When you are cooking, whether as a newbie or a seasoned professional (no pun intended) getting to grips with herbs is very important.
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Many people use the term ‘herbs’ as an inclusive term for all herbs. However, this can quickly get very confusing when you consider the fact that different herbs have different flavors.
Things can get even more confusing when you learn that different herbs can be used in place of each other as a substitute. What’s more, many of them look similar (or even identical) to the untrained eye!
Luckily for you, that’s where The Kitchen Community comes in. Here at The Kitchen Community, we want to clear up any herb-related confusion, starting with two of the most commonly used herbs around - thyme and oregano.
What is thyme?
Thyme is an extremely popular herb that is used all over the world in a number of different cuisines. There are two main types of thyme - common and lemon. Common thyme is, as the name suggests, the most commonly used form of the herb.
The taste of thyme is very distinctive as it offers a fresh, earthy, and almost floral taste. It has been compared to the likes of lavender and also tastes similar to rosemary.
It is a perennial herb that belongs to the Genus known as Thymus. Thymus belongs to the larger herb family of mint known as Lamiaceae. Interestingly, they are also related to the genus to which oregano belongs. These facts about the plant should give you a good indication of the full flavor profile of thyme, and you can imagine what it may taste like and be used for.
Not all thyme is used for culinary purposes, but as we have mentioned, common thyme and lemon thyme are. Other types of thyme are used as decorative border plants, but they still give off a delicious aroma and attract bees.
Thyme has long been used for culinary purposes and medical purposes, with its medical use dating back to the Ancient Eras. it is thought that thyme was used for embalming, perhaps because of its cleansing properties.
It began to be used by Ancient Egyptians and Romans as a way of flavoring cheese and wine and has remained one of the most popular culinary herbs ever since, being used in a variety of different cuisines from all over the world.
Thyme can be bought fresh or dried, and can easily be grown in your garden or windowsill herb box. It tastes similar whether dried or fresh, but some people may prefer the slightly stronger taste that dried thyme offers.
What is oregano?
Like thyme, oregano is another herb that comes from the Lamiaceae family. It belongs to the Genus known as Origanum and is a flowering plant that can be commonly found in the Mediterranean area.
It has long been used for its culinary purposes, as well as for medicinal reasons. It is especially popular in Mediterranean cooking, especially in Italian dishes. In fact, it is a vital feature in many Italian pasta dishes, as well as Italian Herb mixes.
The herb is actually closely related to another herb known as marjoram, and for this reason, another name that oregano goes by is ‘sweet marjoram’ so if you ever hear that and wonder what is meant, you can just think of oregano.
In terms of flavor, oregano (or sweet marjoram) is similar to that of thyme in the sense that it is very distinctive and fresh. It is very pungent and is reminiscent of grass and hay.
However, please don’t let that put you off because its woody and sweet undertone make it a flavor sensation, and you can quickly begin to see why it is so popular as soon as you taste it.
Like thyme, oregano is available in both dried and fresh versions. You can even buy it in powder form. Dried oregano has an even stronger taste than fresh oregano, and is a common ingredient found in many pantries.
In fact, if you crush dried oregano even further you will find that it releases even more flavor. We recommend doing this with a pestle and mortar before adding it to your recipes. You can also do this with fresh oregano.
Are oregano and thyme the same?
No, oregano and thyme are not the same, per se. However, we can see why this could be confusing since the two herbs are actually related.
Oregano is a member of the Origanum Genus. Thyme is a member of the Thymus Genus. Both of these genera belong to the wider family known as the Lamiaceae which is a family of mint-like herbs.
This gives an indication that there are similarities between them. However, both of the herbs have very different flavor profiles, and whilst you can identify some similarities it cannot be said that they are identical.
The two herbs are not the same and offer different medical properties, as well as distinct flavors. For example, thyme is used to purify, to aid sleep, and was even thought to give courage, according to Ancient traditions.
Oregano on the other hand was thought to be a cure for sore throats, colds, and coughs in Ancient civilizations, and has been thought to have antibacterial properties.
Can I use oregano instead of thyme?
