Best Substitutes for Marjoram

dried marjoram

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Although marjoram is common throughout French cuisine and is a beloved ingredient in German sausage, this perennial herb is less well known in American cooking. Whereas many recipes call for its culinary cousin oregano, marjoram has a reputation as a more specialty spice.

Despite its smaller role in American cuisine, marjoram makes a delicious addition to all sorts of food preparations, including soups, salad dressings, and vegetable dishes. It is also a key ingredient in the spice blends za’atar and French herbes de Provence.

If your spice cupboard doesn’t contain marjoram—or if you have run out and cannot immediately get more—you can easily substitute several other options.

Marjoram Uses

If you regularly confuse marjoram with oregano, you are not alone. The two herbs are closely related and are both indigenous to the Mediterranean. They also contain some of the same flavor compounds.

Not surprisingly, then, marjoram shows up in many of the same types of recipes as oregano (though marjoram’s piney, citrusy flavor is milder and sweeter). You will find dried or fresh marjoram as a flavor booster in soups, stews, and braises, where its flavors can seep into liquid.

For the same reason, it is no stranger to salad dressings and marinades. The longer it steeps, the more warm, woody taste it imparts. Similarly, fresh marjoram can be steeped in water to make a uniquely soothing tea.

Because of its Mediterranean origins, marjoram incorporates well into numerous Mediterranean dishes, like pasta or lentils. It can also jazz up Mediterranean vegetables like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers or serve as a part of a savory rub for meats.

Fresh vs. Dried Marjoram

As with other herbs, marjoram finds its way into foods in both fresh and dried form. Dried herbs are more potent than fresh because of their diminished water content, so when converting measurements of fresh to dried marjoram, use one-third the amount. One tablespoon of fresh marjoram, for example, converts to 1 teaspoon of dried.

You may prefer to use fresh marjoram in recipes where its sturdy, oval-shaped leaves can make an impressive visual statement. A jaunty green sprig or two can add appeal to meat dishes, roasted vegetables, and steaming bowls of soup.

Why Use a Marjoram Substitute

A marjoram substitute comes in handy when you have used up the last of your supply or cannot locate the herb nearby. Because marjoram is not as ubiquitous an herb as some others like parsley or basil, not every grocery store may carry it. Plus, both dried and fresh marjoram can be more expensive than other comparable herbs, so you may prefer a substitute to cut costs.

It is unlikely you will be allergic to marjoram or need to eliminate it from your diet for health reasons. Though, of course, it is possible to have an allergy to almost any food. If you feel you react differently to marjoram or experience an itchy sensation in your mouth, talk to a healthcare provider.

Marjoram Nutrition

Marjoram is not a significant source of nutrients. The following nutrition information, for 1 teaspoon (0.6 grams) of dried marjoram, is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 1.6
  • Fat: 0.04 g
  • Sodium: 0.5 g
  • Carbohydrates: 0.4 g
  • Fiber: 0.2 g
  • Sugars: 0.03g
  • Protein: 0.08 g

Though it is not high in macro- or micronutrients, marjoram may have some health benefits. Some research indicates that the herb has antioxidant properties that could help reduce inflammation in the body.

In traditional Moroccan medicine, marjoram has been used to reduce high blood pressure. And one Brazilian study found that the essential oil of marjoram effectively inhibited bacterial activity that could cause foodborne illness.

Best Substitutes for Marjoram

Fortunately, if you are all out of marjoram or cannot find it at your local store, there are a number of alternatives available. Try these substitutes when replacing marjoram in your dish.

Oregano

Oregano is every chef’s first line of defense as a marjoram substitute for one simple reason—botanically, the two herbs are very closely related. In fact, marjoram’s genus Origanum is an immediate clue to just how similar it is to oregano. Many cooks use the two herbs interchangeably.  

Of course, oregano’s flavor is not an exact match for marjoram. Its stronger, bolder taste will probably remind your taste buds of pizza or marinara sauce.

Because oregano asserts itself a bit more loudly in foods, it is best to start out substituting it at two-thirds to three-quarters the amount of marjoram. This applies to both fresh and dried varieties. Taste your food as you go to reach your ideal flavor level.

Substituting oregano for marjoram in recipes will not do much to change foods’ nutrition composition, since neither supplies significant nutrients.

Thyme

If your spice cabinet is empty of both oregano and marjoram, it is time for thyme! This herb's flavor is not as bold as marjoram’s, but it still adds a touch of savoriness and subtle earthiness to soups, salad dressings, meats, and more.

Because it has a milder flavor, you can use a one-to-one substitution of thyme to marjoram in recipes that call for fresh or dried herbs—or even add a little extra.

When using fresh thyme, keep in mind that its leaves are smaller and darker than marjoram’s, so it will change the appearance of a finished food somewhat. As far as nutrition, though, this simple swap will not make a meaningful difference.

Basil

You probably know basil as a close compatriot of oregano in tomato-based dishes like lasagna or tomato soup. Fresh or dried basil can also stand in when you are all out of marjoram. However, this substitute is best made in dishes that skew toward the sweeter, milder side, because basil’s flavor is not as bold as marjoram’s. Try a one-to-one ratio, to begin with, then taste and adjust as needed.

In terms of appearance, dried basil can easily pass for dried marjoram, but the fresh kind looks quite different from fresh marjoram. Its wide, deep green leaves do not mimic marjoram’s sturdier, smaller, lighter colored ones. Nutritionally, though, subbing basil for marjoram is not a game-changer.

A Word From Verywell

Although marjoram’s taste is certainly distinctive, in a pinch, other alternatives can stand in for its citrusy, woodsy seasoning. Start with oregano as a substitute, if possible, before moving on to thyme or basil. You may be surprised at how experimenting in your cooking in this way builds confidence in your kitchen skills. Soon, you will be finding your own substitutes and alternatives for herbs and spices.

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3 Sources
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  2. Bina F, Rahimi R. Sweet marjoram: a review of ethnopharmacology, phytochemistry, and biological activitiesJ Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. 2017;22(1):175-185. doi:10.1177/2156587216650793

  3. Radaelli M, da Silva BP, Weidlich L, et al. Antimicrobial activities of six essential oils commonly used as condiments in Brazil against Clostridium perfringensBrazilian Journal of Microbiology. 2016;47(2):424-430. doi:10.1016/j.bjm.2015.10.001