Are You Cooking With Real Greek Oregano?
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Of all the herbs and spices that are used in Greek cooking, oregano is the most beloved. In fact, it’s rare to find a dish that doesn’t include it, even when the official recipe doesn’t list oregano as one of the seasonings. I know that when I make some of my traditional favorites, such as spanakopita, I add some Greek oregano in with the spinach if the mood strikes me. Aside from that, I use the herb in all the typical dishes such as to make souvlaki, flavor tomato sauces, and to top my Greek salad.
Make Sure It Is REAL Greek Oregano!
The oregano that is grown in Greece is different than the varieties we find here in the United States. It is possible to find the real Greek oregano in specialty shops or by ordering online. If you happen to visit Greece, it makes an excellent souvenir. Greek oregano, or Rigani, is Oreganum vulgare.
If you’re interested in buying it in the United States, make sure the Greek oregano comes from the correct species! There are several species of oregano that are commonly used in cooking, included Mexican Oregano, or Origanum genus, Italian Oregano, or Origanum x majoracum, and Oraganum libanoticum which is primarily used as an ornamental plant.
Another difference between oregano in the United States and in Greece is the way it’s packaged. In both countries, most cooks do prefer to use the fresh herb if it’s available. If not, that’s where the differences lie. In the United States, dried oregano is usually crumbled and packaged in plastic or glass jars for easy use. However, much of the flavor of the oregano fades when the herbs are stored this way.
Greeks Use the Whole Plant
In Greece, however, the whole plant is clipped and dried right on the plant’s small branches. It’s sold that way, leaving it up to the chef to break apart the oregano as needed. This is actually the proper way to use dried oregano. The plan gets its flavor from the volatile oils, which are best preserved when the oregano leaves are dried on the branch and crushed as needed. They also use the branches to flavor soups and sauces. They don’t let any part of the plant go to waste!
Another major difference between oregano sold in the United States versus the oregano that is used in Greece is that Greeks understand that the flavors of the leaves change at different parts of the growing cycle. Young oregano leaves aren’t as intense as those that have been on the plant.
Picking the leaves just before the plant flowers, too, also results in a leave with a different flavor. At the stage, the leaves are almost bitter. Optimally, Greek cooks prefer the leaves that are on the plant when the oregano starts flowering. That is why you’ll often buy packaged oregano branches with the flowers still on the branch. In fact, the flowers themselves are a great seasoning in its own right.
Recipes That Use Greek Oregano
Oregano is the most common herb used in Greek cooking, and some chefs tend to put some in nearly every dish they make. It’s also used as a condiment on the table and Greeks tend to shake it over their food as a garnish because they love the flavor so much.
Here are some of our recipes that use oregano. This isn’t a comprehensive list, but it does give you a nice idea of the types of dishes you may end up seeing oregano in:
- Greek Chicken with Lemon and Oregano
- Horiatiki – Greek Village Salad
- Greek Style Lamb Meatballs
- Greek Style Bruschetta with Tomato and Feta
The next time you make your favorite Greek foods and the recipe calls for oregano, take the extra step to make sure it’s Greek oregano, which is the Oregano vulgarum species and that it has been packaged the right way. It will make a big difference in your cooking!
Categorized in: Greek Cooking
This post was written by Greek Boston