Comparing the ultimate herbs – thyme vs. oregano

thyme vs. oregano
Thyme delivers woody, lemony, and peppery notes, while the oregano has hints of bitterness and spiciness and is more pungent. Both are common in Mediterranean, Italian, and Middle Eastern cuisines. However, thyme is commonly associated with za’atar and bouquet garni, while oregano is great for tomato-based pasta and pizza sources.

What is thyme?

Thyme
Thyme

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is an evergreen herb from the Lamiaceae or mint family. Apart from its minty flavor profile, it’s also lemony and has hints of pepper and sweetness. 

Unlike other fresh herbs, it isn’t as aromatic. Rather it smells rather subtle and dry. There are also different varieties of thyme, but the most popular are the following:

Common thymeAlso referred to as English or garden thyme, this thyme carries a clove and mint-like flavor
Lemon thymeFrom the ‌Mediterranean, lemon thyme has floral, earthy, and minty notes and a pronounced lemony flavor
Orange thymeAs its name implies, this thyme has a milder flavor and brings the zest of the orange into recipes
Za’atar thymeSharing the same name as the spice mix (which includes thyme, marjoram, and oregano), za’atar — the thyme — has a mix of mint and lavender and some woody notes

dried vs. fresh thyme: comparison

Apart from the types of thyme in terms of variety, you can also find this perennial herb in two forms: dried and fresh.

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In general, dried herbs are more potent than their fresh counterparts. But unlike other dried herbs, dried thyme doesn’t have that straw-like taste. For every 1 tablespoon of fresh thyme, use 1 teaspoon of its dried version as a swap. 

What is oregano?

Oregano
Oregano

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) also belongs to the mint family. Beyond its minty notes, it’s sweet, peppery, and pungent, leaving an astringent feel in the mouth. The flavor profile will vary depending on what type of oregano you have.

Common oreganoMediterranean or regular oregano is the one you’ll commonly find on Amazon and your favorite grocery store. It’s mildly sweet with bitter and peppery undertones
Greek oreganoIf you’re looking to add that oregano flavor but looking for savory and earthy undertones, Greek oregano is the ingredient to use
Turkish oreganoLike the common oregano, it’s slightly bitter and peppery but sits on the more intense side
Italian oreganoThis oregano is a staple Italian seasoning that is milder and has heavy camphor notes
Golden oreganoGolden oregano gives a subtle oregano flavor but is milder
Sweet marjoramNote that all types of marjoram are considered oregano variations. But compared to other varieties, this has a more delicate flavor and has woodsy, citrusy, and floral notes
Ornamental oreganoThe least oregano-tasting variety among its peers, it’s more used because of its visual value

dried vs. fresh oregano: comparison

Fresh oregano offers a more refreshingly peppery taste. Dried oregano is still flavorful, but like thyme, you should replace it following a 3:1 ratio (1 tablespoon or 3 teaspoons of fresh oregano is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of its dried form).

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What is the difference between oregano and thyme?

Thyme vs. oregano
Thyme vs. oregano

Do you have oregano and thyme in your pantry? Here are some must-know differences between the two.

Origin

Thyme and oregano belong to the same plant family of mint. While thyme is a member of the Thymus genus, oregano hails from the related Origanum genus. Both herbs are indigenous to the Mediterranean region, though oregano is also found in Eurasia (west and southwest). 

Appearance

These two herbs have green leaves that grow in clusters. However, thyme’s hue ranges from green to grayish green, while oregano leaves can be vibrant to olive green. Thyme leaves are also smaller and thinner than spade-shaped oregano.

When dried, thyme leaves become more grayish. On the other hand, oregano becomes darker and closer to brown.

Flavor

Since they come from the same mint family, they share that minty flavor. However, thyme has a relatively gentle taste with sweet, peppery, and lemony notes. Oregano is the more pungent of the two. It’s also peppery but sharper and more bitter.

Thyme has a woody aroma, while oregano is spicy to smell. 

