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Marjoram

 

Synonyms: sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram, annual marjoram

botanical name: Origanum majorana


Majoran

 

The Mediterranean region, India and North Africa are said to be the home of marjoram, which was presumably cultivated in Egypt as early as 3000 years ago. The herb was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans as well, although it probably did not arrive in central Europe until the 16th century.

 

The undemanding plant is common today and is also grown in South Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, the USA, Mexico, Bolivia and Chile, in addition to its native region. It is grown commercially as well in Germany and Austria.

 

Availability

Marjoram is harvested for trade in July and August, shortly prior to florescence. If the weather is good, a second harvest in September/October is possible. Marjoram is also a suitable plant for one's own herb garden; the fresh shoots can be harvested all summer long.

 

The dried herb is available all year. Some supermarkets sell fresh marjoram plants in small pots.

 

Appearance, taste, characteristics

Marjoram is a compact, strongly branched herb that grows to 20-50 cm and belongs botanically to the mint family (Lamiaceae). It is an annual plant in Central Europe but a perennial in warm regions.

 

The stems of the plant stand upright, are reddish-brown and have many branches, on which there are small, ovoid, rounded leaves. These are grey, feltlike and pilose and only 0.5-2.5 cm long.

From June to September marjoram has very small white to pale-pink blossoms.

 

The herb has a characteristic spicy scent. The flavour of the fresh leaves and shoots is camphor-like, sharp and burns slightly. The aroma is spicy-aromatic, sweetish and somewhat bitter.

 

Ingredients

Fresh leaves contain 0.2-0.4% essential oil; the content in the dried herb is 0.8-3%. Among the main components of the oil is sabinene hydrate, which rearranges itself when extracted into terpineol and limonene. Other components are terpenes and sabinenes, less frequently also large percentages of carvacrol or thymol. In addition, marjoram contains flavonoids, bitter constituents and tannins, e.g. rosmarinic acid.

 

Harmful substances

Marjoram contains small amounts of hydroquinone, which is suspected of being harmful to health. Therefore, regular ingestion of large amounts is not recommended.

 

However, when it is used as a seasoning marjoram is not dangerous to your health.

 

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

In Germany, the best-quality marjoram comes from Thüringen, where the term "Ascherslebener Qualität" is a sign of distinction. Chopped dried marjoram should never contain more than a negligible amount of stems.

 

Like most fresh herbs, marjoram can be kept for several days in the refrigerator, protectively wrapped in foil. The dried herb should be stored as cool, dry and away from light as possible. It will keep for 1-2 years in an air-tight container.

 

Presumed effect on health

With its slightly bitter, aromatic taste, marjoram stimulates the appetite and the digestion.

 

In folk medicine it is held to be antispasmodic, calming, a neurotonic and a stomachic, a mucolytic, a diuretic and a diaphoretic, and it is used to relieve migraine, colds, and gastrointestinal problems.

Nevertheless, the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Products considers its therapeutic use to be inadvisable owing to its hydroquinone content.

 

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

After it is harvested, marjoram is dried at a low temperature and the leaves, buds and shoots are stripped from the stems. It is usually sold rubbed or cut, less frequently ground. The fresh leaves and shoot ends are also excellently suited for seasoning.

 

Marjoram is a popular culinary herb, particularly in Italy, France and Greece, and it is the most-used seasoning herb after parsley and chives in European cuisine.

 

Marjoram is often used to season meat dishes, such as game, poultry, lamb, goat, meatloaf and barbecued meat, liver dumplings and meat pies. The common German name "Wurstkraut" (sausage herb) points to its classical use for seasoning sausages, especially liverwurst and the Nuremberger bratwurst.

 

Marjoram is a versatile herb and is used for vegetables, soups and stews, particularly those made with pulses, and for potato and tomato dishes. It goes well with savoury casseroles, egg dishes, sauerkraut, mushrooms, pizza and curd cheese. It also tastes good with salads, cream cheese, and fish and noodle dishes.

 

In addition, the essential oil is used to make herbal extracts and to flavour liqueurs.

 

Seasoning tip

Marjoram must be used sparingly, as it has an intensive aroma and may easily dominate the flavour of a dish. The herb combines well with sage, rosemary and thyme, but it also harmonizes with basil, bay leaf, parsley, garlic, cumin and paprika.

 

Heating changes the aroma, so marjoram should not be added until just before the end of the cooking time.

 

 

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