Oregano: The Spice of Life


"¢ As you are getting ready to plan your Thanksgiving meal, you may want to include a dash of oregano into the proceedings (although it's more of a seasoning for Italian dishes ... no matter!) - be like Arthur Ashe, who put it on everything!

"¢ The name oregano comes from the Greek for "joy of the mountain." It is a member of the mint family, and is often confused (by sight) for its cousin marjoram. Just never confuse it with basil ... that swap once sent Alex Trebek over the edge!

"¢ Proof that the herb is hardly new to the human palate: an international team of U.S. and Greek researchers investigated the remains of a 2,400-year-old shipwreck that lies 230 feet deep, roughly half a mile off the coast of the Greek island of Chios in the Aegean Sea. The cargo? Olive oil flavored with oregano.

"¢ Though it may have spent its earliest days as part of a salad dressing, oregano was primarily used more medicinally than for flavoring, such as to sooth aching muscles or heal scorpion stings and spider bites. However, that particular species of oregano may not be the same one we use today.

"¢ Current species are still holding their own, though: in 2003, researchers found that applying a concentrated oregano extract to prepared meats may destroy Listeria bacteria.

"¢ Additionally, researchers at the University of Illinois set out to develop a film made with oregano and soy protein that could be used to cover sausage, candy or other products. "The more oregano extract is added, the more antimicrobial and antioxidant benefits," said Pruneda-Olguin. "But the films also turn darker brown in color, making them less desirable as a food wrapper."

"¢ Despite its many positive properties, oregano did not become popular as a food flavoring in the US until after WWII, even though it had been brought stateside in colonial times. And since the Obamas have just planted the first working kitchen garden at the White House since WWII, it is only fitting that they include oregano, which they did.

"¢ Perhaps oregano truly IS the spice of life: in a 1960 Letter to the Editor of Time magazine, there was a suggestion (by a woman!) of how to cure frigidity: "The women that suffer from frigidity need a mere improvement in their daily diet, such as curry powder, oregano, paprika, onions (not onion salt), black pepper and much garlic accompanied by beer." Hmmm....

"¢ Speaking of beer - yes, you can sometimes find oregano there, too. "Pizza and beer go together like Brangelina. But pizza-flavored beer?" It's true! (Has anyone tried this?)

"¢ Mistaking marjoram or basil for oregano is one thing, but cannabis? I wish I could find the clip, but for any fellow fans of Spaced out there, I have to bring up this exchange:
Thief 1: Man, you guys gotta take a hit of this, it's the good stuff!
Thief 2: Wait a second ... that's not weed, its oregano!
Thief 1: How d'you know?
Thief 2: 'cos I'm a catering student!

"¢ What are your favorite herbs and spices, Flossers? Let us know and we may feature it soon! I might have to go with basil (yes, even over fresh rosemary) which I put on nearly everything. Does anyone have an unusual use for oregano? Please share!

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"˜Dietribes' appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.