For many people, oregano is a staple element in their kitchen cabinets. In fact, this versatile herb can be used in many ways and countless recipes, although it’s probably most famous for being a beloved pizza topper.
Despite being a fundamental spice in different cuisines around the world, some people are allergic to oregano, or they may run out of it just when they need it. In these situations, one might wonder what you can use instead of oregano.
Luckily, there are more than a few ingredients that work as good substitutes for oregano and are fairly easy to find in stores near you.
The best substitutes for oregano
It’s hard to imagine a good pizza without a sprinkle of oregano. That’s because oregano is a flavorful herb that can make almost any dish better than you thought it could ever be.
Apart from pizza and pasta sauce, there are many uses for oregano, and it’s enough to spend some time experimenting in the kitchen to find many more that you probably didn’t expect, for example, fish dishes, sandwiches, or chicken.
As a herb, oregano can be found in both dried and fresh form all year round, but you will probably use its dried form the most. Fresh oregano is really flavorful, but at the same time it can be quite overpowering, and that’s why its dried form is often preferred.
However, whether you’re looking for a fresh oregano substitute or a substitute for dried oregano, we compiled the following list of the 13 best oregano substitutes that will surely fulfill most of your cooking needs.
The most obvious substitute for oregano is, of course, basil. The two culinary herbs are sometimes confused by cooking novices, especially when you compare basil leaves with fresh oregano leaves.
To explain how these two herbs differ in terms of flavors, we could say that basil and oregano give each a very unique undertone to your dishes, but somehow share the same feeling, so the final result doesn’t taste unpleasant even if you substitute one for the other.
Basil is especially good for sauces and meat dishes, and it’s enough to throw a few leaves into the mix and stir them carefully or let them mix with the other ingredients to obtain great results.
Make sure to use the smallest amount needed, because its flavor can be overpowering. In order to prevent that, you can also add basil when you’re halfway through the cooking process, and remove it just a few minutes before it’s done.
Parsley is another herb that is easily confused with both basil and oregano but has little to do with either of them, although it can work as a substitution for oregano and for basil as well.
When Italians want to say that someone or something fits in anywhere, they say “it’s like parsley”. That’s because parsley is a good addition to basically any dish since its taste is quite delicate and pleasant.
Although you can find parsley in both fresh and dried form, the latter isn’t really worth it. Usually, dried herbs have a stronger flavor than fresh ones, but in the case of parsley, it’s true the opposite.
Add fresh parsley leaves to your meat or pasta sauces, soups, and stocks to enhance the flavor. Parsley is mostly used chopped down in small pieces, but sometimes whole leaves are added as a garnish at the end of the cooking process.
Another good but less-known use for parsley leaves is as an addition to salads, although they don’t add much to the flavor in comparison with other common salad ingredients such as carrots, olives, or tomatoes.
You can use rosemary as a replacement for oregano in a variety of recipes, but it’s recommended to stick to meat recipes because that’s where fresh rosemary gives its best as a dried oregano substitute.
In fact, despite rosemary being a good substitute for oregano when you’re out of it, keep in mind that these two herbs taste nothing alike. Rosemary has a very distinctive flavor that is often considered stronger than both fresh and dried oregano.
However, rosemary also allows you to cover those recipes where oregano can’t give its best, for example, everything related to chicken and fish.
When using rosemary, it’s important to wash it and dry it carefully beforehand. Usually, it’s enough to add some leaves to the recipe during the cooking process, however, in some cases, you can also add the whole stem, for example when preparing the sauce for meat dishes.
You can use sage to substitute oregano, but you can also use both together, as sage fits really well in recipes with parsley, onion, and garlic.
Sage is a very particular herb and if it’s your first time using it, we recommend starting with a minimum amount because it’s not always easy to know how much sage the recipe requires without experience.
This herb has quite a bright flavor and is used to add warmth to dishes, however fresh sage leaves have a fuzzy texture that can be unpleasant to eat, therefore sage is never eaten raw, but rather used for fillings or in combination with other herbs, mainly in seafood dishes or with ingredients like lemon and butter.
The way you use this herb depends on which version of it you want to choose. When using dried sage, it’s best to add it at the beginning of the cooking process, because the flavor needs time to grow strong; on the other hand, fresh sage maintains a strong flavor throughout, but it’s best added at the end.
5. Fresh thyme
If you’re looking for herbs similar to oregano, fresh thyme should be among your first picks. Fresh, not dried thyme, because the dried version has a much stronger flavor and fewer similarities with dried oregano, while the fresh version can replace both fresh and dried oregano.
Fresh thyme and oregano are almost interchangeable, in fact for any amount of oregano you need to replace, you can use the same amount of fresh thyme.
Just like rosemary, thyme can be used whole or by picking out its leaves. The leaves are usually chopped before being added to the dish at any time during the cooking process. It’s recommended to add thyme early on because the longer it cooks the stronger its flavor will become.
6. Dry marjoram
The marjoram herb belongs to the same plant family as oregano, in fact, these two herbs share many similarities, and oregano is often referred to as “wild marjoram”.
It goes without saying that apart from using marjoram to substitute dried oregano, you can also use them together, as they give different layers of flavors to dishes: oregano is fairly pungent, while marjoram remains more complex.
However, marjoram might not last as long as oregano during cooking, as its flavor might weaken due to long cooking times. That’s why it’s recommended to add marjoram only towards the end.
Tarragon was once considered one of the finest herbs of French cuisine, but today is probably less-known than most herbs. With an alternative name as evocative as “Dragon herb”, tarragon flavor is just as unique, with notes of anise and licorice.
Because of its complex flavor, tarragon is one of those herbs that you either love or hate, depending on your preference regarding licorice.
