Marjoram Substitutes

Marjoram is an aromatic herb often used in various cuisines for its warm and slightly sweet flavor, which is a delight in dishes ranging from soups to roasted meats. Understanding what marjoram is and how it functions in your cooking can help you make informed decisions when the herb isn’t available. It’s part of the mint family and is closely related to oregano, which makes the latter a prime candidate for substitution. If your recipe calls for marjoram and you find your kitchen cupboard lacking, there’s no need to abandon your culinary project.

In the event that you’re out of marjoram, oregano serves as the most convenient and effective substitute. This is due to the fact that both herbs share a similar flavor profile, although oregano is generally more robust and slightly less sweet than marjoram. However, the similarity between these two herbs means that oregano can seamlessly blend into most recipes that traditionally rely on marjoram.

Should oregano not be an option, thyme or basil may also be used as a replacement. Thyme, part of the same family as marjoram, offers a flavor which, although more pungent, has notes that complement many dishes marjoram would season. Basil, with its sweet and peppery undertones, offers a more distinct departure from marjoram’s flavor, but can still work well in many of the same recipes, especially in Mediterranean cooking. When substituting, keep in mind the potency of your chosen herb and adjust quantities accordingly to ensure the essence of your dish remains balanced.

Understanding Marjoram

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Before you consider replacing marjoram in your recipe, it’s important to know about its distinctive characteristics. Here’s what you need to know about this aromatic herb.

Botanical Profile

Marjoram, known scientifically as Origanum majorana, is a tender perennial herb that is a member of the mint family. This herb’s close relation to oregano often leads to confusion, but marjoram is a distinct species with its own unique properties.

Flavor Profile

Marjoram’s flavor is complex with subtle citrus notes and a hint of sweet pine. The aroma is pleasantly warm with a slight sharpness, reminiscent of other herbs in the mint family but with a gentler profile.

Culinary Uses

In the kitchen, marjoram’s versatility shines. You’ll often find it accentuating the taste of various dishes including soups, sauces, salads, and meat preparations, especially in Mediterranean cuisine. Its mild flavor makes it a perfect addition to herbal tea blends.

Health Benefits

Marjoram is not just prized for its flavor, but also for its potential health benefits. It contains antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, which can aid in digestion, support the management of chronic inflammation, and may reduce the risk of diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Moreover, it’s been traditionally used to treat fungal infections.

Common Marjoram Substitutes

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When you find yourself without marjoram, several other herbs can serve as effective substitutes to maintain the flavor integrity of your dish. The best alternatives mirror marjoram’s aromatic, earthy, and woody essence.


Oregano is your first go-to substitute. It is closely related to marjoram with a similar flavor, albeit slightly more robust. Use it in a 1:1 ratio when replacing fresh or dried marjoram.


Thyme shares common undertones with marjoram. For dishes requiring a subtle hint of marjoram, thyme is a suitable stand-in. Use three-quarters the amount of thyme when substituting for marjoram.


Sweet basil offers a fragrant, peppery edge. While basil is bolder, it complements many of the same ingredients as marjoram. Substitute an equal measure of basil for marjoram in sauces and dressings.


Sage, with its pronounced pine-like aroma, is less similar to marjoram but can work well in meaty dishes. Use sage sparingly; start with half the amount of marjoram called for and adjust to taste.

Summer Savory

Summer savory ranks as an excellent marjoram substitute, especially in European cuisine. It carries a peppery flavor and can be used in a 1:1 ratio. It’s perfect for bean dishes and hearty stews.

Remember to start with a conservative amount when using substitutes and adjust according to your taste preferences. Some blends like herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning, which may already contain marjoram or its counterparts like oregano and thyme, could also serve as broader substitutes.

Selecting Substitutes Based on Dish

When choosing a marjoram substitute, consider the specific flavors and cooking processes of your dish to ensure a complementary match.

