Q & A – Oregano
I’ve seen oregano labelled as Greek, Italian, Mediterranean and Mexican. How are they each different?
Well, the first three are actually variations on a theme. The term ‘Mediterranean’ means simply that the oregano you’re looking at isn’t Mexican. Italian and Greek oregano vary slightly in leaf shape, aroma and flavour. Some people claim that Greek oregano is more pungent than Italian. That kind of statement assumes that oregano is the exact same all over Italy and Greece, respectively. It’s not. Ultimately, those differences are the result of terroir — the combined effect of climate, soil and any other growing conditions on the plant. Try some grown here versus some grown in Southern Italy or Greece. Although both will have a similar taste and aroma, you’ll probably find a difference in pungency.
Oregano is a perennial that can grow all over Europe and North America with little effort on the gardener’s part. It’s a member of the mint family. I’ve come across two types of Italian oregano that have very different-looking leaves — Aureum and Greek Kaliteri. The first has leaves that are small, round and end with a point. The latter has small, long and thin leaves reminiscent of rosemary. The Greek Kalteri is the one I find to be most reminiscent of oregano for me. But, as I mentioned, both can be pungent (or not) depending on where they’re grown. Whichever you prefer, this is the one used in Mediterranean recipes.
Mexican oregano is an entirely different animal. It actually traces its ancestry back to the vervain family, like lemon verbena. It’s flavour is like the Mediterranean oregano, but a lot more pungent. Although it’s usually recommended for more strongly flavoured dishes, like chili, I’ve found it to be equally tasty in Mediterranean-type dishes, too. I sprinkled some on slices of zucchini with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch or two of salt before grilling them. It gave the zucchini a wonderful sweet, fruity and smoky flavour. I’d say to go easy with it, though. It’s flavour can easily overpower a delicate dish.
Adapted from Rosemary Hemphill’s Herb Collection.
250 g grilling steak per person, cut into bite-sized cubes
Tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
Bacon, cut into bite-sized pieces
Pineapple, cut into large chunks
Onion, sliced into wide slivers
Place cubes of steak on each skewer alternately with tomato, bacon, pineapple and onion. Season with salt, pepper and oregano. Grill.
Enjoy with a green salad and an Argentine Malbec.