6 Good Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes
If you open your cupboard, you will likely find a small, rectangular yellow tin of Old Bay Seasoning somewhere. If you don’t, you likely have most of the ingredients that make up this famous, age-old blend that has been in the cupboards of Americans for decades.
Old Bay Seasoning has a rich history too! Developed in Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1930s, this cherished ingredient was first sold by the Baltimore Spice Company (now owned by spice giant McCormicks.)
A Jewish-German cook named Gustov Brunn is said to be the inventor and named the blend after a passenger ship called Old Bay Line.
It has become somewhat of a cult classic with its fans. In 2020, for example, a hot sauce of the same name was released during the Super Bowl and it was said to have sold out in just 30 minutes! Pepperidge Farms once partnered with Old Bay to develop a line of crackers which sold out within nine hours. No matter which way you spin it, people love their Old Bay Seasoning!
Since then, Old Bay Seasoning has developed a serious reputation for being THE spice blend to use for seafood. In fact, the label says: “For seafood, poultry, salads, and more!” but of course, as Old Bay lovers know, you can use this magical ingredient for just about anything!
Some fan-favorite recipes using Old Bay include deviled eggs, mushrooms, beans, seafood sauce, salsas, Bloody Mary cocktails, corn on the cob, and vinaigrettes.
Old Bay is described as “versatile and not overpowering” and is most famous for its use on crab, especially in old-fashioned Maryland crab boils! McCormick has offered a lower-sodium version of Old Bay Seasoning, as well as some other blends in recent years to keep up with the ever-changing market of spice blends.
Old Bay Seasoning should be relatively easy to find, but if you cannot acquire it, here are seven other options that make excellent alternatives.
1. Celery Salt with Paprika
Although the exact recipe of Old Bay Seasoning is a closely kept secret, everyone who has ever tried this spice blend can agree that it definitely contains both celery salt and paprika.
Celery salt is a common ingredient in Bloody Mary Cocktails, potato salad, and in salad dressings. Still, it is also one of the primary ingredients in Old Bay, so if you’re seeking that Old Bay flavor, celery salt is an excellent place to start.
Paprika is another star ingredient in this spice blend. Paprika is made from dehydrated, ground ripe red peppers and comes in a variety of types, colors and flavors from smokey to sweet. Paprika also provides Old Bay seasoning with its reddish hue.
2. Cajun Seasoning
Cajun seasoning is quite similar to Old Bay Seasoning in that it contains garlic, paprika, and spices.
It is, however, usually smokey and has some sugar in it, meaning it has a different flavor profile than Old Bay so it should be used sparingly.
The same company that makes Old Bay seasoning also makes a Cajun blend, so if you cannot find Old Bay, Cajun is a good substitute!
3. Zatarain’s Crab Boil Seasoning
Another great spice blend that is quite similar to Old Bay is by a company called Zatarain. Zatarain makes a spice blend specifically for crab boils (which is what Old Bay Seasoning was originally developed for) so this spice blend will make a great alternative!
There are subtle differences between the two. Crab Boil Seasoning appears to have pickling spice in it, which often contains cloves, meaning this spice blend will have a different flavor profile.
Crab Boil seasoning will be found in specialty stores in the same section you might find Old Bay, but if you cannot find Old Bay, give Crab Boil a try!
4. Pickling Spice
Pickling lovers rejoice! There is a blend available for all your pickling needs which can be found in any bulk spice store. It typically contains lots of dill seed, coriander seed, and cloves and sometimes contains dehydrated garlic flakes and mustard seeds.
Pickling spice is coveted because you can simply add a spoonful of seasoning to anything you are pickling for a quick infusion of flavor and spice.
But the good news is, you can also add some pickling spice to your recipes that require Old Bay seasoning and get the same effect! You may want to ground up your pickling spice in a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle before adding it to your recipes as pickling spice almost always comes in its whole form.
5. Chinese Five Spice
Chinese five spice is a fascinating and flavorful blend containing all five elements! Earth, water, fire, and air (and metal) are represented by five different, dynamic spices to make up this blend, and it is beloved in cultures all over the world!
The blend for Chinese five spice sometimes changes, but the bulk of recipes list the following five spices: star anise, fennel seeds, Szechuan peppercorns, cloves, and cinnamon.
The recipe for this blend is thousands of years old and is so common in China because it is believed to have healing properties. It may not be an exact replacement for Old Bay, but it will make whatever you’re cooking come alive, so for that reason, it makes a good alternative.
6. Seasoning Salt
Seasoning salt is a widely available, affordable alternative to any one of the spice blends on this list. However, seasoning salt is also… well… salty!
So make sure if you choose this as your Old Bay substitute that you use seasoning salt in moderation! Seasoning salt sometimes contains MSG, so make sure to check the labels of any ingredients you are using to let your guests know about any allergens.
Homemade Old Bay Recipe
One of the easiest ways to solve your lack of Old Bay problem is to make your own so you’re never without! To make your own Old Bay blend you will need a coffee or spice grinder and some measuring spoons.
While the exact recipe for Old Bay seasoning is closely guarded, the ingredients list includes the following ingredients: celery seed, paprika, cayenne pepper, cloves, ginger, garlic, mace, nutmeg, bay leaves, black pepper, mustard, cardamom, and laurel leaves.
We recommend adding equal amounts of each of these, plus a few spoons of salt, blending together after grinding each into a fine powder. Keep tasting until your blend is to your liking. Once you’re happy with the mix, store your spice in an opaque, air-tight jar for up to one year.
Like homemade Old Bay, store-bought seasonings do not last forever. Regardless of the type or brand, it is recommended that you use any ground spices within one year of opening for maximum freshness and flavor. Old Bay has become a beloved seasoning around the world for good reason, and once you try it, you will certainly fall in love! It can be a little tricky to find though, but do not fret! You can use any one of the suggestions here as a suitable alternative to the classic Old Bay!