5 Best Substitutes for Marjoram
Marjoram is a flavorful seasoning used in many dishes. But, don’t worry if you don’t have it in your kitchen. This article reviews the 5 best substitutes for marjoram that are easy to find.
Overview of marjoram
Native to parts of the Mediterranean, Asia, and Africa, marjoram is a perennial herb in the mint family. It has an interesting flavor – warm, delicate and sweet, with balsam-like pine and citrus notes.
With green, fuzzy leaves, it looks very similar to oregano. Indeed, both oregano and marjoram are of the genus Origanum. This can sometimes cause confusion, as oregano is sometimes referred to as “wild marjoram”. To make sure you’re getting the real deal, you need to look for knotted, pot, or sweet marjoram, all of which are “true” marjoram.
The distinction matters, because marjoram is mellower than oregano, being sweeter and far less spicy.
There are some real health benefits to including marjoram in your recipes. It’s great for digestion, and can offer protection against some foodborne illnesses and problems like stomach ulcers.
It has antimicrobial properties, which is why the essential oil from marjoram is used topically (on the skin) to treat fungal infections.
It is also rich in antioxidants that reduce chronic inflammation in the body, thereby offering protection against cancer, diabetes, and some autoimmune disorders.
Marjoram may even be useful for helping regulate your hormones and menstrual cycle, with a 2016 study finding that it can be beneficial for women suffering from PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). See my related articles on the best diet for PCOS and how to reduce estrogen dominance naturally.
When to use marjoram
Adding marjoram is a great way to season dishes. Try wrapping it with other herbs in a piece of cheesecloth to create a bouquet garni which you can use to infuse sauces and braises with flavor. This works particularly well with tomato-based dishes and the sauce for pizza.
You can use marjoram to create two popular herb blends. For French herbes de Provence, mix it with fennel, lavender, basil, thyme, and rosemary. For the Middle Eastern za’atar blend, mix it with thyme, oregano, sumac, and sesame.
You can also sprinkle fresh marjoram leaves directly onto cooked vegetables and crunchy roasted potatoes, or use the dried variety to enhance the flavor of meats. It is a very popular seasoning for white meats like turkey, chicken, and pork, especially when added to a creamy sauce and poured over the top.
Some people even like to use marjoram to make a delicious herbal tea!
It is available in both fresh and dried forms. As with all herbs, the dried form is more potent and can be used in the same way you would use any dried herb. Fresh marjoram, however, should always be added to dishes at the end of the cooking time. This is to preserve its bright flavor, which is lost when its essential oils evaporate through extended cooking.
If you want to substitute dried marjoram for fresh in a recipe, use 1 teaspoon of dried for every tablespoon of fresh.
Best Substitutes for Marjoram
Whilst nothing tastes quite the same as marjoram, there are a few different herbs you can use in its place if you have none to hand.
One important thing to remember is that you should try to use a fresh herb if your recipe asks for fresh marjoram. For dried marjoram, any of the following herbs in their dried form would be best.
Since oregano and marjoram are so closely related, this is the obvious choice for a substitute.
Do remember, however, that oregano is much more punchy in terms of flavor, so add it with care! This is because it contains more of a compound called carvacrol than you’ll find in marjoram. But this is actually a good thing – carvacrol has been shown to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anticancer properties.
Oregano works well in any dish usually prepared with marjoram, but because it tastes stronger, you will need less. To substitute fresh marjoram, use half as much fresh oregano. To replace dried marjoram, use only a third as much dried oregano.
Like marjoram, thyme is a mild herb in the mint family and somewhat similar in terms of flavor. This is especially true if you choose an English or French variety.
With its sweet and earthy aroma, it is an ideal replacement for marjoram in stews, casseroles, soups, and roasts. And because its strength and flavor profile is so similar, you can use the same amount of thyme as you would marjoram.
For an interesting twist, try using lemon thyme (which is also known as citrus thyme). It tastes like regular thyme, but ever-so-slightly more citrussy.
Also a member of the mint family, sage is a relatively good substitute for marjoram. It provides many similar health benefits, being rich in antioxidants and with antimicrobial properties. It has even been shown to be helpful in reducing the symptoms of menopause.
Like marjoram, sage has aromatic pine and citrus flavors and makes a lovely seasoning for poultry, which is why it’s often included in stuffing recipes. Use it instead of marjoram in Mediterranean recipes, particularly pasta dishes, using a 1:1 ratio.
Basil joins marjoram, sage, and thyme as another member of the mint family. But its taste is not quite as similar – fresh basil, in particular, is a bit more peppery and lacks the citrus and sweet pine notes of marjoram. This means that – while you could use it as a replacement for marjoram if you were really stuck – it shouldn’t be your first choice.
And, if basil is your only option, you should use the dried variety rather than the fresh.
It works best as a substitute for marjoram in stews, soups, and pasta sauces. Add it using a 1:1 ratio.
Like basil, tarragon is somewhat distinct from marjoram in terms of flavor but is still an acceptable substitute. It is very aromatic and earthy, with interesting notes of anise and pepper.
It works best as a replacement for marjoram in French or Mediterranean recipes – particularly those containing fish – and is delicious in egg dishes. It can be used on a 1:1 ratio.
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As you can see, there are several tasty alternatives to marjoram that will enhance your recipes. Each has its own unique flavor profile that is similar enough to work well as a replacement but may also add a subtle and delicious difference.
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