Yes! Oregano is a great substitute for thyme in a huge number of recipes. Whilst they are not identical in taste (in fact they each have quite a distinctive flavor), they lend themselves to each other well and work well with a myriad of other flavors too, making them an excellent addition to many dishes.
If you are making a recipe and it states that you need thyme, you can certainly use oregano if you have run out of thyme, or if someone doesn’t like the taste of it
It pairs particularly well with Italian and Mediterranean dishes, especially when you consider the fact that both oregano and thyme are vital components of the Italian Herb mix.
Can I use thyme instead of oregano?
As you will have learned in the section above, oregano can be used in place of thyme. With this in mind, it seems that the obvious answer to this question is yes, you can indeed use thyme in place of oregano.
The substitutions work both ways, and you will find thyme a great alternative in many different recipes if you have run out of oregano or simply don’t like it.
The taste is very fresh and urgent (in a good way of course) and tends to work well with many meat dishes, fish dishes, and potato dishes from all cuisines.
As we have already mentioned, both herbs are associated with Italian food, however, thyme is also popular in British food and French food, too.
What health benefits does thyme have?
Many people tend to disregard herbs for their health benefits as they think that they are used in too small amounts to get a decent amount of nutrition from them.
To some extent that is true, but even a small amount of nutrition is a good thing, right? Thyme is packed with Vitamins A and C, both of which are essential for our immune systems and eyesight.
As if that wasn't enough, thyme has long been used for its many health benefits such as the treatment of sore throats, as an antibacterial product, and even on the skin. This is because of the compound known as thymol that is found within thyme.
Thyme also makes thyme essential oil that has been used to great effect in many holistic medicines. Bear in mind that thyme essential oil can be toxic in high concentrations and so it should only ever be used diluted with a carrier oil.
That being said, if used properly it is a great addition to your massage oil collection! You should never consume thyme essential oil (or any essential oil for that matter).
When thyme is eaten as a fresh or dried herb, it can boost your immune system and help to stimulate your circulatory system. As if that wasn’t enough, it is absolutely delicious!
What health benefits does oregano have?
Just like thyme, oregano also has plenty of wonderful health benefits. Again, do not be fooled by the fact that you only use small amounts.
Like we said before, even a small amount of something good is better than nothing, right? Oregano is packed full of antioxidants and nutrients that you need to help live a healthy lifestyle.
One vitamin that oregano provides is vitamin K. this is an essential vitamin in helping blood to clot (in a healthy way, y’know, so you don’t bleed out every time you get a small cut or scratch).
Can you grow oregano and thyme at home?
Yes! You can definitely grow both thyme and oregano easily at home. They are both hardy perennials and are easy enough for even a complete beginner to grow.
Herb gardens are a great way of beginning your gardening journey and trust us when we say that there is nothing more wonderful than picking herbs fresh from your own garden to use on your dinner! You can even get the whole family involved in the planting and gathering of them.
You can also plant the herbs with the intention of gathering them and drying them out for use at a later date. They should produce herbs most of the year round as they are perennial plants, but of course, drying them can take some time so ensure to do it in advance.
Simply cut away some sprigs directly from the plant, and brush away any dirt as best you can. Gather together small bunches and tie them with some jute cord. Only put a small number of sprigs together as too many can get moist and grow mold.
Pop the herbs in a brown paper bag to catch any falling herbs and to keep dust out. Hang them to dry for one week (no more than 10 days), and voila, freshly dried herbs that you can crush and cook with to your heart's delight.
Best Uses for Thyme
Thyme lends itself well to a variety of different dishes because, whilst the flavor is distinct, it is not overpowering and works well with lots of different flavors.
You can use it for making sauces, gravies, marinades, broth, soup, and even as a garnish. It is very versatile and can be used in a number of different cuisines. It is especially popular in Creole cuisines, such as Jambalaya, Southern Rice, and many chicken dishes.
Talking of chicken, thyme pairs very well with poultry, and also tastes delicious alongside veal, lamb, and fish dishes. If veggies are your thing, you can add thyme to all of your favorite vegetable dishes alongside many other delicious herbs such as tarragon, rosemary, and of course, oregano.
Another surprising use for thyme is using it in sweet dishes. Use it alongside flavors such as lavender and lemon for some fresh summery tarts, light cocktails, and baked into cakes!