For Meat Dishes

For robust meat dishes including beef, lamb, or game, oregano is your best bet due to its similar flavor profile—slightly more intense, with a hint of bitterness. Use a ratio of three-quarters the amount of marjoram called for in your recipe. For poultry, consider a milder basil or sage, which maintains the earthiness without overpowering the flavors.

  • Oregano: Strong, works well with red meats (use less than marjoram)
  • Basil/Sage: Milder, suitable for poultry

For Soups and Stews

In soups and stews, thyme or basil can offer a warm, aromatic quality similar to marjoram. Add these herbs toward the end of cooking to preserve their delicate flavors. Use basil in lighter soups or thyme in heartier stews for best results.

  • Thyme: Earthy, good for hearty stews
  • Basil: Sweet, best suited for lighter soups

For Sauces and Dressings

For tomato-based sauces and dressings, stick with oregano to complement the acidity of tomatoes. For cream or butter-based sauces, however, tarragon or sage can provide a suitable savory flavor without the intensity of oregano.

  • Oregano: Complements tomato-based sauces
  • Tarragon/Sage: Better for creamy sauces and dressings

For Vegetarian Dishes

For vegetarian dishes like roasted vegetables or pasta, using a combination of thyme and basil can mimic the flavor of marjoram without dominating the dish. Use them sparingly in egg dishes or herb blends to keep the balance of flavors.

  • Thyme and Basil Combo: Versatile, won’t overpower delicate vegetables
  • Sage: Suitable for stuffing and heavier vegetarian fares

Fresh vs. Dried Herbs

Fresh vs Dried Herbs

When cooking with marjoram, understanding the differences between fresh and dried forms is crucial for achieving the desired flavor profile in your dishes.

Fresh Marjoram: Fresh marjoram leaves are known for their sweet, aromatic, and citrus-like flavors, which are best preserved when the herb is used at the end of the cooking process or added to cold dishes. Because of its delicate nature, it can lose its flavor under prolonged heat.

  • Availability: You may find fresh marjoram seasonally in farmers’ markets or specialized grocery stores.
  • Usage: Utilize fresh marjoram in recipes that call for a light, floral note.

Dried Marjoram: Dried marjoram, on the other hand, has a more concentrated and potent flavor, making it suitable for recipes that require cooking over time.

  • Intensity: Use a lesser amount compared to fresh; the typical ratio is 1 teaspoon dried marjoram to 1 tablespoon fresh marjoram.
  • Shelf Life: Dried herbs, including marjoram, have a longer shelf life, making them a pantry staple.

When substituting between the two, remember that dried marjoram packs more punch. Start with a smaller amount and adjust to taste. In case you are without marjoram entirely, oregano is a similar herb and can often be used as a substitute in both fresh and dried forms due to their related flavor profiles, though oregano is notably stronger.

FormCharacteristicsCulinary Uses
Fresh MarjoramSweet, less intense, aromatic, with a hint of citrusIdeal for salads, dressings, and garnishes
Dried MarjoramMore concentrated flavor, potentSuited for soups, stews, and sauces

Remember to store your fresh herbs in the refrigerator and dried herbs in a cool, dark place to maintain their best quality.

Herb Pairings and Combinations

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When substituting marjoram in recipes, it’s essential to consider the flavor profile of your dish and choose herbs that complement the particular cuisine you’re preparing.

Mediterranean Cuisine

In Mediterranean dishes, marjoram is often prized for its citrusy and peppery notes. If you need a substitute, oregano is your go-to herb. It shares a similar flavor profile with marjoram and is commonly used in this region’s cuisine.

  • Best Mediterranean Pairings:
    • Oregano: For a direct substitute, use a 1:1 ratio when replacing fresh marjoram.
    • Lemon Thyme: Offers a citrusy aroma that pairs well with grilled meats and vegetable dishes.
    • Parsley: Brings a fresh, herbaceous note to balance dishes with rich flavors.

French Cuisine

In French recipes, marjoram’s sweetness complements the complexity of sauces and poultry dishes.

