• Tuesday, March 14, 2006

    All Oregano is not created equal.

    When Garth Clingingsmith declared that “any brand of dried oregano is fine” he was probably correct as far as he went. With all due respect to the major brands cited in his Dried Oregano Tasting (Cook’s Illustrated, March/April 2006), you ain’t see nothing yet.

    How about some hand-harvested Oregano from the Seri people of the Sonoran desert? Now, before you think I’m just another “I can outspend you on exotic foods” type, let me hasten to add that this Oregano is undeniably superior. Moreover, you can feel good about enjoying its unparalleled quality. (Seriously, though, I could outspend you on exotic foods in a Sonoran second. Really, just ask my husband.)

    But, I digress - back to the Oregano. This Oregano is a Fair Trade, sustainable harvest product. Through a remarkable program administered by the University of Northern Arizona’s Center for Sustainable Environments – the Seri people are now able to market directly to chefs, gift shops and enlightened consumers rather than losing profits through middle-men.

    The arid environment in which this Oregano grows encourages the plants to concentrate their aromatic oils as natural protection against drought. This high concentration of the oils also protects it against most animal threats since animals, other than humans, find the aroma off-putting. Lucky for us!

    And, lucky for the Seri people that the Center for Sustainable Environments program exists. With only 750 people who still speak their native tongue and very few sustainable agricultural products, the CSE program helps remind us of the rewards of life in balance. Fair trade practices, old-world hand-harvesting, and forward-looking distribution models maintain - rather than deplete - the people and land from which it comes.

    The fruits of this harvest enrich far more than food in our kitchens. And when was the last time you felt this good about buying gourmet food?

    Did you know that Oregano

    • Is said to be named from the Greek words for “Oros” mountain and “ganos” for joy?
    • Belongs to the family of herbs that includes marjoram, spearmint, peppermint, rosemary and thyme?
    • Is closely related to Lemon Verbena and sometimes confused with Marjoram?
    • Was often referred to as “wild thyme” in Europe?
    • Has superior anti-oxidant, anti-fungal, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties?
    • Can also be used to calm toothaches?
    • Is essential to the combination of herbs and spices that make up “chili powder”?
    • Can also be included in Herbes de Provence?
    • Is essential to pizza and gained popularity in the US after soldiers returned home from WWII craving this new exotic dish?
    • Is essential to many Greek, Italian and Mexican dishes and all three varieties possess superior anti-oxidant qualities?



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