Best Uses for Oregano
Like thyme, oregano is a super versatile herb. We love using it in pasta and pizza. As you might expect, oregano is very common in European dishes, especially in Italian cuisine.
Oregano is a more robust herb, and so it pairs particularly well with more bold flavors such as those found in red meats like lamb, pork, and beef. It also pairs deliciously well with tomatoes.
We have told you already of the popularity of its use in Italian cuisine. However, it is also a common feature in Grek and Cypriot food, and even in Mexican meals.
You are not just limited to using it in meat dishes though. If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can still get the delicious taste of oregano in all of your favorite vegetable dishes. It also pairs well with legumes.
Use it in tandem with basil, bay leaves, marjoram, and garlic!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I substitute thyme for oregano?
Although thyme isn’t in the same family as oregano, it does have a very similar taste so it makes a great substitute.
In fact, you’ll often see thyme and oregano used together in the same dish, as their flavors and aromas complement each other perfectly.
There is only a slight flavor difference, with thyme not having as much of a citrus-like zing.
One thing to be aware of when using thyme in place of oregano is that the stalks are woody and much tougher.
With this in mind, you’ll need to strip the leaves off and add them to your dish, rather than chopping them in their entirety.
There are also many different varieties of thyme, and each has a different flavor. The closest you’ll find to matching oregano is French thyme or English thyme.
How do you identify oregano?
If you think you’ve spotted some oregano sprouting in your garden, but you’re not certain, there are three ways to identify it. First of all, take a look at the leaves.
Oregano leaves are oval, have a coarse texture, and are lightly covered with fine hairs. They are also a deep, bright-green color.
Next, look to see if it has any flowers. If it has small clusters of pink-purple flowers, it’s a good chance it’s marjoram.
Finally, rub your fingers against the leaves and smell them. If you’re getting that unmistakable, aromatic smell, then it’s definitely oregano.
Finally, if you’re still not sure, you can taste the leaf of the plant. Oregano has a pungent, slightly spicy flavor with hints of grass and mint.
However, care should be taken as some plants can be toxic so always use this as your very last resort.
How do you identify thyme?
Thyme is a tricky herb to identify because it comes in so many different varieties. However, there are a few different things you can look for that will help you identify the variety of thyme you have.
First of all, take a look at the shape and the color of the leaves. If they are gray in color and have a fuzzy texture, it’s likely that you’ve got Wooly Thyme. If they are a gray-green color and have silver edges, you’ve got Silver Thyme.
English Thyme has deep-green leaves that are slightly glossy. It also grows in large, circular mounds and will be covered with small, lavender-colored flowers during the summer. This makes it one of the easiest varieties to identify.
Turkish Thyme has small green leaves that grow very close to the stem. During the spring, it will also be covered in small pink flowers.
Is oregano and Zaatar the same?
Za’atar and oregano are from the same plant family. In fact, the Za'atar herb is a variety of wild thyme. But this is where the similarity ends.
The Za’atar herb actually lends its name to a mixture of different herbs and spices that create the final spice blend. These include toasted sesame seeds, dried sumac, salt, thyme, marjoram, and oregano,
It also tastes entirely different from oregano. Za'atar has a tangy, spicy, nutty flavor. Oregano has a fresher flavor with hints of grass and mint. They are also most commonly used in two different types of cuisine.
You’ll find Za’atar as a regular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, while oregano is most famed for its place in Mediterranean dishes. You’ll also find oregano in dishes that hail from Greece and Mexico.
Just like oregano, Za’atar can be used in a variety of ways. It can be used on its own as a seasoning, added to yogurt to make a zingy-flavored dip, or mixed with lemon juice and olive oil to create a flavorful salad dressing.
To summarize, thyme and oregano, whilst sharing some similarities, are both very distinct herbs with different flavors.
They can be used in place of each other in a number of different recipes, but it must be noted that their flavors are slightly different, and so you will not get exactly the same results.
Thyme and oregano also work well together and are both important components of Italian Seasoning.
Both of them are terrific herbs to add to your pantry repertoire, and they can both be grown easily in your herb garden if you are that way inclined.
Thank you for reading, and happy cooking!
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