Step into the world of flavors and aromas as we embark on a culinary journey to discover the best substitute for marjoram, a herb renowned for its unique and delightful qualities. Found in many kitchens worldwide, marjoram has long been a staple in various cuisines due to its subtle yet distinctively pleasant taste, often described as a blend of oregano and thyme. However, there are instances when this versatile herb might be challenging to find, leaving chefs and home cooks searching for suitable alternatives to maintain the essence of their favorite dishes.
Fear not, whether you're creating Mediterranean classics, exploring fusion cuisine, or seeking to broaden your culinary skills! In this blog post, we'll uncover a range of the best substitutes that can seamlessly stand in for marjoram, lending your recipes a burst of flavor that will leave your taste buds dancing with delight.
What Is Marjoram?
Marjoram is a perennial herb in the mint family that is closely related to oregano. It is sometimes referred to as sweet marjoram, pot marjoram, or knotted marjoram. The herb can be found in both fresh and dry form in most supermarkets, grocery stores, and gourmet food retailers.
The herb is native to the Mediterranean, where the ancient Greeks and Romans heralded it as a symbol of happiness. And for a good reason too. The herb is known to be packed with antioxidants, making it a popular herb in alternative medicine. The fresh or dried leaves can be brewed as tea or extracted as marjoram essential oil and used for medicinal purposes.
What Does Fresh Marjoram Taste Like?
The marjoram plant is covered with small, green leaves that have a distinctly earthy, woodsy flavor with hints of sweet pine and citrus. Though it's remarkably similar to oregano, marjoram lacks oregano's sharp, spicy notes. It's slightly sweeter and creates a more complex, more delicate balance of flavors within the dish.
What Is Marjoram Used For?
Marjoram, a member of the mint family, holds significant culinary and medicinal importance. Its delicate, slightly sweet flavor profile has made it a beloved ingredient in numerous cuisines across the globe. Its aromatic and savory qualities make it a versatile herb that enhances various dishes. Here are some of the common culinary uses of marjoram:
Marjoram is a staple herb in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. It is often used to add depth and complexity to dishes, providing a subtle yet distinctive flavor that is often described as a mix of oregano and thyme.
Seasoning for Meat and Poultry
The herb pairs exceptionally well with meats and poultry, making it a go-to seasoning for lamb, chicken, turkey, and pork dishes. Whether used fresh or dried, marjoram complements the natural flavors of these meats, adding a pleasant herbal note to the overall taste.
Flavoring for Soups and Stews
Marjoram is a key ingredient in hearty soups, stews, and casseroles. Its aromatic quality infuses these dishes with warmth and depth, making it a favored addition to bean soups, tomato-based stews, and vegetable medleys.
Pizza and Pasta
Alongside basil and oregano, marjoram is often found as a topping on pizzas or incorporated into pasta dishes to elevate the overall taste profile of these classic Italian dishes.
Salad Dressings and Marinades
The herb's delicate flavor is a great addition to homemade salad dressings, vinaigrettes, and marinades, contributing a unique herbal essence to the mix.
Marjoram can be used to brew herbal teas, where it imparts a soothing and aromatic quality to the beverage.
The Best Marjoram Substitutes
You can substitute fresh marjoram for fresh marjoram or vice versa, which is a common situation in the culinary world. While both versions of marjoram come from the same herb, their flavors and potency differ due to the drying process.
Before substituting for another herb, be sure to double-check if the recipe calls for fresh marjoram leaves or dried marjoram. Dried herbs are often more potent than fresh herb alternatives, so you'll need to adjust accordingly depending on what you have on hand.
Since dried marjoram is more concentrated than its fresh counterpart, it's essential to make appropriate adjustments to the quantities when using it in recipes. As a general rule of thumb, you can use one-third to half the amount of dried marjoram when a recipe calls for fresh, and vice versa. Due to its potency, dried marjoram should be added earlier in the cooking process, allowing it to release its flavors and fully infuse the dish. Conversely, fresh marjoram possesses a more delicate nature, necessitating its addition towards the end of the cooking process to retain its delightful aroma and flavor.
The secret to successful substitution is to use an herb with a similar flavor and aroma. Close relatives in the mint family make oregano the best marjoram alternative in most recipes. While no other herb can perfectly replicate the unique flavor of marjoram, most culinary experts consider oregano to be one of the best marjoram substitutes out there.
Fresh oregano is undoubtedly one of the best substitutes for marjoram in marjoram recipes, but dried oregano can work as well. The two herbs are closely related, so they offer a similar appearance, flavor profile, and aroma. In fact, they're often used together in recipes and spice blends to create a complex balance of sweetness and spice.
You'll want to half the amount called for in the recipe when using oregano as a marjoram substitute. Though oregano has the same pine and citrus notes, it packs a far stronger punch that can easily overpower a dish. If your dish needs more flavor, you can always add another pinch or two of the aromatic herb later in the cooking process.
Oregano can be used as a substitute for marjoram in almost any dish. It's great for roasting vegetables, seasoning meat dishes, and deepening homemade soups and stews flavors.
Using fresh or dried basil as a substitute for marjoram can be a wonderful alternative, especially in Mediterranean and Italian dishes. While basil and marjoram have distinct flavors, they share some similarities, making basil a suitable replacement in various recipes.
