The 4 Best Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes

Chris Starks
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What is Old Bay Seasoning?

I love Old Bay Seasoning! It’s the ultimate seafood seasoning that tastes great on shrimp, fish, rice, vegetables, and potatoes. Simply add it to recipes that generally call for salt and pepper, but it will also work well by itself.

Old Bay Seasoning is the secret ingredient in many local dishes. It’s similar to the classic French Four Pepper Seasoning.

I have nothing but good words about Old Bay, and I use it pretty often. The problem is that it’s an American product, and it’s not easy to get on the European market. If you order it online, it’s going to take weeks to get here, and it’s going to cost you a pretty penny.

The recipe for Old Bay Seasoning is still a secret. Some of the ingredients are known, but the label still says that there are other "spices" to keep the recipe under wraps. We know that there are 14 different ingredients, but precisely what they are is up to conjecture. Some of the common ingredients that people claim they can taste in the seasoning include cloves, ginger, and mustard.

There are other seasonings with similar tastes, including spice blends that people have made in their kitchen. The taste of Old Bay is tangy and zesty, with hints of garlic, pepper, and celery seed. There are few good alternatives you can add to your recipes instead of old bay seasonings.

Nutritional Breakdown

Old Bay is widely used in the Mid-Atlantic region, especially in Maryland fare. It’s got a tangy, spicy kick that makes it great for seafood dishes like crab, shrimp, and steamed vegetables.
Old Bay seasoning has several nutritional benefits as well. 3 tsp of seasoning has no fat, no protein, no fiber, no sugar, 280 mg of salt, and 0.7 gm of carbohydrates.

Where Did Old Bay Seasoning Originate?

Old Bay Seasoning originated in the Chesapeake Bay, in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It’s a blend of 18 herbs and spices whose recipe remains a tightly guarded secret to the entire state of Maryland (as claimed by the company). The seasoning is also closely associated with Baltimore and was first commercially sold there in 1939 by the M.F. Sauer Company. Since Old Bay Seasoning was so popular among the crabs of dirty Baltimore, it has now become a common table condiment and a household staple in the region.

One can use old Bay Seasoning for seafood, poultry, clam chowder and seafood dishes, jambalaya, deviled crab, crab cakes, shrimp cocktails, non-seafood recipes like Bloody Mary, shrimp salad, crab cakes, and Chesapeake soup. Even though the spice has gained popularity and is now used nationwide, the “Born & Bred in Maryland” print on every can is still trendy.

Is Old Bay Seasoning Vegan and Gluten-Free?

Yes, Old Bay is considered a vegan seasoning by many, and it’s gluten-free. The most traditional and most popular old bay seasoning originally contained the secret ingredients without the added peppers.

The original recipe was invented by German refugee Gustav Brunn who came to Maryland in 1939. McCormick & Company bought the spice in 1990 and distributed it across the state. It doesn't contain any sort of animal products, which means it is vegan-friendly. Also, it is gluten-free for those who do not want to add gluten to their diet.

What Types of Food and Recipes Use Old Bay Seasoning?

Many foods use Old Bay Seasoning. Most of the dishes are seafood-related, including shrimp, popcorn, and even smoothies.

Old Bay is also used on top of Maryland-style crab cakes, is an excellent garnish for Bloody Mary cocktails, and is sprinkled on french fries.
A few other everyday dishes that use Old Bay Seasoning include adding it to:

  • Pickled eggs
  • Hush puppies
  • Potatoes
  • Coleslaw
  • Bean soup
  • Green beans
  • Baked beans
  • Cheddar cheese with crackers
  • French fries
  • Cream cheese
  • Relish tray
  • Deviled eggs
  • Broccoli and cheddar cheese
  • Meatloaf
  • Potatoes au gratin
  • Scalloped potatoes

Old Bay Seasoning has a unique, pungent, spicy flavor – similar to celery salt – and is a great way to add a burst of flavor to a variety of recipes and dishes.

Is Old Bay Seasoning Healthy?

Old Bay Seasoning is very popular among seafood lovers, whether they grill, fry, saute, boil, or steam their catch.

It is a great way to savor seafood and add flavoring to your diet by indulging in barbecue, broiled, boiled, and fried seafood dishes, soups, stews, salads, chicken dishes, potatoes, vegetables, pasta dishes, homemade crab cakes, etc.

The use of old bay seasoning is healthy, but you need to be careful about the quantity you consume. Those who are on a low-sodium diet may want to use less or find other options instead. This seasoning is required to add the X factor to your dishes, but herbs and spices over the specified quantity would affect the taste. People sensitive to such spices are advised to exercise caution.

Is Old Bay Seasoning Keto Friendly?

Old Bay Seasoning is a proprietary blend created by McCormick's spice company. For nearly a century, Old Bay has become an American favorite and is used in recipes by people in the mid-Atlantic states on the East Coast.

