8 Excellent Marjoram Substitutes
If you live in a Mediterranean country, chances are you always have marjoram around. Most likely, you also love its aroma.
But what happens when you don’t live in that region and a recipe mentions marjoram? Or you’d simply love to try a new dish, but somewhere in the ingredient list there’s a mention of marjoram, and you don’t like its taste? Here’s a list of what to use instead of marjoram to fix this problem.
Before we dig into the versatile and rich world of herbs, and before we explore all the marjoram alternatives you can use, let’s get acquainted with this aromatic plant. Marjoram is a perennial herb in the mint family and a key ingredient in many cuisines around the world.
This aromatic herb is especially popular in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. It’s fragrant, and it adds aroma and amazing depth and dimension to any dish. It’s the perfect touch for meats (German sausages use plenty of this herb), seafood, eggs, pasta (Italian tomato-based sauces are usually flavored with marjoram), salad dressings, herbal teas, stews and basically any dish that has a sauce or liquid base, to infuse all its flavor. But what does it taste like?
Marjoram Flavor Profile
There are plenty of herbs that will replicate the multidimensional flavors of this Mediterranean aromatic plant. Fear not! But first, here are some important details about its aroma:
- Marjoram has an earthy flavor
- It has a woodsy, profound, intense smell
- Marjoram has a floral, delicate touch
- Marjoram is sharp, with a hint of bitterness, leaving a warm sensation
- It has pine and citrus notes, being fresh and a little minty
Colors of the world, spice up your life: check out these marjoram substitutes!
Somewhere in between oregano, thyme, basil and mint, marjoram is a complex herb. It stimulates the palate in many ways: it’s refreshing and minty, and yet it offers a warm touch; it’s earthy and piney, but still citrusy, fruity and floral, and it gives a hint of bitterness. So, we looked for the same qualities in all the substitutes for marjoram we tested.
1. Oregano is the ideal alternative to marjoram
Fresh or dried, oregano comes close to marjoram. Marjoram is sweeter and more floral, being milder in flavor, while oregano can be more pungent, rather sharp, herby and more minty. Also, oregano packs a more bitter punch than marjoram, which although slightly bitter, is sweeter and and more delicate. It’s important to keep this in mind when adjusting the quantities.
Oregano is the best choice for replacing marjoram in stews, soups and salads. Actually, the two herbs are interchangeable in recipes both when it comes to flavor and look, since they also have a similar appearance.
2. Thyme can always be used to replace marjoram
They come from the same family of herbs, and they do have notes in common. Whenever you run out of marjoram, thyme is a good go-to option, especially in roasts, stews, casseroles, soups and salad dressings.
Just like marjoram, thyme, and especially dried thyme, is a great option for marinades and for braising meats.
3. While it’s milder, basil is also a good alternative
Another Mediterranean herb in the same family as marjoram. As they are both in the mint family, basil and marjoram are similar in some ways, but be mindful of the differences. Basil is milder and has a hint of pepper when used fresh. Also, while it’s spicy, basil is rather sweet compared to marjoram, which has a bitter undertone.
Another difference: marjoram has a mix of pine and citrus aromas but basil not so much. It’s better to use dried basil to replace marjoram to keep the flavors similar. Use it in sausages, soups and pasta sauces.
4. Go for a pinch of tarragon when you’re out of marjoram!
Mostly used in French cuisine and Middle Eastern dishes, tarragon can replace marjoram, especially in sauces, vinaigrettes and lean meat dishes, such as chicken, seafood or fish.
Tarragon tastes rather bittersweet, just like marjoram, but it can remind you more of fennel or dill, while marjoram is rather piny and citrusy. Another noticeable difference is that tarragon has a hint of black pepper, while another thing they have in common is that they both have a lemony flavor.
5. Lemon thyme can be used instead of marjoram as well
Another perennial herb in the mint family, lemon thyme has a citrus scent, as well as an aromatic, floral, minty and woody aroma specific to thyme. Compared to marjoram, lemon thyme is sweeter, which is why it’s ideal in chicken, fish, seafood and pasta dishes and also in fresh salads.
6. Sage is a great marjoram replacement
Another aromatic herb in the mint family and another great choice for replacing marjoram with. Sage has the same pine and citrus notes you find in marjoram. The difference?
Marjoram is rather floral and with a bitter undertone, while sage is rather grassy and earthy. Just like basil, sage is a good alternative to marjoram, especially in its dried form.
7. Summer savory is one of the best marjoram substitutes
This herb is often compared with sage, and it is more popular in Canada, but we do recommend you try it in recipes mentioning marjoram. Summer savory can be like a combination of marjoram, mint and thyme, but with a more peppery note.
Summer savory is the best choice to use instead of marjoram in meat dishes and stews. Roasted meat, sausages and meat-based stews are enhanced by adding this herb, which has a rather peppery flavor.
8. Herbes de Provence and Za’atar can be good alternatives
Marjoram is a key ingredient in Herbes de Provence and the Oriental spice mix called Za’atar. Since marjoram is an important part of both, you can always use them when you run out of the aromatic plant.
Make sure not to use a lot, maybe just a pinch, since the flavors can otherwise overpower the dish. Herbes de Provence goes great in roasts (meat and veggies), while Za’atar, with its nutty, piney freshness, can add some tang and aroma to anything cooked or fresh.
Fresh or dried? It’s always about proportion!
You’re wondering what to replace marjoram with in recipes. Well, there’s always the dried version. If you’re not into making your own aromatic plant garden, there’s always the option of having some dried herbs in your kitchen.
If you are, however, a “grow yourself the ingredients you’re cooking with” enthusiast, good news: marjoram is a perennial plant, so you’ll be having it for many years to come if the conditions are met for it to thrive.
Why is it important to discuss the fresh versus dried version of the plant? First of all, because it’s all about proportion. You can always substitute a fresh herb with a dried one, but be mindful of the quantity. You need to use about one teaspoon of dried marjoram for each tablespoon of fresh marjoram mentioned in the recipe.
Another tip: if the recipe mentions dried marjoram, go for a dried replacement, and the other way around. Proportion aside, there are two other things worth mentioning on the topic:
- Fresh marjoram leaves are to be added towards the end of the cooking process. This way the flavor remains sharp and intense.
- Dried marjoram has a potent, intense flavor as well, but you should add it in the broth or sauce so that the aromas can “travel” and infuse with all the ingredients.