  • French Cuisine Substitutes:
    • Tarragon: It brings its own sweet and anise-like quality, enhancing the dish without overpowering it. Use tarragon sparingly as its flavor is stronger.
    • Parsley: For a milder flavor addition, parsley can serve as a subtle backdrop in many French dishes.

Herbal Teas and Infusions

Marjoram can be used in herbal teas for its soothing properties and pleasant aroma. When marjoram is not available, certain herbs make suitable replacements for a comforting infusion.

  • Herbal Tea Alternatives:
    • Peppermint: Offers a refreshing profile with a cooling aftertaste.
    • Lemon Thyme: Adds a citrusy twist, echoing marjoram’s lemon-forward flavor.
    • Tarragon: Introduces a unique sweetness with a hint of licorice that’s excellent for a relaxing drink.

By considering these herb substitutes and pairings, you can confidently experiment and still achieve the desired taste and aroma in your Mediterranean and French dishes, as well as in your herbal teas and infusions.

Non-Traditional Substitutes

Substitute for marjoram

When you’re looking to add a unique twist to your dish, non-traditional substitutes for marjoram can offer surprising and delightful flavors that complement the traditional characteristics of marjoram, such as its citrus and pine notes.

Asian Influences

In Asia, lemongrass is a prevalent herb that imparts a citrusy flavor with a hint of ginger. Although not directly related to marjoram, lemongrass can provide a similar citrus flavor and a fresh, lemony aroma to your dishes. This makes it a suitable alternative in recipes where the bright, zesty quality of marjoram is desired. Use lemongrass sparingly, as its predominant lemon flavor is stronger than the mild sweetness of marjoram.

  • How to use lemongrass as a substitute:
    • Fresh: Finely chop the soft inner stalks.
    • Dried/powdered: Use a pinch less than the marjoram amount required.

Alternative Seasonings

Beyond traditional herbs, za’atar, a blend commonly used in Middle Eastern and African cuisine, can be a creative substitute for marjoram. Za’atar often contains thyme and oregano, which are relatives of marjoram, and may also include other flavorful components such as sesame seeds, sumac, and often a peppery note that complements many savory dishes. Its piney and citrusy undertones are akin to marjoram’s profile.

Anise, with its licorice flavor, is another non-traditional substitute. Although anise delivers a significantly different flavor profile, it can be used effectively where a hint of sweetness is needed without the distinct pine or citrus notes of marjoram.

  • Za’atar mixture ratios (as a marjoram substitute):
    • 1 tsp Marjoram = 1 tsp Za’atar
  • Anise application:
    • Use sparingly, as needed, to achieve a slight sweetness.

Usage Tips and Considerations

When you’re looking to replace marjoram in your recipes, it’s important to consider the flavor profile of your dish. As marjoram is a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine, you’ll want a substitute that complements these flavors without overpowering the dish.

Here are some tips and considerations for substituting marjoram:

  • For Dressings and Sauces:
    • Oregano is a safe choice, given its similarity in taste. Use it in the same amount as marjoram in your dressings and sauces.
    • Basil adds a sweet, peppery flavor and is a good match in fresh applications.
  • In Cooking:
    • Thyme can stand in for marjoram, especially in stews and meat dishes. However, use a bit less than the amount of marjoram called for as thyme has a stronger taste.
    • Savory offers a peppery, piney flavor suitable for most of marjoram’s uses in cooked dishes.

Substitution Ratios:

Oregano1:1 (use the same amount)
Basil1:1 (use the same amount)
Thyme0.75:1 (use 25% less)
Savory1:1 (use the same amount)

Be mindful that the intensity of flavors can vary between fresh and dried herbs. Typically, when substituting dried for fresh, use one third of the amount specified for the fresh herb. For instance, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of fresh marjoram, one teaspoon of dried marjoram or its substitute should suffice.

Lastly, taste as you go and adjust according to your preference. Each herb has a unique flavor profile, and your personal taste should guide the final seasoning of your dish.