Basil has a sweet, slightly peppery, and mildly licorice-like flavor, which sets it apart from marjoram's more subtle and earthy flavor. As a result, using basil as a substitute may impart a different but equally delightful dimension to your dishes.
Basil pairs exceptionally well with tomatoes, garlic, and other Mediterranean herbs such as oregano and thyme. In recipes where marjoram is part of an herb blend, such as Italian seasoning or French herbes de Provence, basil can seamlessly integrate into the mix. This makes basil a particularly good substitute in Italian recipes like pasta sauces, soups, and salads. Start with a 1-to-1 ratio of fresh basil to fresh marjoram and adjust as needed.
Thyme is another popular herb in the Mediterranean region. Like oregano and marjoram, it's a member of the mint family, making this herb a great option as one of the marjoram substitutes. Compared to the two other herbs, it has a milder flavor with notes of mint and citrusy flavor. It's commonly used to season meats, roasts, and casseroles. You can add the same amount of thyme as the recipe calls for marjoram when using thyme as a substitute for marjoram.
Alternatively, you can use lemon thyme— a citrusy variety of thyme— as an alternative to marjoram. It'll offer a more intense citrus flavor, so it works particularly well for poultry, fish, and other seafood. Its small sprigs make a great garnish, too, on top of soups, stews, or vegetable dishes.
Sage is a popular herb in savory dishes, especially around the holidays. It's commonly used to season poultry, sausage, root vegetables, and Thanksgiving stuffing. In addition to being added to dishes directly in fresh or dried form, it's also infused into butter or olive oil.
Sage has a robust and distinct flavor, often described as earthy, slightly peppery, and with a hint of bitterness. In contrast, marjoram has a more delicate, sweet, and herbal taste. Substituting sage for marjoram may result in a stronger, more pronounced flavor in your dish.
Using sage as a substitute for marjoram can be an interesting twist, especially in dishes where the earthy and slightly peppery notes of sage complement the overall flavor profile. While sage and marjoram have distinct tastes, they share some common features that make sage a viable alternative in certain recipes.
In a pinch, you can also substitute marjoram with summer savory. While it's not particularly common in the United States, the herb can be used similarly to other members of the mint family of herbs. It offers a milder version of the same spicy, peppery flavor notes found in thyme, marjoram, and oregano. Summer savory is a good substitute for seasoning sausages, grilled meat, or poultry. Use a 1-to-1 ratio of summer savory to marjoram.
Herbes de Provence
Using Herbes de Provence as a marjoram substitute can be an excellent choice, especially when you want a convenient and flavorful alternative that already combines several complementary herbs. Herbes de Provence, a traditional French herb blend, typically encompasses a mix of dried herbs commonly found in the Provence region of France. While the exact composition may vary, it often includes herbs like savory, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and, importantly, marjoram.
Herbes de Provence offers a delightful and harmonious blend of flavors from the various herbs it contains. The combination of savory, thyme, oregano, and marjoram creates a nuanced and aromatic profile that works well in a wide range of dishes. This herb mixes works particularly well for seasoning roasted or grilled vegetables, chicken, or fish.
Since Herbes de Provence already contains marjoram, you can use it as a 1:1 substitute in recipes that call for marjoram. It will maintain the essential flavor elements while adding the unique characteristics of the other herbs in the blend.
Using Za'atar as a marjoram substitute can add an exciting twist to your dishes, especially if you enjoy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors. Za'atar is a traditional herb blend that originates from the Middle East, and it often contains a combination of dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, and other aromatic herbs, along with toasted sesame seeds and tangy sumac. When you use Za'atar as a marjoram substitute, you introduce a unique flavor profile to your dishes, creating a delightful fusion of tastes.
Za'atar offers a complex and distinctive flavor with hints of earthiness, tanginess, and nuttiness from the combination of herbs and sesame seeds. While it contains marjoram, the other components of Za'atar, such as thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame seeds, contribute to a more robust and multidimensional taste. Because of its Middle Eastern roots, it's a great marjoram substitute for making salads, seasoning flatbreads, and roasting delicate vegetables.
Since Za'atar already contains marjoram, you can use it as a direct substitute in recipes that call for marjoram. It will maintain the essential herbal characteristics while adding a distinct Middle Eastern flair. Compared to plain marjoram, Za'atar is known for its heightened potency and rich flavor. To match your taste preferences, begin with a smaller quantity and gradually increase it until the desired flavor balance is achieved.
Using poultry seasoning as a marjoram substitute can be an excellent option, especially when preparing dishes centered around poultry or wanting a convenient herb blend that includes marjoram. Poultry seasoning is a well-liked blend of herbs frequently used to flavor chicken, turkey, and other poultry dishes. While the specific ingredients in poultry seasoning may vary, it often contains a combination of herbs that can closely mimic the taste of marjoram, along with other complementary flavors.
Typically, poultry seasoning incorporates a harmonious blend of herbs like sage, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, and black pepper. The combination of these herbs provides a well-rounded flavor profile that pairs perfectly with poultry dishes. The presence of marjoram in the blend ensures that you'll get characteristic herbal notes that are similar to using marjoram on its own.
Since poultry seasoning already contains marjoram, you can use it as a direct substitute in recipes that call for marjoram. This makes the transition smooth and convenient, as you'll get the essential herbal elements in your dishes.