/ Food & Drink

New food fraud: oregano or oreganot?

We’ve all got a friend so fussy about food it drives you mad. You learn to shut out their gripes about a dish that tastes fine to you. So when my friend complained that herbs ‘aren’t what they used to be’, I switched off.

Well it seems I should be eating humble pie. A new study revealed exclusively to Which? has found that oregano isn’t always oregano.

In fact, nearly a quarter of the samples of oregano tested contained other ingredients, most commonly olive and myrtle leaves, which were found to make up 30% to 70% of the product.

So in other words, in some cases less than a third of the product bought was actually oregano.

The trouble is it’s impossible for any shopper to tell, without the help of scientists, what herbs they’re actually buying. We think it’s unacceptable that you don’t know what you’re adding to your food.

So we want retailers, producers and enforcement officers need to step up checks to stamp out this latest example of food fraud.

Fake oregano just the latest food fraud

Sadly, this is just the latest product to add to the growing aisle of fraudulent food.

Last year, we found that 40% of the lamb takeaways we tested contained other meat, and one in six of the fish we bought from chip shops turned out not to be what we’d ordered.

In the wake of the horsemeat scandal, the Government tackled this fraud head on and set up the Food Crime Unit.

Now it’s time to see the Food Standards Agency putting this crime unit to good use so we can know what we’re putting on our pizzas or in our salads, without the need for a CSI investigation on the contents of our kitchen cupboards.

Are you confident that the food you buy is genuine? Do you think enough is being done to stamp out food fraud?

Margaret says:
26 July 2015

Growing your own herbs is an alternative but no good in the winter in this country for many herbs. When I can, I buy pot growing or packets of fresh cut herbs from the supermarket, then just put them in plastic bags in the freezer. When you take them out frozen, just squeeze the bag and they come out already ‘chopped’. They seem to keep all winter in the freezer without any loss of flavour.


Nenna, a number of people seem to think that the manufacturers and retailers of fake oregano should be disclosed. Are Which? going to do this?


Hi Malcolm,

It’s understandable that people will want to know exactly which products were tested in order to help make their choice of what to buy when in the supermarket.

Herbs were identified as vulnerable to food fraud as the rising demand for the product doesn’t quite tally up with what we know the agricultural supply can provide. It’s also chopped up or ground which makes it harder to identify by sight. Prof Elliot’s research was a snapshot study of a sample of oregano from different outlets and across a range of brands to test that hypothesis.

So at this stage the results of research have helped to indicate a wider problem in the herb market which we’ve flagged to the FSA to investigate further. Due to the small sample size is, we can’t fairly name and shame brands and companies’ whole range of oregano products. If the FSA’s wider investigation identifies certain brands and outlets as serial offenders then revealing them as such might be possible. We’re all looking forward to seeing those results!


Neena, Thanks I don’t understand “Due to the small sample size is, we can’t fairly name and shame brands and companies’ whole range of oregano products.” Surely if you’ve tested a product that is shown to be fraudulent, and then broadcast to the world that a quarter of samples tested was fake, you must have grounds to disclose the offenders?


Neena – correct me if I am wrong but I understand Which? only tests one each of a manufactured item AND then writes a review. One might feel that this system is directly analogous to the testing of the oregano.

Perhaps you could confirm this.

In any event publishing with caveats would still be a vast improvement on this general blackening of the oregano spice providers.