Exploring Aromatic Herbs

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In the realm of cooking, the right aromatic herb can transform a simple dish into a complex, flavor-rich experience. Here you’ll discover how to pinpoint distinct aromas and experiment with less common herbs and custom blends to elevate your culinary creations.

Identifying Aromas

You can distinguish each herb by its unique aroma, which is often tied to its essential oils. For instance, sweet marjoram exudes a warm, woody scent with a hint of citrus, making it a favorite in many Mediterranean dishes. In contrast, knotted marjoram tends to have a more intense and spicy fragrance. Both varieties offer a depth of flavor that can be essential to the authenticity of regional cuisine, particularly those from the Mediterranean region.

Exotic and Uncommon Herbs

Moving beyond the familiar, you encounter exotic and less common herbs that can offer a novel twist to your recipes. Tarragon, with its subtle aniseed aroma, lends a fresh intricacy to poultry and seafood dishes. Lemon thyme adds a zesty note, perfect for marinades or dressing lighter fare such as salads and soups. When you’re aiming for a French touch, a sprinkle of herbes de Provence – typically a blend of marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano – brings the Provencal countryside to your table.

Creating Custom Blends

To craft your own herb blends, start with a base of versatile herbs like parsley, which carries bright, clean notes without overwhelming other flavors. To mimic the flavors of marjoram, blend herbs with compatible qualities. For instance, a combination of oregano and basil can approximate the sweet and floral nuances of marjoram in dishes. The Middle Eastern blend za’atar, which usually includes thyme, oregano, and marjoram, among other ingredients, exemplifies a multifaceted mix that is both vibrant and harmonious.

By understanding the aromas and properties of individual herbs, you have the chance to create signature blends that will add a distinct and memorable layer to your culinary palette.

Culinary Applications

In the realm of cooking, marjoram plays a pivotal role in both single seasoning applications and multifaceted herb blends. Understanding where and how to substitute marjoram will ensure your dishes retain their intended flavor profiles.

Simple Seasonings for Everyday Cooking

In everyday dishes such as pasta or split pea soup, the subtle, earthy tones of marjoram contribute significantly to the overall flavor. If marjoram is unavailable, you can opt for oregano, which provides similar notes albeit with a stronger taste. For a tablespoon of fresh marjoram, substitute with a teaspoon of dried marjoram or equivalent quantity of fresh oregano.

Substitution Guide for Everyday Cooking:

  • Fresh marjoram: Use fresh oregano.
  • Dried marjoram: Use dried oregano.

Remember, the key is to start with a smaller amount of oregano and adjust to taste as it is more potent than marjoram.

Complex Blends for Special Occasions

Special occasion dishes, like lasagna, often call for a complex symphony of herbs and seasoning to achieve their signature flavor. When marjoram is not an option, you might consider a pre-made Italian seasoning blend, as it commonly contains marjoram or its substitutes within its mix.

Italian Seasoning Blend Ratio:

  • 2 parts oregano
  • 1 part basil
  • 1 part thyme

This blend can be used in a 1:1 ratio as a marjoram replacement in recipes which call for an intricate array of spices and herbs. Be mindful of the prominence of each herb’s flavor when creating your blend to ensure a balanced taste.

Preservation and Storage

Marjoram 101-Selecting & Storing Marjoram

Proper preservation and storage are essential for maintaining the potency and flavor of marjoram and its substitutes. The right techniques can significantly extend the shelf life of these herbs.

Drying and Storing Marjoram

Drying Marjoram:

  1. Harvest marjoram just before it blooms for the best flavor.
  2. Tie the stems in small bunches and hang them upside-down in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight.
  3. Once dried (typically within a week or two), crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight container.

Storage Tips:

  • Store dried marjoram in a cool, dark place to preserve its essential oils and flavor.
  • Label the container with the date to keep track of freshness; dried marjoram typically retains its quality for up to six months.

Preserving Freshness of Alternatives

Oregano: Being closely related to marjoram, you can dry and store oregano using the same methods outlined above. However, oregano has a more robust flavor, so it’s vital to adjust recipes accordingly when substituting dried oregano for marjoram.

