Marjoram, botanical name Origanum majorana is from the family Lamiaceae and is closely related to basil, lavender, mint
, rosemary, sage
, savory and thyme
. Pronounced "MAHR-juhr-uhm" it is also called sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram or wild oregano.
It’s believed that Marjoram
is indigenous to the Mediterranean region and Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and has been used since ancient times. For many years Oregano was called “wild marjoram” and while the plants do not look particularly the same the flavor is similar. Many botanists believe that they are very closely related but chefs will tell you that the flavor differences are really quite pronounced.
There are various opinions on what’s better - fresh or dried herbs. Some dried herbs lose some or most of their flavor - especially cilantro, curry leaves, dill weed, lemon grass and tarragon. Because drying technologies have greatly advanced over the last decade or so this has allowed some these dried herbs to better retain their flavor.
Other herbs react completely differently when dried and instead of losing their flavor the spiciness of these herbs actually increases when dried. For these herbs during the drying process the structures in the plant tissue collapse which increases the availability and mobility of the herb’s essential oil which allows it to be more readily absorbed in foods. Herbs that are better dried than fresh include marjoram, oregano, rosemary and thyme.
In European cooking Marjoram is added to clam chowder, eggplant, salads, butter-based sauces, fish sauces, mushroom sauces, tomato-based sauces and vinegar. In Eastern Europe, Marjoram is added to grilled meats and stews with paprika, chilies, fruits, nuts and other dried spices.
The French add Marjoram to the herbs blends Bouquet Garni and Fines Herbes for flavoring fish, lamb and pork dishes. In Germany, it’s called the “sausage herb” and is used with thyme and other spices in different types of sausages. Marjoram is popular in Greek cooking, for grilled lamb and meats and to complement onions, garlic, and wine. Italians use it in fish dishes, pizzas, tomato sauces and vegetables.
North Africans and Middle Easterners use Marjoram in barbecues, lamb, mutton, seafood and vegetables.
In this country it’s used commercially in poultry seasonings, liverwurst, bologna, cheeses, sausages, soups, and salad dressings.
Marjoram works well in combination with basil, bay, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic, paprika, parsley, rosemary and juniper.
Add Marjoram toward the end of cooking to retain its delicate flavor.