Applications

Thyme and oregano work well with other Mediterranean spices and herbs, including marjoram, cumin, tarragon, parsley, and coriander

However, remember that not all thymes are suitable for culinary purposes. The widely used varieties in the culinary world are common and lemon thyme. They are a usual ingredient in marinades and a flavor enhancer for broth-based soups. 

It’s also a key ingredient of France’s bouquet garni and other herbs like parsley and bay leaf. In Middle Eastern cuisine, it’s an essential ingredient of za’atar, together with marjoram and oregano.

See Also:  Rosemary: a warm, slightly bitter herbal spice

Oregano is one of the most popular herbs. Different varieties mean it has a wide array of applications — but the most common is in pizza and pasta sauces, especially tomato-based ones. You can also use oregano in olive oil-based dishes, Italian vinaigrettes, and as a marinade for beef, lamb, and chicken dishes.

Shelf life

Fresh oregano and thyme leaves can last up to 2 weeks when kept in a refrigerator. You can use their dried versions from 1 to 3 years.

Form

You can use oregano and thyme as freshly harvested herbs. However, if you want to let them last longer and take advantage of the deeper flavors they give, get them in dried forms.

Comparison Table

ThymeOregano
OriginNative to the Mediterranean region, belonging to the Thymus genus of the Lamiaceae or mint familyOriginating from the Mediterranean region and Southwest and West Eurasia, comes from the Origanum genus of the Lamiaceae or mint family
AppearanceLeaves are tiny, thin, and green to grayish green in colorLeaves are spade-shaped and can be vibrant green or olive green
FlavorMinty and peppery, with sweet and lemony notesMinty and peppery but has bitter undertones and is more pungent
ApplicationKey component of za’atar and bouquet garniCommonly used in tomato-based pasta and pizza sauces and olive-oil-based dishes
Shelf lifeUp to 1 to 3 years when dried, up to 2 weeks when fresh and refrigeratedUp to 1 to 3 years when dried, up to 2 weeks when fresh and refrigerated
FormWhole and driedWhole and dried

Best oregano recipe ideas

Oregano — not to be confused with Mexican oregano, which belongs to another plant family — is an herb used to elevate the flavor and aroma of salad dressings, dips, and cream and tomato-based sauces. It is an effective marinade for poultry and meat recipes such as grilled pork or lamb and cajun-baked chicken wings when combined with olive oil.

Top thyme recipe ideas

Thyme is a key component of za’atar and bouquet garni. You can create delectable culinary creations like za’atar fish and chips, lemony salmon, and spiced chickpeas with za’atar. Meanwhile, you can use bouquet garni to flavor soups, stews, and meat dishes. For example, French onion soup and beef bourguignon.

Do oregano and thyme go together?

Oregano and thyme go well together like other Mediterranean herbs and spices. When used together, they give an herby punch to recipes like spaghetti sauces, chicken stock, lamb and beef stews, herbed pork chops, and smoked turkey.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is oregano the same as thyme?

Though they belong to the mint family, oregano isn’t the same as thyme. They are both minty, but the former is more pungent and bitter, while the latter has a medley of sweetness and pepper- and lemon-like notes.

Can I substitute thyme for oregano?

These herbs can use in place of one another — especially in Mediterranean and Italian cooking. Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting fresh oregano for fresh thyme or dried oregano for dried thyme and vice versa.

Which is healthier, thyme or oregano?

These herbs come with many vitamins and minerals. Regarding nutritional value, oregano has more calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, sodium, beta carotene, magnesium, protein, and dietary fiber than thyme. Thyme has more Vitamins B1 and B2. However, both are renowned for their medicinal purposes — thanks to the oxidants and essential oils they contain.

How do you identify oregano?

Oregano leaves look like spades and are vibrant to olive green. They also have a soft, fuzzy texture and are much larger than thyme. The oregano plant can grow up to 2 feet tall and 2 feet wide, with woody branches and leaves that grow in a cluster. They have pink, light purple, or white flowers.

How do you identify thyme?

Thyme leaves are tiny and thin, with a hue that can be green to grayish green. The plant is a small shrub that reaches 12 inches in height. It has slender and spreading branches — the stems are soft at the top and woody at the bottom. They bear flowers that are white or lilac.

Randell

Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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