In Europe, marjoram was a traditional symbol of youth and romantic love. Used by Romans as an aphrodisiac, it was used to cast love spells and was worn at weddings as a sign of happiness during the Middle Ages. Greeks who wore marjoram wreaths at weddings called it "joy of the mountains." It was used to brew beer before hops was discovered, and flavored a wine called hippocras. A cousin of the oregano family, marjoram originated in Mediterranean regions and is now a commonly used spice in many parts of Europe. Called za'tar in the Middle East and often mistaken for oregano, it is also a popular spicing in eastern Europe.
Scientific Name(s): sweet marjoram: Origanum (O) hortensis (or Majorana hortensis). There are a few varieties of sweet marjoram. There are also many wild varieties, the main one being pot marjoram: O. onites and wild majoram: O. vulgare. Syrian majoram is called za'tar. Family: Labiatae or Lamiaceae (mint family).
Origin and Varieties: marjoram is indigenous to northern Africa and southwest Asia. It is cultivated around the Mediterranean, in England, Central and Eastern Europe, South America, the United States, and India.
Common Names: sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram, and annual marjoram. It is also called marzanjush, za'tar (Arabic), marzanan (Armenian), mah yeh lah fah, ma yuek lan fa (Cantonese, Mandarin), merjan (Danish), marjolein (Dutch), avishan (Farsi), marjolaine (French), majoran (German), matzourana (Greek), mayoran, za'tar (Hebrew), mirzan josh (Hindi), majorama (Hungarian), maggiorana (Italian), mayorana (Japanese), maruvammu (Malayalam), merian (Norwegian), manjerona (Portuguese), majoran (Russian), mejorana (Spanish), mejram (Swedish), maruvu (Tamil), mercankosk, kekik out (Turkish), and marva kusha (Urdu).
Pot marjoram: rigani, common marjoram, dictamo, oregano, French marjoram, golden marjoram, curly marjoram, gold splash marjoram, and al maraco.
Form: marjoram leaf is used fresh, as whole or chopped, and dried whole or broken, and ground. The flowering tops and seeds, which are not as strong as the leaves, are also used as flavorings.
Properties: sweet marjoram is a small and oval-shaped leaf. It is light green with a greyish tint. Marjoram is fresh, spicy, bitter, and slightly pungent with camphorlike notes. It has the fragrant herbaceous and delicate, sweet aroma of thyme and sweet basil. Pot marjoram is bitter and less sweet.
Chemical Components: sweet marjoram has 0.3% to 1% essential oil, mostly monoterpenes. It is yellowish to dark greenish brown in color. It mainly consists of cis-sabinene hydrate (8% to 40%), y-terpinene (10%), a-terpinene (7.6%), linalyl acetate (2.2%), terpinen 4-ol (18% to 48%), myrcene (1.0%), linalool (9% to 39%), p-cymene (3.2%), caryophyllene (2.6%), and a-terpineol (7.6%). Its flavor varies widely depending on its origins. The Indian and Turkish sweet marjorams have more d-linalool, caryophyllene, carvacrol, and eugenol.
Its oleoresin is dark green, and 2.5 lb. are equivalent to 100 lb. of freshly ground marjoram.
Marjoram contains calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and niacin.
How Prepared and Consumed: marjoram is typically used in European cooking and is added to fish sauces, clam chowder, butter-based sauces, salads, tomato-based sauces, vinegar, mushroom sauces, and eggplant. In Germany, marjoram is called the "sausage herb" and is used with thyme and other spices in different types of sausages. It is usually added at the end of cooking to retain its delicate flavor or as a garnish. It goes well with vegetables including cabbages, potatoes, and beans. The seeds are used to flavor confectionary and meat products. The French add marjoram to bouquet garni and herbes fines for flavoring pork, fish, and lamb dishes.
It is popular in Greek cooking, for grilled lamb and meats and to complement onions, garlic, and wine. Italians use it in tomato sauces, pizzas, fish dishes, and vegetables. In Eastern Europe, it is added to grilled meats and stews with paprika, chilies, fruits, nuts, and other dried spices.
North Africans and Middle Easterners use marjoram in lamb, mutton, barbecues, vegetables, and seafood. In the United States, it is used commercially in poultry seasonings, liverwurst, bologna, cheeses, sausages, soups, and salad dressings.
Spice Blends: bouquet garni, fines herbes, khmeli suneli, sausage blend, and pickle blends.
Therapeutic Uses and Folklore: Greeks used marjoram extensively to treat dropsy, convulsions, and poisons. Traditionally, it was used in tea to cure headaches, head colds, calm nervous disorders, and to clear sinuses. Marjoram has also been used to comfort stomachaches and muscular pains and improve circulation. It is found to have good antioxidant properties with fats and helps to retain color of carotenoid pigments
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