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 traditional 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 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. This seafood seasoning 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 Seasoning 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 in 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.
Celery salt is a blend of ground celery seeds and salt. It adds a unique, savory flavor to the spice mix. If you need a substitute, you can mix equal parts of ground celery seed and regular table salt or sea salt.
Paprika is a mild, sweet, and slightly smoky spice made from dried and ground red bell peppers. It adds color and depth of flavor to the Old Bay Seasoning blend. You can use regular, smoked, or Hungarian paprika, depending on your preference.
Ground black pepper adds a mild heat and a slight pungency to the spice blend. Freshly ground black pepper is preferred for the best flavor.
Cayenne pepper is a hot and slightly sweet spice made from dried, ground cayenne chilies. It adds a spicy kick to the Old Bay Seasoning blend. Adjust the amount to your taste if you prefer a milder or spicier blend.
Dry mustard adds a pungent, slightly bitter taste to the blend. It is made from ground mustard seeds.
Ground cinnamon adds a warm, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor to the spice mix. Use a high-quality cinnamon for the best results.
Ground cardamom has a warm, sweet, and slightly citrusy flavor. It adds complexity and a unique taste to the Old Bay Seasoning blend.
Ground allspice has a warm, sweet, and slightly spicy flavor that is reminiscent of a combination of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. It adds depth to the spice blend.
Ground cloves have a strong, warm, and sweet flavor with a slight bitterness. They add a unique taste to the seasoning blend, so use them sparingly.
Ground ginger adds a warm, slightly sweet, and spicy taste to the blend. It pairs well with the other spices in the mix.
Ground nutmeg has a warm, sweet, and slightly nutty flavor. A small amount adds complexity to the Old Bay Seasoning blend.
Ground or crushed bay leaves add a subtle, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor to the spice blend. Bay leaves should be finely ground or crushed to ensure a smooth texture in the seasoning mix.
how long can homemade Old Bay Seasoning be stored?
Homemade Old Bay Seasoning can be stored in an airtight container for up to 6 months. Keep it in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to maintain its flavor and freshness.
can I use Old Bay Seasoning in vegetarian or vegan dishes?
Yes, Old Bay Seasoning is a versatile spice blend that can be used in various vegetarian and vegan dishes. Try using it to season roasted vegetables, tofu, or tempeh, or mix it into a vegan crab cake recipe using hearts of palm or jackfruit as the base.
is there a low-sodium alternative to Old Bay Seasoning?
Yes, you can create a low-sodium Old Bay Seasoning substitute by reducing the amount of celery salt in the homemade recipe or replacing it with a salt-free seasoning blend. Adjust the other ingredients according to your taste preferences.
can I use Old Bay Seasoning in gluten-free recipes?
Old Bay Seasoning is generally considered gluten-free. However, if you have severe gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, it’s best to check the label of store-bought Old Bay Seasoning or if make your own, ensure that you are using certified gluten-free spices.
- 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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