Basil and oregano are two herbs that people often get confused about. Since they look similar, it can be difficult to tell them apart, especially if you are new to cooking!
So, what are the differences between basil and oregano? Both basil and oregano belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae), however, these two popular herbs differ in the appearance of their leaves and flowers, taste, smell, and best culinary uses.
Read on to find out how basil and oregano compare and contrast in terms of flavor, size, and uses, whether they are interchangeable, and much more!
What Is Basil?
Basil, also known as Ocimum basilicum, is a herb that belongs to the mint family and is an essential ingredient in a variety of cuisines around the world including Italian, Thai, Indonesian, and Vietnamese.
It has been used throughout history and is celebrated for its distinct flavor and versatility. The basil plant also holds significance in religions such as Hinduism, where it is referred to as Holy Basil.
This herb has a glossy, deep green color and its leaves are pointed and oblong with a smooth texture marked with a series of veins. It has a fragrant, sweet smell and a peppery taste.
Basil is incredibly easy to grow at home and is commonly seen in kitchen gardens as well. It is known most commonly as the main ingredient in pesto and as a seasoning in tomato-based sauces.
There are over 60 varieties of basil, each having its own distinct flavor!
Sweet basil is the most common variety, followed by Thai basil with an anise-like flavor. They differ from one another in terms of their taste as well as how their stems and leaves look.
Other varieties include lemon basil, cinnamon basil, and spicy bush basil, which are named after the way they taste and smell.
Basil is sold fresh and dried — both have their own culinary uses. For cooking, fresh basil is mostly preferred as the dried variety is more concentrated since the dehydrating process draws out more of the minty flavor.
When substituting dried basil for fresh basil, the general rule is to use one-third of the amount. For instance, to replace 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped basil, you will need 1 teaspoon of dried basil.
What Is Oregano?
Oregano, also known as wild marjoram (in the Mediterranean) and Origanum vulgare, which translates to “joy of the mountain” in Greek, also belongs to the mint family!
It is a fragrant herb that has been used for thousands of years for its culinary and medicinal properties.
Known for its subtly sweet, herbaceous, and earthy flavor, oregano is one of the most popular cooking herbs in the world and makes a great addition to a variety of dishes, such as pizzas and pasta sauce.
Oregano is a huge part of Italian, Turkish, Mexican, and Greek cuisine. It is mostly sold in its dried form as fresh oregano can be highly pungent and overpowering.
Like basil, oregano comes in different varieties as well! Mexican oregano is considered to be the strongest and has a nice peppery flavor. Spanish and Greek oregano are other varieties with comparatively less depth of flavor.
What Is The Difference Between Basil And Oregano?
While both basil and oregano are herbs that belong to the mint family, and although they may look a little similar, they are very different!
Basil has a herbal and minty flavor with peppery notes and a more pronounced sweetness when compared to oregano, which tastes more earthy and bitter.
When used as dried herbs, they can easily be substituted with one another, particularly for heavy and richer dishes. For lighter dishes, their flavor distinction is more obvious as their flavors will be more pronounced.
Let’s look at the differences between basil and oregano in terms of how they look, taste, and are used in cooking.
You can easily tell apart basil and oregano by carefully looking at their leaves and flowers!
Basil has a light green stem which, depending on the variety, can also be purple or brown. When it comes to the leaves, basil has smooth, oval leaves that curl downward and grow up to 4 inches. They release an intense aroma when rubbed.
Oregano has a dark green or brown stem that is covered in tiny hair. Oregano leaves are oval-shaped and have a pointy end. They grow up to 2 inches and have tiny hair around the edges, so they’re somewhat fuzzy. They’re also very aromatic!
Both are flowering plants. Basil grows tiny, tubular flowers that are usually white in color — you may also find pink or purple flowers. Oregano flowers are typically pink or light purple and grow in a bunch.
Basil is known as a mild herb; it has a sweet smell and taste. It can also have a strong and peppery flavor depending on the variety.
