Marjoram is used in many meat dishes and stews in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine but if you don't have any handy, oregano is one of several spice substitutes that work well in its place.
Fresh or Dried Marjoram
You can substitute fresh marjoram for dried and vice versa. Use 1 teaspoon dried marjoram for each tablespoon of fresh marjoram in a recipe. One ounce of dried marjoram equals 3/4 cup fresh marjoram.
When you have neither fresh nor dried marjoram, the closest substitute is oregano. The herbs are related and have a similar flavor profile. However, oregano's flavor is stronger. Use two-thirds as much to keep it from overpowering your recipe. It would be best to substitute fresh oregano for fresh marjoram and dried oregano for dried marjoram. In either case, use one-third less.
Oregano Substitution Chart
|2/3 teaspoon||1 teaspoon|
|1/2 teaspoon||3/4 teaspoon|
|1/3 teaspoon||1/2 teaspoon|
Marjoram is sweeter and milder than oregano, with a pine and citrus flavor. Both are from the genus Origanum, and are of the mint family. You may find that oregano's flavor seems more redolent of Italy than the Mideast.
In fact, both herbs are used in both cuisines. Still, your taste buds might shout, "Pizza!" That's why you should use less oregano, and you may want to scale it back even more than the suggested substitution amount.
If you like to experiment, try replacing the marjoram in your recipe with an equal amount of sage, thyme, summer savory, or basil. If your recipe calls for fresh marjoram, your first choice should be a fresh substitute. If it calls for dried, use the dried substitute.
Marjoram is also used in various spice blends, and you can use them in your recipe if you have them available. These include herbes de Provence, za'atar, poultry seasoning, or Italian seasoning. All of these except maybe za'atar are readily available in supermarkets and gourmet stores.
Making a Successful Substitution
If you're making a dish that you've tasted before, taste as you go to see how the substitute alters the flavor. You may hit upon a new variation that you like better than the original. Then you can wink and say you have a secret ingredient.
Substitution is trickier if you are trying out a new recipe. It's hard to rate a substitution if you're not familiar with the original. If you were aiming for a regional specialty, your dish may taste way off the mark to someone who is familiar with the original recipe.
Worst of all, you could be ruining your mother-in-law's special Sunday stew. If that's the case, head to the store and get some marjoram.