Old Bay Seasoning: Substitutes, Ingredients, Flavor, Uses

The zesty flavor of old bay seasoning is perfect on seafood. This flavorful mixture of 18 unique herbs and spices was born along the Chesapeake Bay over 75 years ago. Undoubtedly, today this seasoning has a special place in American cooking.

This article reveals the must-know facts on this seasoning like its ingredients, flavor, uses, and recipe, as well as the best old bay seasoning substitute to use in a pinch.

What Is Old Bay Seasoning?

Old Bay seasoning is a classic blend of eighteen spices and herbs often used to flavor seafood dishes, especially Maryland crab dishes like crab cakes, crab imperial, crab soup, and crab dip.

Unquestionably, it’s the most authoritative and famous seafood spice not only in the Maryland region but also all around the United States.

Old Bay seasoning is named after the Old Bay Line, a stretch of passenger ship line in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia. In the early 2000s, a Jewish-German immigrant named Gustav Brunn ingeniously developed this wonderful seasoning blend for seafood. By the year 2010, its popularity grew far and wide as those outside the Old Line State began to clamor for this seasoning blend.

Initially, this seasoning was a secret ingredient in many local dishes in Maryland. As for a comparison, it’s quite similar to the classic French four-pepper seasoning or the Chinese five-spice.

Usually, Old Bay seasoning is found in the spices section or aisle of the grocery store or supermarket. McCormick sells it online as well. If you don’t have ways to get it for your immediate use, then think of using a substitute for old bay seasoning.

Old Bay Seasoning Ingredients

For several decades, nobody outside the Old Bay hardly knew what was in Old Bay seasoning. Despite being a guarded secret, some clever chefs have unearthed the secret code of flavor behind this seasoning mix. Kitchen sleuths have enlisted the main ingredients in old bay seasoning as celery salt, ground mustard, pimento, allspice, cloves, bay leaf, mace, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and paprika.

Like every other seasoning blend out there, you’ll find different versions of Old Bay seasoning with differences in ingredients and their proportion. In fact, homemade blends of this seasoning are often customized to suit one’s taste preferences and the availability of ingredients.

What Does Old Bay Seasoning Taste Like?

Old Bay seasoning has a complex flavor contributed by multiple spices and herbs. Celery salt, a mixture of common table salt and ground celery seeds, renders a salty taste with savory and mild bitterness to this mixture. Old Bay is only moderately hot despite the inclusion of different peppers in it.

To define the taste of bay seasoning, it’s a balanced blend of salty, sweet, and spicy flavors with a noticeable presence of mustard and mace.

Meat, shrimp, or crabs turn mildly tangy with Bay seasoning besides making them spicy, salty, and herbaceous at the same time.

Uses Of Old Bay Seasoning

Originally, Old Bay seasoning was used for flavoring seafood, especially various crab dishes popular in the Maryland region. However, this versatile seasoning works well on all types of seafood and meat dishes, also great for salad dressing.  Many love to sprinkle it over potato chips, French fries, chowder, eggs, and potato salads. Surprisingly, Old Bay seasoning has found its way into cocktails like Bloody Mary and Old Bay Ridge.

Today, this seasoning is used in a wide variety of dishes for flavoring. Some of its common uses include:

  • Crab cakes
  • Crab chips
  • Crab imperial
  • As a marinade with lemon juice and oil
  • Goat cheese spread
  • Seasoning red beans and rice
  • Seasoning tortillas and pita chips
  • To flavor saltine crackers
  • For flavoring toast and avocado slices
  • Spice-rub on pumpkin and squash
  • Dip for barbecued corn cobs
  • To spice up broiled vegetables

Best Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes

Old Bay seasoning is an American specialty that isn’t readily available in groceries in Europe and Asia. Similarly, some may not like the flavor of this seasoning or be allergic to an ingredient used in it. For whatever reason, if you are looking for an old bay seasoning substitute, here are a few good alternatives to consider.

1. Crab Boil Spice

Crab boil is a spice mixture that is used to flavor the water in which crabs, lobster, crawfish, or other shellfish are boiled. Again, it’s a popular spice mix in the United States like the Bay seasoning.  Crab boil does not have all the ingredients in Old Bay seasoning, yet it gives a nice flavor to boiled seafood. Most premixed crab boil spice mix available in groceries contains all important spices and herbs used in seafood recipes. As a substitute, use crab boil spice mix in a 1:1 in place of Old Bay seasoning.

2. Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasoning is a traditional seasoning blend that hails from Louisiana, the home of delicious Cajun cuisine; ingredients-wise a lot similar to Old Bay seasoning.  It’s a popular spice mixture generally available in most supermarkets across the globe. All the same, it’s more spicy and flavorful than the Old Bay seasoning, thus use it in less quantity while using Cajun seasoning as a substitute. Check out our list of best substitutes for Cajun seasoning.

4. Pickling spice

The pickling spice mix is precisely designed to flavor and preserve the pickled foods, and it lends a spicy flavor to preserved fruits and vegetables, even to pickled meats and fish as well. Also, some use this spice mix as a condiment to flavor soups, stews, salads, and grilled dishes.  Pickling spice is an excellent alternative to Old Bay seasoning; especially, it especially works great for seafood. You can use these two seasoning blends interchangeably for most dishes.

5. Seasoned Salt

The simplest substitute for old bay seasoning is none other than the seasoned salt that is readily available in most groceries. Seasoned salt is a blend of table salt, spices, herbs, other flavorings, and sometimes monosodium glutamate. Of course, flavor-wise it may not be a perfect match for Old Bay seasoning, yet it’s good enough to make your seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes taste great.

6. Todd’s DIRT Seafood Seasoning

The Crabby DIRT is great on all fish, shellfish, meats, soups, chili, etc. It’s yet another unique seasoning, a closely matching variation of Chesapeake Bay seasoning. In fact, Todd’s Chesapeake DIRT spice mix is a close competitor of Old Bay seasoning that is produced and marketed by McCormick. They both contain similar ingredients and flavor profiles, though Todd’s Dirt is slightly hotter than the Bay seasoning. These two brands of spice mixes can be used interchangeably in any recipes seafood seasoning is called for.

7. Chinese Five-Spice

Five-spice powder is a common ingredient in Chinese and Taiwanese cuisines. It’s a blend of five spices such as star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and Szechuan peppercorns. Chine five-spice is mildly sweet and umami in flavor and it works great for seasoning seafood, meat, or poultry. In an emergency, the Chinese five-spice mix is a good replacement for Old Bay seasoning.

8. DIY Old Bay Seasoning

There is no better substitute for any spice blend like Old Bay seasoning than making a similar homemade spice mix on your own. Above all, you have the freedom to include the ingredients that suit your taste preferences. For best flavors, always use freshly ground whole spices and herbs. Here is the simple recipe for making your blend of Old Bay Seasoning:


  • 1 ½ tablespoon celery salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon paprika
  • ⅛ teaspoon mustard
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon


  • Add all the ground ingredients to a bowl and blend them well with a whisker (you may use a spice blender to combine them).
  • After blending the spices, transfer the mixture into an airtight container, use it immediately or store it in a cool, dry place for future use.
  • Remember, ground spices taste best when used within a month

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Old Bay gluten-free?

Old Bay seasoning doesn't have gluten. Its ingredients are celery salt, spices like red and black pepper, and paprika, which are all gluten-free. But it's not officially labeled gluten-free because McCormick, the maker, doesn't test for gluten.

Does old bay seasoning expire?

Old Bay seasoning does have an expiration date. It lasts for about 18 months if you keep it tightly sealed and store it in a cool, dry spot, according to the McCormick website.

How much sodium is in old bay seasoning?

In Old Bay seasoning, the sodium content depends on the type. The original version has 140 milligrams per serving, and the version with 30% less sodium has 95 milligrams per serving.

Is old bay a Cajun seasoning?

Old Bay isn't Cajun seasoning. It's a seasoning from Maryland's Chesapeake Bay, different from Cajun seasoning used in Louisiana Creole cooking. Both have spices like paprika and black pepper, but their flavors are unique.

Where can I buy Old Bay?

You can find Old Bay seasoning in most U.S. grocery stores, usually in the spice aisle. If it's not at your local store, you can also buy it online from places like Amazon, Walmart, and Target.

Does Old Bay seasoning have MSG?

Old Bay seasoning doesn't have monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer often found in processed foods. MSG isn't used in Old Bay's ingredients.

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