Adobo Seasoning Substitute – 7 Versatile Spice Mixes To Use

The earthy and spicy flavor of adobo seasoning can make your soups taste amazingly appetizing. If you are a foodie, hot steaks dusted with adobo are something that you shouldn’t miss out.

You may not have adobo seasoning stocked in your pantry, so what to do when your recipe calls for it? What to use in place of adobo spice mix? This article brings home to you the best adobo substitute you can use in a pinch, and also a little about its uses and flavor profile.

What is Adobo Seasoning?

“Adobar’ is the Spanish word for marination and that is the root word for adobo. Traditionally, adobo was a mixture of spices and vinegar used for the preservation of meat, fish, and other foods. In the modern era, adobo is seasoning or sauce used exclusively for marination and pickling.

The origin of this seasoning blend goes back to the centuries-old food traditions of Spain and Portugal, and later on, the use of adobo spread to all their colonies across the world. The Portuguese variant is known as Carne de vinha d’alhos.

These days, there are several forms of adobo seasoning and sauces used throughout the world. It is a common pantry staple in Spain, Portugal, the Philippines, Mexico, and much of Latin America.

You can buy adobo seasoning from the spice aisle of a supermarket or online vendors. Goya adobo seasoning and sauce is one of the best brands to choose from. If it is unavailable in your area, use an adobo seasoning substitute or make it at home.

What does adobo seasoning taste like?

Adobo spice blend has a complex flavor emerging from onion, garlic, oregano, and cumin. It’s hot and spicy with the black pepper and paprika in it. Monosodium glutamate is a regular ingredient in most brands of adobo spice that adds an umami flavor to your dish. The inclusion of vinegar, lemon, or orange zest brings a citrusy flavor to this spice mixture.

On the whole, the complex flavor of adobo has strong umami notes. In general, adobo is spicy, zesty, savory, and often tangy.

What is adobo seasoning used for?

Adobo seasoning is a versatile all-purpose seasoning used in a wide variety of dishes. It goes well with beef, chicken, pork, fish, and even vegetarian dishes like beans, soup, eggs, and more.

It’s an excellent meat rub before grilling or frying, including barbeque, kebabs, and taco meat. The mild heat and spiciness of this seasoning are a nice addition to soups and steaks. Adobo seasoning is incredibly versatile in all types of savory dishes.

In Mexican cooking, adobo sauces are used to marinate the meat before grilling. Likewise, in the Philippines, it takes a liquid form with vinegar and soy sauce and is used for marinating meat and salads.

Best Adobo Seasoning Substitutes

The popularity and availability of this spice mix are mostly limited to Spain and erstwhile Spanish colonies. For this reason, it’s a big challenge to source adobo in some parts of the world. If you don’t have it, think of using a substitute for adobo seasoning.  Here are the best alternatives to consider for your recipe:

1. Adobo seasoning homemade

If you have all the necessary ingredients, you can easily have homemade adobo seasoning. The ingredients in adobo are common pantry staple ingredients that you may already have in the kitchen spice rack. Also, an average grocery store would have all the ingredients on sale.

Adobo seasoning recipe (7 tablespoons yield):

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 ½ teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder

Blend all the ingredients in a bowl, and store the seasoning in a sealed jar in a cool dry place.

Making your own spice blend gives you the freedom to increase or decrease the quantity of ingredients according to your taste preferences. In addition, using fresh spices to make the blend imparts a maximum flavor punch.

2. Use adobo paste or sauce

There is no better substitute for adobo seasoning powder than adobo sauce or paste and vice versa. Usually, most grocery stores have adobo in all forms. Honestly, the usability of a substitute largely depends on the texture of your recipe. For example, you can’t use adobe paste in dry-fry recipes. In soups and savory dishes, you can use adobe in any form. But in some recipes, the sauce or paste can destroy the balance of texture or may not complement other ingredients. Use your sense of judgment in choosing the right alternative to adobo seasoning.

3. Chili powder

Chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili peppers and few other spices. The ingredients in chili powder and its level of heat are similar to adobo seasoning.

Most brands of chili powder sold in the whole of America do contain cumin, oregano, and garlic in addition to black pepper and chili peppers. To your advantage, it’s a versatile ingredient that can very well replace adobo seasoning in most recipes, especially for dry rubs and marination. For substitution, use chili powder in a 1:1 to adobo seasoning.

4. Chipotle in adobo sauce

Chipotles in adobo are smoked and dried jalapeños rehydrated and canned in a sweet and tangy purée of tomato, vinegar, garlic, and a few other spices. It’s a sauce that packs good heat but with plenty of balance and body. This sauce can be a good replacement for adobo seasoning but use it carefully. Certainly, it won’t work for every recipe and everyone because it’s a sauce with extra heat from chipotle and a smoky flavor.

5. Cajun seasoning

Powdered Cajun seasoning has most of the ingredients used in adobo seasoning and they have a similar flavor profile as well. Ingredients like black pepper, garlic powder, and oregano are central to them.

Use Cajun seasoning in your dishes in the same way as you would use adobo seasoning. Particularly, Cajun does well in soups and sauces.

6. Greek seasoning

Most blends of Greek seasoning contain garlic, oregano, onion, pepper, and salt like adobo seasoning. The additional ingredients in Greek seasonings like marjoram, thyme, cinnamon, and nutmeg are not overpowering. In an emergency, Greek seasoning is a decent replacement for the adobo spice mix.

7. Curry powder

Curry powder is a blend of Indian spices that come together to give a warm and robust flavor to a dish. This spice blend is the soul of several traditional Indian curries. Most ingredients in curry powder like cumin, onion, garlic, and pepper are common in adobo seasoning as well. Use curry powder as a 1:1 substitute for adobo seasoning.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does adobo have MSG?

Adobo's MSG content varies by brand. For example, Goya includes MSG, but Seasonest doesn't. Always check the ingredient list of the adobo brand you're using to see if it contains MSG.

Is Goya adobo gluten free?

Goya Adobo seasonings are all gluten-free. Their website confirms this and the ingredients in Goya Adobo All Purpose Seasoning don't include any that contain gluten.

Is adobo healthy?

Adobo can be healthy if made with lean meats and less salt. It offers protein, vitamins, minerals, and benefits from garlic. Remember to watch portion sizes and sodium levels, and use lean meat for less fat.

What does adobo seasoning taste like?

Adobo seasoning combines savory, salty, and tangy tastes with spices like garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, oregano, and sometimes cumin. Its earthy, complex flavor adds depth and richness to many dishes.

Is adobo seasoning spicy?

Adobo seasoning isn't usually spicy, but it can vary. Some brands add chili peppers or annatto seeds for a mild to moderate heat, while others don't include any chilies at all.

Does adobo have salt?

Adobo seasoning usually includes salt, which enhances other spices' flavors and helps preserve food. The amount of salt varies across different brands and recipes.

How much is adobo?

Adobo seasoning's price changes based on brand, size, and where you buy it. Generally, it's affordable. A small jar costs about $1-$2, and a larger one might be $3-$5.

Final Thoughts

Adobo seasoning, derived from the Spanish word “adobar” for marination, was initially a spice-vinegar mix for preserving meat and fish. Today, it’s used for marination and pickling, tracing back to old Spanish and Portuguese food traditions.

It’s widely used in their former colonies, but less common elsewhere. Substitutes include homemade adobo seasoning, adobo paste or sauce, chili powder, chipotle in adobo sauce, Cajun seasoning, Greek seasoning, and curry powder, each offering similar flavor profiles and ingredients like garlic, oregano, and cumin.

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