Oregano – indeed a joy of the mountains

by Sanjeev Kapoor

I like a generous sprinkle of oregano on the pizza before I bite it. I have always been a great fan of oregano and prefer it fresh. What is so special about oregano, you may well ask. Like they say proof of the pudding is in eating, take the taste of this delicate herb and you will know why it is so special.

Oregano, like I mentioned above, is a herb that is a member of the mint family. You can trace its origins to Greece and let me add here that the name when literally translated means ‘joy of mountains.’ The French and Italians swear by this herb and use it widely mostly in tomato based dishes. Ratatouille comes to my mind instantly when I say oregano. My daughters are not great fans of brinjals but when this dish when cooked along with coloured peppers and oregano, it is devoured in a matter of seconds.

But most people associate oregano with pizza. Why am I bringing this up here? Because I want to say that it is not just a pizza herb. It adds it unique flavour to many other dishes.

History and journey of oregano
The history and origin of oregano makes interesting reading. The roots of this herb or spice lie deep in the Mediterranean basin. The most remarkable information I garnered was that though it is commonly used in food preparation around the world, it is used more in perfumes.

Oregano was first used by the Greeks. As per their mythology, goddess Aphrodite invented the spice and gave it to man to make his life happier. Couples soon after the wedding were crowned with wreaths made of oregano. It was also put on graves to give peace to departed souls. Ancient Greek physicians also discovered that the herb was had beneficial in the treatment of a variety of ailments. Hippocrates used it as an antiseptic.

When the Romans conquered Greece they adopted lot of the culture of the region. They like the taste of oregano and spread it throughout Europe and Northern Africa where it was used extensively to spice meats, fish and even to flavour wine.

People continued to use it through the middle ages when sharp spices were not common. Oregano added a variety to their daily fare. They were also aware of its medicinal properties. They used to chew the oregano leaves as a cure for rheumatism, toothache, indigestion and cough suppressant.

The journey continued and oregano reached China probably via the Middle-East during the medieval period. Here again it was used as a medicinal herb. Doctors prescribed it to relieve fever, vomiting, diarrhoea, jaundice and itchy skin.

When the English were introduced to oregano they used it as an additive to snuff. It was also used as a perfume in sachets. Though it was used in England, people in United States were not even aware of it until the Second World War when the soldiers discovered the flavours and aromas during the Italian Campaign and since then the Americans cannot do without this spice.

Health benefits
The health benefits of oregano are quite a few. Oregano oil is especially prized.

Research has it that oregano can be used to effectively to prevent amoeba infection. It is also an excellent antioxidant.

Fresh oregano also has fibre, but since it is eaten in small quantities this aspect goes unappreciated. Fresh oregano is also a rich source of vitamins and nutrients. It is a good source of iron and manganese as well as calcium, vitamin C and vitamin A. It also has omega-3 fatty acids.

Culinary uses
Perhaps the best thing about oregano is the flavour it gives to various dishes. Cooking with oregano, you create magnificent sauces and soups. However, be careful, like many spices, too much of a good thing, might not be all that good!

Oregano is a spice that is used only in savoury dishes for its smell is pungent and the taste strong. Then again it is one of the few herbs or spices whose flavour is stronger when dried than when fresh. It is widely used in Italian dishes, and now it is quite popular in the United States too primarily because of its association with pizza.

Oregano is usually available dried in spice jars at the grocery store. However nowadays it is also available fresh. Fresh oregano can be stored in a plastic bag filled with air and place in the crisper of the refrigerator. When using fresh oregano, you will probably need to use three times as much as dried oregano to achieve the same intensity of flavour.

It goes well with tomato sauces, lamb, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini and of course with any pizza. Other spices that go with oregano are garlic, parsley, sage, thyme, pepper, basil and dried onions. 

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MasterChef Sanjeev Kapoor

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is the most celebrated face of Indian cuisine. He is Chef extraordinaire, runs a successful TV Channel FoodFood, hosted Khana Khazana cookery show on television for more than 17 years, author of 150+ best selling cookbooks, restaurateur and winner of several culinary awards. He is living his dream of making Indian cuisine the number one in the world and empowering women through power of cooking to become self sufficient. His recipe portal www.sanjeevkapoor.com is a complete cookery manual with a compendium of more than 10,000 tried & tested recipes, videos, articles, tips & trivia and a wealth of information on the art and craft of cooking in both English and Hindi.