As mentioned above, the old bay seasoning has a minimal-carb content. Those who do keto diet want to restrict their carbohydrates each day to ensure their body goes into ketosis. Most people want to have fewer than 50g of carbs in their diet daily, and fortunately, using Old Bay Seasoning won't pose any problem to your diet plan.

Is There MSG in Old Bay Seasoning?

Monosodium Glutamate is used as a flavor enhancer that mimics the naturally occurring glutamate. The results are tastier. Those who want to stay away from MSG will find that Old Bay Seasoning does not contain any MSG. Also, it is kosher.

Is Old Bay Seasoning Whole30 Compliant?

Old Bay Seasoning is an all-purpose seasoning blend made from 18 herbs and spices. The Whole30 diet will require removing foods and drinks that are inflammatory, such as alcohol, sugar, grains, processed foods, and similar items. Fortunately, old bay seasoning doesn't contain anything that can pose any problem for anyone on the Whole30 diet. The addition of spices can help add flavor, making keeping up with a new dietary lifestyle easier.

Does the Seasoning Expire and Go Bad?

People often worry about the export date of packaged products. But with spices, there is no reason to worry about the best before the date that much. Why? Because most of the time, a 'best by date' on spices means that the older the spices get, the less potent they are going to be rather than they are going to spoil when they reach this date.

Old Bay Seasoning does come with an expiry date but to make sure that it lasts as long as possible, it is essential to store it correctly. You will want to keep it in a cool and dark cupboard, and you will want to be sure it is in an airtight container.

Can You Make Your Own Old Bay Seasoning Substitute?

Everyone has their tastes, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach to substitution. But, there are some basic things to consider when making a replacement.

First, look at the spices. Every modern-day Old Bay recipe has celery salt, red pepper, and black pepper in it. So, if you're looking for an exact match, look closely at the recipe and stick to the same combination of flavors. You may find that different brands of celery salt deliver different tastes, so try to get an idea of what you're aiming for and then build your recipe from the ground up.

Finally, consider adding some charcoal bits into your recipe if you're looking for a more traditional charcoal flavor. Or, look for a blackened salt at your local cooking store that can help you produce a more authentic flavor and color.

As you can see, it’s not as easy as just finding a salt substitute, but it can be done if you take your time and try out different recipes.

Cajun Seasoning

Cajun Seasoning is a similar mixture of herbs and spices. It’s also a great starting point for those who are particularly interested in Cajun recipes. It spices up or deepens the flavor of various foods, from pasta and chicken to rice, shrimp, and even popcorn.

Remember that Cajun spices are hotter than Old Bay, and so you may need to use less or scale back if you aren’t accustomed to the more spicy seasonings.

Chinese Five Spice

Chinese five-spice is a mixture of ingredients that are commonly used in Chinese cuisine. It is made from combining the five seasonings – cinnamon, cloves, Szechuan peppercorns, and star anise. A pinch of Chinese five-spice powder is an excellent substitute for Old Bay seasoning. You may want to add a bit more of the mixed spices since the taste is less concentrated than the Old Bay.

Seasoned Salt

One of the most popular seasoning substitutes for Old Bay seasoning is seasoned salt. Seasoned salt combines herbs and spices, including chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, celery salt, salt, and paprika. It originated from the Caribbean, and it is often used for seafood.

French Four Spice

French four spice, also known as quatre epices, is a seasoning mix traditionally made with equal amounts of ground cloves, white pepper, ginger, and nutmeg. But it can also be made with allspice, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, mace, and pepper, depending upon personal preference.
French four spice is a popular seasoning in French cooking and can be used in various applications. This spice mix can jazz up your favorite recipe from seafood to meat to vegetables and is an excellent substitute for Old Bay seasoning.

The Bottom Line

Suppose you are wondering what herbs and spices can be used as substitutes for Old Bay Seasoning. In that case, you should go for celery salt, seafood seasoning, paprika, chili powder, garlic powder, and onion powder can also work. Once you succeed in figuring out the perfect blend of spices to season your favorite dishes just the way you like it, you will even forget old bay seasoning.

Top Vegan Picks

All of the items mentioned above, including the old bay seasoning itself, are vegan and do not contain gluten. You can enjoy all of these seasonings without worry.

Top Healthy Picks

Old bay seasoning contains a substantial amount of sodium which may be harmful to people on a low sodium diet because of medical reasons. But the good news is that its substitutes like French Four Spice, Chinese Five Spice, and the Cajun seasoning are excellent options with very little sodium, making them a healthy alternative to Old Bay Seasoning.

Top Convenient Picks

Finding an alternative seasoning that satisfies your taste buds can be a challenge. This is why a seasoned chef will always have a few options in reserve to pull out of the cabinet.
The most widely available alternatives to old bay seasoning are seasoned salt, followed by Cajun seasoning. They taste great and are conveniently available in any superstore near you.

Top Convincing Picks

While all of the old bay substitutes have their benefits, you will find that the one that does the best of actually matching the taste of Old Bay seasoning is none other than Cajun seasoning. Although it's a little bit hotter than old bay yet, it is too close to its taste and is added in good proportion.