People originally used Old Bay seasoning to add more flavor to their seafood dishes. Actually, we imagine they still do. Old Bay seasoning is just too good not to use! This delightful blend of salty, spicy, and sweet flavors can also be added to dishes like salad or stew. We wouldn’t mind a dash or two of Old Bay seasoning on roast chicken, either!
Old Bay seasoning is considered to be a kitchen staple by many, but what happens when you unexpectedly run out? You can always run to the store, but you might be in the middle of cooking, and that’s a huge hassle.
Thankfully, there are plenty of substitutes for Old Bay seasoning out there — which is exactly what we’ll be talking about in today’s blog post. You can also make your own zesty blend of spices to emulate the taste of Old Bay seasoning if you like! Let’s get started.
What is Old Bay Seasoning?
In a nutshell, Old Bay seasoning is a ready-made mix of herbs and spices that chefs and home cooks use to add a burst of flavor to all sorts of dishes — from meats and seafood to soups, chowders, stews, and even salads. Old Bay seasoning is basically the perfect mixture of flavors. It brings the spice, it’s bursting with sweetness, and it’s got some savory notes, too! As you can imagine, this makes it pretty versatile.
There are 18 herbs and spices total in Old Bay seasoning, but it’s mainly a mix of celery salt, some spices (like red and black pepper), and paprika. Good news for those keeping an eye on what's in their food — Old Bay seasoning is certified Kosher, and it doesn't contain monosodium glutamate (MSG).
While the FDA says MSG is generally safe to eat, some people do have their concerns about it. To each their own! Either way, with Old Bay seasoning, you won’t have to worry about it.
The Best Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes
If Old Bay seasoning is so wonderful, why would you want to use something else? Well, there are plenty of reasons why. For example, you might be on the hunt for a replacement to season your crab cakes with if you’re all out of Old Bay seasoning. By the way, if you’re wondering what to serve with your crab cakes, check out these easy crab cake sides!
You may also be allergic to something in Old Bay seasoning (make sure to check the ingredients list), in which case, you should definitely substitute Old Bay seasoning for something else. Let’s take a look at the best substitutes we could find for Old Bay seasoning below!
Cajun seasonings share several common herbs and spices with Old Bay seasoning — such as paprika, pepper, and celery salt. While the combination of ingredients is slightly different, cajun seasoning can effectively stand in as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning.
Simply use an equal amount of cajun seasoning in your recipe as you would with Old Bay seasoning. Just be aware that the cajun blend might be a bit spicier than Old Bay seasoning. If you like spicy food, then bring on the heat! If you’re not so good with spice, you may want to take it easy with the cajun seasoning.
Celery Salt and Paprika
Celery salt and paprika are the two main ingredients used in Old Bay seasoning. If you happen to have these two seasonings on hand, you can simply mix them together to create your own Old Bay seasoning. A lot of people think that Old Bay seasoning is super complicated to make (or, at least, emulate the taste of), but it’s really not.
Simply combine ¼ teaspoon of celery salt with ¼ teaspoon of paprika for every 1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning if you’re substituting it in a recipe. If you want to add a touch of spiciness, throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes or a couple of shakes of black pepper.
Crab boil resembles Old Bay seasoning as both are mixtures of herbs and spices that are commonly used for flavoring seafood. Crab boil is specifically intended for seasoning the water when boiling shellfish, but you can still use it as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning.
It contains ingredients like celery seed, paprika, chili pepper, and clove. You can substitute it at a one-to-one ratio — just keep in mind that crab boil might bring a bit more heat and sweetness to your dish than Old Bay seasoning would. That isn’t a bad thing, though! The way we see it, the more flavor, the better the dish!
Chinese Five Spice
If you've been looking for a spice blend that’s similar in flavor to Old Bay seasoning, you may want to give Chinese five spice a try. This mix usually has star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and, depending on the recipe, one of three other ingredients: Sichuan peppercorns, ginger, or white pepper.
Chinese five spice is sweet, and pairs well with chicken or seafood. Just a heads up, though — it's a good idea to start with a bit less when you're using it as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning. For example, if you're subbing for one teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning, just use ½ teaspoon of Chinese five spice.
French Four Spice
Not a lot of people know what to do with French four spice. Surprisingly, though, many people have French four spice in their kitchens. You can use French four spice to create a pretty darn good foundation for an alternative to Old Bay seasoning. This mix includes cloves, ginger, and nutmeg — all of which are present in Old Bay seasoning.
You may want to add some red pepper flakes, paprika, and just a little bit of celery salt to really create that classic Old Bay seasoning flavor, but it’s not completely necessary. Feel free to experiment with different seasonings and spices, and add things as you see fit.
Garlic Powder, Chili Powder, and Celery Salt
While it’s not a perfect match, this blend serves as a perfectly respectable alternative to Old Bay seasoning. Just use ¼ teaspoon of each ingredient for every required teaspoon of Old Bay. It won't be an exact replica, but it’ll capture the main flavor well enough.
The chili powder adds a kick of heat, the garlic provides that herby earthiness, and the celery salt embodies the essence of Old Bay seasoning. You can use this mix in soups, stews, and sauces, and it makes for a great chicken rub, too! Speaking of chicken (and since we’ve been bringing it up quite a lot in this article), here are some chicken recipes that are perfect for Christmas Eve dinner!
A lot of people compare pickling spice to Old Bay seasoning because it contains a lot of different ingredients. Granted, they’re quite similar! Pickling spice usually contains ginger, bay leaves, allspice, salt, red pepper, and mustard. You can easily find it in most grocery stores, though you might already have it hidden away in your kitchen somewhere.
Like Old Bay seasoning, pickling spice is delicious when used in seafood dishes. You can use it in most types of dishes, though! It’s quite versatile. When using it as a substitute for Old Bay seasoning, replace 1 teaspoon of Old Bay Seasoning with 1 teaspoon of pickling spice. Yep! It really is that easy!
Salt and Pepper Seasoning
You can’t go wrong with the classic combination of salt and pepper. Salt and pepper seasoning is basically like salt and pepper with an extra kick to it. Admittedly, Old Bay seasoning has a different flavor profile than salt and pepper seasoning, but it’ll do in a pinch, especially if the recipe you’re following only calls for a small amount of Old Bay seasoning.
Salt and pepper seasoning is a combination of Chinese five spice, garlic powder, ginger, crushed chili flakes, and of course — salt and pepper. It may not taste exactly the same as Old Bay seasoning, but it will be delicious either way. We’d definitely recommend giving it a try, especially if you don’t have anything else on hand.
Somehow, seasoned salt always comes in clutch. Seasoned salt is a mixture of paprika, turmeric, onion powder, garlic powder, and salt. It's fantastic with chicken and pairs well with beef, lamb, and basically any dish that calls for Old Bay Seasoning. We imagine that it would taste great in most seafood dishes, too!
Seasoned salt seamlessly fits into lots of different types of dishes, including Mexican and Indian to Chinese and traditional American meals. Needless to say, it’s super versatile, and will make for a great Old Bay seasoning substitute no matter what you’re making. You can substitute it at a one-to-one ratio.
When it comes to seasoning food, most home cooks don’t mess around. If this sounds like you, you might want to check out our list of liquid smoke substitutes!