This post offers several suggestions for Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes, as well as a recipe for Homemade Old Bay Seasoning.
I’ve spent most of the last 50 years living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. With that comes 50+ years of enjoying traditional east coast cuisine. From Philadelphia Cheese Steaks to Boiled Shrimp to Shrimp and Grits, I have enjoyed my fair share of traditionally east coast foods.
Growing up in Mid-Atlantic, Old Bay Seasoning is ubiquitous, found in every local grocery store. However, if you aren’t familiar with it, Old Bay is a proprietary spice mix made by McCormick & Co. out of Baltimore, on the Chesapeake Bay of Maryland. Old Bay was originally was designed for shrimp and crab but has a wealth of uses, from seasoning popcorn, french fries, Chex Mix, macaroni and cheese, potato chips, and salad to chicken and seafood. It has a unique flavor, heavy on celery seed and paprika.
For traditionalists, it is what you use for shrimp boils, crab cakes, crab boil, and other seafood dishes. And I’ll go so far as to say that you haven’t lived until you have tasted a Bloody Mary made with Old Bay! At a minimum, run a lemon around the rim of your glass and dip it in a mix of Old Bay, celery seed, and paprika!
So, now that I have your taste buds tingling for the taste of Old Bay, what do you do if a) the grocery stores in your country or parts of the United States don’t sell Old Bay Seasoning or b) your recipe calls for it but you just don’t feel like running to the store?
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Well, I’d lose all credibility if I didn’t point out that you can order Old Bay Seasoning on Amazon…of course.
But, there are also several Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes that we’ll discuss, in addition to a recipe for the seasoning blend. As to which is the best substitute, it depends on your tastes!
Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes
Todd’s Dirt Chesapeake Dirt has some similar ingredients, the most important being celery salt. Celery Salt is the main ingredient and primary taste in Old Bay. The Chesapeake Dirt packs more of a heat punch than does the Old Bay. Todd’s Dirt does hail from the same part of the Mid-Atlantic as does Old Bay, so I feel it has that ‘regional’ feel, but it includes the herbs Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary that the Old Bay does not.
While Old Bay and Todd’s have the same regional, Mid-Atlantic flavor, you will get more of a New Orleans/Gulf Coast flavor from the Zatarain’s Crab and Shrimp Boil spice blends. There is more spicey heat and bright, lemon flavor in the Zatarain’s, which leans heavily towards a Cajun Spice or Creole Seasoning. But in a pinch, it is still a good Old Bay Seasoning Substitute.
If you’ve got some Pickling Spice and Celery Salt, you basically have most of the ingredients of Old Bay; so this is another good substitute. Go heavier on the celery salt relative to the pickling spice if you go this route.
Make Your Own!
While the exact ingredients (purportedly 18 spices) that comprise the Old Bay proprietary blend are kept top secret, this recipe really comes pretty darn close. If you have these common ingredients on your spice cabinet, you can quickly make your own batch of the seasoning mix. Truthfully, if you want the taste of ‘Old Bay’, this homemade old bay seasoning recipe has a very similar flavor profile. I think it is closer than the other products, which makes it an excellent substitute.
It seems like it is a long ingredient list, but these are pretty common spices…maybe except for the cardamom.
- 4 Tablespoons celery salt
- 2 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/16 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/16 teaspoon ground bay leaves (or 1/2 bay leaf, crushed) OPTIONAL: see Note 1 below
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.
- Transfer to a small, airtight container.
- Use the same amount of this blend as your recipe calls for McCormick's Old Bay Seasoning. See Note 2 for Old Bay Steamed Shrimp.
1. I whirred some whole bay leaves in the small attachment for my blender. If you are only using this for crab and shrimp boil, you could omit the bay leaf from the mix and just add a bay leaf or two to the water when you add the spice.
2. For Old Bay Steamed Shrimp, Combine 1/2 cup beer (or vinegar), 1/2 cup water, and 2 tablespoons Old Bay in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil on medium heat. Gently stir in1 pound shrimp then cover. Steam for two to three minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Drain well. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Like any ground spice, this Old Bay Seasoning is best if used within 3 months.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 72 Serving Size: 1/4 teaspoon
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 1Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 205mgCarbohydrates: 0gFiber: 0gSugar: 0gProtein: 0g
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