Tarragon can be a fine substitute for fresh oregano if you don’t have any of the most popular substitutes, but you need to keep in mind that the two herbs have different flavors and tarragon might not fit in all the recipes that could use oregano.
This herb works best when used with foods that have delicate flavors and therefore easily absorb others, like chicken or eggs. However, when replacing oregano, it’s better to use tarragon mainly for two purposes: as an addition to tomato-based sauces or for vegetable-based dressings.
Fenugreek is an aromatic herb with a special characteristic: you can use both its leaves and seeds in the kitchen for different purposes.
In particular, fenugreek leaves look quite similar to parsley leaves and can be used as an oregano replacement in many recipes. However, if you’re looking for the typical oregano taste, fenugreek isn’t the best choice for your recipe.
In fact, fenugreek and oregano don’t share similarities in terms of flavors. Fenugreek tastes both bitter and sweet and adds a slightly nutty note to your dish.
The flavor of this herb is so peculiar that it is really hard to pin down or replace. We recommend using this herb to replace oregano only if you don’t like the flavor of oregano or you’re up for something new in the kitchen.
Just like fenugreek, you can use both dill leaves and seeds in cooking. The leaves are known as dill weed herb, while the seeds can be used to spice up your dish.
You can find both fresh and dried dill in most supermarkets, however, dried dill is not recommended for cooking because its flavor is really weak in comparison with fresh dill.
In the kitchen, dill is mostly used as a garnish and when it comes to oregano, you can successfully replace fresh oregano with dill leaves.
Dill brings a grassy flavor to dishes, very similar to anise. Since it can be very intense, you need to be careful when using this herb because a little dill goes a long way.
Another way to dull the strong flavor of dill is to cook it for a long time. However, we do not recommend cooking dill for a long time, because its unique taste is its best characteristic. If anything, it’s always best to add dill at the very end to preserve the flavor.
10. Bay Leaf
The bay laurel plant is cultivated for ornamental purposes, but its leaves are widely used in cooking as a flavorful herb. Bay leaves can be added to every kind of recipe from stews to soups, sauces, and are also used to make some types of tea.
Bay leaf can be used fresh, dried, or ground. In their dried form, these leaves have a very intense flavor and also last longer. Fresh leaves, on the other hand, are quite expensive and don’t last as long.
Bay leaves have a scent very similar to oregano, so they make for a great oregano substitute. However, they’re best used for slow-cooking recipes, because they do not soften during cooking but the longer they cook, the more flavor they release.
That’s why bay leaves are mostly used for simmering sauces or similar recipes where they can be cooked for a long time and then removed before serving. In fact, although bay leaves are edible, they have sharp edges that could be harmful when eaten.
11. Ajwain (Carom)
Ajwain, also known as carom and many other different names, belongs to the same plant family of oregano and marjoram, so it goes without saying that it’s a perfect substitute for both herbs and in particular, it’s a great replacement for dried oregano.
Carom is actually a fruit that is cultivated mainly in India and Iran and it’s widely used in Indian cuisine as part of a mixture of spices. That’s because its flavor is highly fragrant, strong, and has bitter undertones just like oregano.
Because of its unique flavor, and especially the intensity of it, it’s always better to use less carom than necessary, because a small amount tastes quite strongly already.
Although this is probably one of the closest substitutes for oregano on this list, it can be fairly hard to find as it’s usually sold in Indian stores. When you do find it, pass on its powdered form and buy the seeds to grind at home. Powdered carom has lost most of its flavor, so it’s really not worth it.
12. Fresh chives
When you’re in a pinch and if you’re up for a different flavor than the classic oregano, chives are one of your best options because they make for a quick and flavorful garnish.
Chives are closely related to onion and garlic, and their taste is very particular, both similar and different from the classic onion, but if you don’t enjoy the taste of onions, scallions, and leeks you will probably not like chives either.
Fresh chives can replace fresh or dried oregano in most recipes, and they’re very easy to make. It’s enough to chop the stems into small pieces and sprinkle them on the top of your dish as garnishment or add them to the cooking process to enhance the flavor.
They pair really well with eggs, potatoes, and cheese, especially with melting cheeses like mozzarella. The best thing about fresh chives is that they’re extremely versatile, so they leave you space to experiment.
13. Italian seasoning
The last substitute we can recommend is Italian seasoning. Oregano is originally part of the mix of spices and herbs known as Italian seasoning, so of course, you can substitute one for the other.
This choice can be fairly limiting because Italian seasoning is mostly used in Italian-style recipes, but if you’re up for pasta, pizza, meatballs, or other traditional Italian recipes, then you can hardly find a better oregano substitute than Italian seasoning.
How to choose an oregano substitute
Oregano is one of the most famous herbs used in kitchens around the world. However, its taste can be a dealbreaker for some people, or you may happen to run out of it just when you need it the most.
In these cases, you need to take into consideration the recipe you want to follow, because there are many different oregano substitutes you can use, but not all of them fit just any recipe.
If you’re looking to replicate the taste of oregano, we recommend using herbs from the same family, such as marjoram or carom. Italian seasoning is also a good choice, especially when cooking Italian dishes.
If you’re up for a slightly different taste that gives the same “feeling” as oregano, go with basil, parsley, rosemary, sage, or thyme. These herbs are often used together because they share similar characteristics, although they do not taste the same.
If you don’t mind the taste and just want to add that little something to enhance your dish, try tarragon, fenugreek, dill, bay leaves, or fresh chimes. Each one of these substitutes has different characteristics, so make sure to check which one would best fit your recipe beforehand.
As you can see, it’s easy to replace oregano and still get great results. Most of these substitutes can be found in any stores near you, but you probably have some of them at home already, so you just need to get cooking!