Thyme and Basil: Like marjoram, these can be dried, but they also retain their flavor well when frozen. Thyme and basil can be finely chopped, placed in ice cube trays, covered with water or oil, and then frozen for later use.

Dried Lemongrass: Unlike marjoram, lemongrass is best stored in the freezer if fresh. Dried lemongrass should be sealed in an airtight container and kept in a cool, dark place for up to a year.

Additional Tips:

  • When substituting, keep in mind that a tablespoon of fresh herb equates to approximately one teaspoon of dried herb.
  • Always check for any discoloration or off-smells as indicators that your herbs may have surpassed their optimal use period.

Health and Wellness

Marjoram and its substitutes aren’t just flavorful additions to your dishes; they come with a spectrum of health benefits that can contribute to your overall wellness. These herbs have been used both in traditional remedies and have been the subject of modern research.

Herbs in Traditional Remedies

Herbs like marjoram have long been revered for their medicinal properties. Historically, you’d find marjoram in various traditional remedies, notably for its anti-inflammatory and digestive benefits. In the realm of traditional medicine, these herbs were often utilized to alleviate symptoms of digestion and chronic inflammation. Here’s a brief look at how marjoram and its substitutes have been used traditionally:

  • Marjoram: Often used to improve digestive health.
  • Oregano: Known for antibacterial and antioxidant properties.
  • Thyme: Traditionally used for its expectorant and antibacterial qualities.
  • Sage: Employed in remedies for its perceived soothing effects and as an antioxidant.
  • Basil: Used mainly for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Modern Research on Herbal Benefits

Modern scientific research has started to investigate and often reinforce the traditional uses of these herbs, with a focus on health benefits like their antioxidant capacity and potential role in preventing chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Studies suggest the following:

  • Antioxidant Activity: Many herbs contain compounds that can neutralize free radicals, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases.
  • Anti-inflammatory Effects: Some herbs may help reduce inflammation, which is linked to various health conditions, including heart disease.
  • Fungal Infections: Herbs like oregano and thyme contain natural antifungal properties.
  • Cancer Research: Elements in certain herbs have been studied for their potential anti-cancer effects.
  • Diabetes Management: Certain herbs may influence blood sugar levels and could be beneficial as part of diabetes management.

By integrating these herbs into your diet, you might not only enhance the flavor of your meals but also tap into their potential health-promoting properties. Remember to consider the specifics of each herb, as their individual compositions offer varied benefits when opting for a substitute in your cooking.

Frequently Asked Questions

When cooking, it’s not uncommon to find yourself short of a specific herb. In the case of marjoram, a number of alternatives can deliver a similar flavor profile to your dishes.

What herb can be used in place of marjoram when cooking?

If you’re out of marjoram, oregano is an excellent substitute. It belongs to the same family and has a similar warm, slightly bittersweet taste.

Is there a spice that closely mimics the flavor of marjoram?

Oregano is the spice that most closely resembles marjoram. They share many flavor notes and can be used interchangeably in most recipes.

Can oregano be used as an alternative to marjoram in recipes?

Yes, oregano can be used as an alternative to marjoram. Use it in a 1:1 ratio when replacing fresh marjoram with fresh oregano, or dried marjoram with dried oregano.

What is a suitable marjoram replacement in soup preparations?

Thyme is a suitable marjoram replacement in soups. It blends well with other flavors and adds a similar earthy and minty taste to your soup preparations.

Which herb is comparable to marjoram in terms of taste?

Thyme and basil are herbs that are comparable to marjoram in terms of taste. They carry a similar earthy and sweet profile that marries well with the ingredients in various dishes.

When marjoram is unavailable, what can be used instead for seasoning dishes?

In the absence of marjoram, a blend of herbs such as Herbes de Provence or Italian seasoning can be used as an alternative for seasoning dishes. These blends often contain marjoram and complement its absence well.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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