicious. But it doesn’t hurt that it’s touted for having antimicrobial properties and anti-inflammatory benefits too. In its fresh or dried form, sweet marjoram contains antioxidants, essential oils, and flavonoids associated with fighting free radicals and toxins. 

Ready to start using more fresh marjoram? Like other delicate herbs such as sage or mint, fresh marjoram should be added towards the end of the cooking process in order to preserve its vibrant green color and flavor. Heat will cause both qualities to deteriorate over time so unless a recipe specifically calls for adding it early on, there’s no need to do so. Oh and if all you have on hand is dried marjoram, cut the amount by ⅔; dried herbs are always much more potent than fresh so it takes far less to bring flavor.

Marjoram will always pair well with Mediterranean food and is used heavily throughout Italian and Greek cooking. Here are 10 of our favorite foods, and a few delicious recipes, to pair it with:

1. Green Beans
Try: Bean Salad Nicoise or Lemony Green Bean Salad with Feta, Red Onion, and Marjoram

2. Cheese
Try: Torta Pasqualina (Easter Chard and Ricotta Pie) or Baked Ricotta and Goat Cheese with Candied Tomatoes 

3. Eggs
Try: Frittata with Asparagus, Spring Greens, and Fontina or Cesare Casella's Pontormo Salad with Pancetta and Egg 

4. Cauliflower
Try: Bacony Cauliflower Gratin or Hippie Pie (with a Bow to Mollie Katzen) 

5. Corn
Try: Buttered Corn and Noodles or Fresh Corn Spoon Bread 

6. Poultry
Try: Ham-Cured Goose Legs with Butter-Poached Peas and Carrots or Spatchcocked Roast Turkey 

7. Pork
Try: Mozzarella, Prosciutto, and Olive Salad Stromboli or Braised Pork Shoulder with Chanterelles  

8. Beef
Try: Quick Braised Sirloin with Horseradish Sauce or Truly Tender Meatballs in Rich Tomato Sauce 

9. Chili Peppers
Try: Sweet Pickled Chipotles or Grilled Poblano and Potato Frittata 

10. Mushrooms
Try: Meg's Marinated Mushrooms or Braised Chicken and Mushroom Ragu with White Curry Spices 

Tell us: How do you like to use fresh marjoram?

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Lynn Miller
    Lynn Miller
  • Smaug
    Smaug
  • Matias A
    Matias A
  • AntoniaJames
    AntoniaJames
  • aargersi
    aargersi
I like esoteric facts about vegetables. Author of the IACP Award-nominated cookbook, Cooking with Scraps.

17 Comments

Lynn M. January 13, 2022
I've always loved how well marjoram complements winter squashes. While everyone seems to flavor these with sweet spices like cinnamon and ginger (bor-ing!), marjoram really seems to enhance the sweet and savory flavors of these veggies. I also make a very simple pureed yellow summer squash soup with marjoram, chicken stock, white onion and a dash of heavy cream. Delicious.
 
Smaug January 12, 2022
The name Origanum Majoranum is actually the original name of the plant given by Linnaeus, and the only name I've ever heard used. I did find a reference to the name "Majorana Hortensis" in a 1922 edition of Bailey's "Cyclopedia of Horticulture", a name proposed by 18th century German botanist Conrad Moench that (so far as I can tell) never caught on. It's a moderately hardy plant, can be harvested year round in California.
 
Smaug January 12, 2022
Should note also that these plants are pretty variable as far as flavor from seed, but grow quite easily from cuttings- if you find a clone that you particularly like, treasure it.
 
Matias A. September 15, 2017
Just a quick comment. What I've read about zaatar is that is a blend of spices including sumac, sesame seeds, salt and dried leaves of the zaatar plant which carries the same name as the spice blend. It is of course in the oregano family but it's endemic to the eastern mediterranean. The Lebanese LOVE this herb and some people think it is the same named in the bible
 
Smaug January 12, 2022
There doesn't seem to be any great consistency in either the blends or the use of the plant name, but origanum vulgare (common oregano) is one of the herbs referred to as zaatar. The blends contain many relatives from the genera origanum, thymus and satureja. These plants are all from the family labiatae (now lamiaceae) which includes most of the "hard" herbs used in European cuisine- thymes, oreganos, savories, sages, rosemary etc.
 
AntoniaJames May 4, 2015
I really like how you've shown marjoram on the cutting board next to thyme, because the two go so well together. I often -- actually, I should say I almost always -- use it with thyme.

Examples:
Summer corn and fish chowder https://food52.com/recipes/6337-summer-corn-and-fish-chowder

Shepherd's pie: https://food52.com/recipes/33318-scrummy-shepherd-s-pie

Roasted vegetables: https://food52.com/recipes/7836-roasted-autumn-vegetables-with-fresh-herbs

Herbed Frittata: https://food52.com/recipes/31134-herb-feta-and-quinoa-filled-frittata

I also use it, in moderation, as it's a strong herb raw, in the quinoa and corn salad: https://food52.com/recipes/22823-quinoa-salad-with-corn-and-fresh-herbs

And marjoram practically defines this lentil soup, one of the first recipes I posted here, in December 2009: https://food52.com/recipes/2348-lentil-and-sausage-soup-for-a-cold-winter-s-night

I'm glad to see marjoram -- one of my favorite herbs and the reason that I started my herb garden years ago -- getting some love. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 4, 2015
Thanks for sharing these AJ!
 
aargersi May 4, 2015
Another non-culinary use - I like to make little bouquets of snipped herbs and flowers from our yard and put them in a wee (ubiquitous) mason jar in the powder room - makes everything smell herby and nice, and looks pretty.

And I cook with it too :-)
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 4, 2015
Love that idea.
 
Neal May 4, 2015
What is the knife being used in this photo series? It's gorgeous.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 4, 2015
It is isn't it! It's a Togiharu Hammered Damascus.
 
Leona S. May 3, 2015
I love marjoram! I always add it to chili, stews and even use it in my homemade taco seasoning!
 
Panfusine May 3, 2015
Marjoram is so freely available in South India and yet.. NEVER used in cooking. Instead its woven into a string of flowers along with Jasmine blossoms and worn as a hair ornament.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 4, 2015
So interesting, what a fragrant hair decoration. Thanks for sharing Panfusine!
 
arcane54 May 2, 2015
Perfect timing! I am digging out what seems like a ton of marjoram that has spread into my (soon-to-be) lettuce bed. I've also used it in an herby green sauce for meat (tonight it's going on a bit of spring lamb), and in one of my go-to dried herb mixes MOTTS (marjoram, oregano, twice the thyme and savory). I guess now I'll have to call it OOTS which has a different ring to it!
 
Mei C. May 2, 2015
I used to work at an Italian restaurant, and the chef would put marjoram on just about everything -- her top five garnishes were lemon zest, parmesan, parsley, marjoram, and toasted breadcrumbs. She called it "Lady Oregano" -- which is how I still think about it, and I immensely prefer it to regular oregano.
 
Author Comment
Lindsay-Jean H. May 4, 2015
Lady Oregano! Stealing that.