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Oregano (Origanum vulgare)

Plant family

Lamiaceae (mint family)

Botanical synonyms



Several species of genus Origanum are native to the Mediterranean, all of which are traded as a spice. The influence of climate, season and soil on the composition of the essential oil is greater than the difference between the various species.

The most important species are O. vulgare (pan-European), O. onites (Greece, Asia Minor) and O. heracleoticum (Italy, Balkan peninsular, West Asia).

Used plant part

Leaves. The dried herb is often more flavourful than the fresh .

Sensoric quality

Aromatic, warm and slightly bitter. Oregano largely varies in intensity: Good quality is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climate have often insatisfactory flavour.

Main constituents

The essential oil (max. 4%) may contain variable amounts of the two phenoles carvacrol and thymol; furthermore, a variety of monoterpene hydrocarbons (limonene, terpinene, ocimene, caryophyllene, -bisabolene and p-cymene) and monoterpene alcohols (linalool, 4-terpineol) are reported.

Flowering Oregano


Oregano is a condicio sine qua non in Italian cuisine, where it is used for tomato sauces, fried vegetables and grilled meat. Together with basil, it makes up for the character of Italian dishes.

The dish most associated with oregano is pizza , a kind of open pie. Bread of this kind was probably eaten in Southen Italy since centuries; according to the legend, pizza came into existence in 1889, when King Umberto and his wife Margherita sojourned in Napoli (Naples). Pizza, at this time not more than white bread flavoured with tomato paste, was then a popular food for the poor masses. To honour the Queen, a local baker devised a richer kind of pizza : In addition to the red tomato paste, white mozzarella cheese and green basil leaves were employed, thus reflecting the colours of the Italian flag. Today's pizze rely more on oregano than on basil, and use a multitude of further ingredients.

Oregano can effectively combined with pickled olives and capers or lovage leaves; other than most Italian herbs, oregano harmonizes even with hot and spicy food, as is popular in Southern Italy. The cuisines of other Mediterranean countries make less use of it, but it is of some importance for Spanish, French and Greek cooking.

Outside the Mediterranean region, oregano is, rather surprisingly, little in use, except among Italian immigrants. The very similar, but stronger, taste of Mexican oregano is popular not only in its native country México, but also in the south of the US, where it is frequently used to flavour chili con carne (meat stewed with chiles and sometimes beans) or other México-inspired dishes. For this purpose, it is mostly combined with several varieties of chiles and paprika, dried garlic or onion and cumin).

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