Here are some of the most common types of basil and what they taste like:
|Basil Variety||Flavor Profile|
|Sweet Basil||Fresh, subtly sweet flavor and aroma|
|Thai Basil||Spicy, anise-heavy flavor|
|Cinnamon Basil||Mild flavor with hints of spicy cinnamon|
|Purple Basil||Less sweet, known for its purple tone and clove-scented flavor|
Oregano, on the other hand, has a subtle balance between sweet and spicy with a flavor that is bold and earthy. It also has a slight bitterness to it that is reminiscent of camphor.
Like basil, oregano also comes in several varieties, with each one having a slightly different flavor profile than the other.
Here are some of the most common types of oregano and what they taste like:
|Oregano Variety||Flavor Profile|
|Mediterranean Oregano (Greek Oregano)||Mild taste and bold aroma|
|Mexican Oregano||Flavorful variety with strong peppery notes|
|Italian Oregano||Sweeter flavor that is ideal for seasoning|
|Cretan Oregano||Similar flavor profile to Greek oregano|
Basil is a staple herb in Italian cuisine, but this isn’t the only place where it is used! It is also incredibly popular in Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia.
A great way to use this flavorful herb is to pair it with tomatoes for salads and sauces. In addition to that, it is excellent for seasoning vegetables and works great for fish and poultry as well. You can even make basil tea!
Oregano is a flavorful and aromatic herb used popularly in Italian, Mexican, Spanish, and French cuisine. Like basil, it can also be paired with tomatoes or used in olive oil-based dishes.
You can make tasty vinaigrettes with oregano or use it with olive oil to marinate beef, chicken, and lamb.
When you mix dried oregano and dried basil, you can use it as an alternative to Italian seasoning. It is also a great option as a flavoring for infused oils..
Both basil and oregano have a comprehensive nutritional profile. Out of the two, oregano is richer in micronutrients and contains more carbs, protein, fiber, and fats. Basil, on the other hand, has fewer sugars.
Oregano also contains more calories than basil, while both contain no amount of cholesterol.
When it comes to the mineral content, oregano is richer and has a good amount of potassium, iron, calcium, zinc, and copper, while basil has a lower level of sodium.
The vitamin content of oregano is also higher compared to basil and it contains more vitamins E, G1, B2, B, B5, K, and folate. On the other hand, basil contains more vitamins C and A.
Basil Vs Oregano — Comparison Chart
Here is a detailed comparison of how these two popular herbs are similar and different from one another in terms of flavor, appearance, uses, nutritional value, and more.
|Available In||Fresh and dried form||Fresh and dried form|
|Appearance (Leaves)||Dark green, red, or purple leaves that are oval-shaped and curl downward||Green leaves that are smaller and oval-shaped with a pointed end and tiny fuzzy hairs|
|Appearance (Flowers)||White flowers with light green stems that grow separately||Light pink or purple flowers with dark green or brown stems that grow in bunches|
|Taste And Aroma||Mixture of sweet and savory with notes of pepper, mint, clove, and anise||Grassy and earthy with a hint of spiciness and bitterness|
|Nutritional Value||Low in sugar and sodium, rich in vitamins C and A||Richer in micronutrients and vitamins|
|Uses||Used in Italian and Asian cuisine; tastes great with tomatoes, fish, and poultry||Used in Mexican and Mediterranean cooking; tastes great with vegetables and olive oil|
|Substitutes||Oregano, mint, tarragon||Basil, fresh thyme, parsley|
Now that we’ve covered some of the key similarities and differences between basil and oregano, here are some related questions we thought you might have.
Should you put basil or oregano on pizza?
When it comes to choosing between the two, it depends on which flavor you prefer! Basil and oregano are both flavorful and aromatic herbs that you can use while making pizza.
If you want a fresh and sweet herbal taste, you should opt for basil. If you want a more earthy, strong, and pungent flavor, oregano is the better choice.
Fresh basil is most commonly used on pizza instead of the dried variety, most popularly on Margherita pizza. It is best to place the leaves on top of the pizza after it has baked to avoid burning them and losing their amazing taste.
Oregano can be used in both fresh and dried forms on pizza. Fresh oregano is used in the same way as fresh basil, while the dried version can be used before, in between, or after the baking process.
Can you eat basil or oregano on their own?
Yes, you can nibble on these tasty herbs straight out of the garden! There is no need to cook basil or oregano to enjoy them, although they are popular cooking ingredients thanks to the flavorful and aromatic elements they bring to any dish.