There’s a reason that the spice trade has dominated certain trade routes since basically the beginning of time (i.e. as early as the 10th millennium BC): flavor. Spice mixes can deliver so much punch to the food that they season. And Old Bay seasoning packs a unique flavor that has stood the test of time.
Well, I’m here to spill the secrets. While you can find Old Bay in grocery stores across the nation, there’s something deeply satisfying about creating your own blend from scratch. Not only does it allow you to tailor the flavor to your liking, but the process itself is a delightful journey into the world of spices and seasonings.
This blend has become a pantry staple for chefs and home cooks alike. In this post, I’ll break down the core ingredients that define Old Bay’s signature taste and share a recipe that ensures your spice blend achieves the perfect equilibrium of flavors.
I clearly love making my own spice mixes – see my jerk seasoning, blackened seasoning, or homemade rub on pulled pork. I think it helps to better understand spices, herbs, and flavors. Learn what goes well together and find out specifically which seasonings you like most to use in the future.
Prepare to elevate your dishes to new heights with this homemade Old Bay Seasoning mix.
What is Old Bay Seasoning Spice Mix?
Originally created as ‘Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning’ for the Baltimore Spice Company, Gustav Brunn created the mix to sell after founding the company. This unique blend of spices was created in 1939 after he emigrated with his family from Germany to the Baltimore, Maryland area in the United States.
The mix was later renamed Old Bay after the passenger ship line Old Bay Line that traveled the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia.
The blend of spices has a unique savory saltiness that is balanced out with hints of sweetness and spicy heat.
Since it was originally branded as a shrimp and crab seasoning, Old Bay is forever connected to seafood. Crab cakes, seafood boils, steamed shrimp…
But Old Bay is a versatile seasoning that can be used in a variety of ways, as we’ll soon discover.
What is the Secret Ingredient?
What makes Old Bay so special?
Though it’s a blend of many spices and herbs (16 in our case!), there’s one main unique ingredient that binds them all together and creates the iconic flavor we know and love.
That secret ingredient is something called celery seed. Unsurprisingly, celery seed tastes a lot like celery. But a bit more concentrated and with more earthy bitterness that can sometimes be spicy feeling.
However, the real secret to making Old Bay Seasoning is in the proportions. You can’t just throw all the ingredients together and expect to get the same flavor. It’s the subtle combination and balance of the seasonings that make the difference.
Use too much or too little of any one ingredient and it can dramatically change the end result.
All the Spices in Old Bay Seasoning
So we know there’s celery seed. But what else goes into making the unique spices and seasonings of Old Bay?
Of course, we include some kosher salt in the mix. Salt really brings out the flavors of everything else and
Old Bay seasoning boasts a captivating blend of spices and herbs, each contributing distinct characteristics to its unique flavor profile. For simplicity, I’ll categorize them into several flavor groups:
Herbal and Earthy Notes: Dried bay leaves and paprika, especially the smokiness from smoked paprika, introduce a subtle woodsy freshness and a rich, earthy quality to Old Bay.
Tangy Kick: Mustard powder provides a mild, tangy kick that adds depth and complexity to the blend.
Heat and Spice: Black pepper, red pepper flakes, and white pepper collectively deliver a balanced level of spiciness, providing the subtle kick of Old Bay.
Warmth and Complexity: Cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger combine to create a warm, complex flavor profile that infuses the seasoning with layers of sweet and spicy notes.
Light Citrusy and Floral Sweetness: Cardamom and coriander bring a delightful citrusy, slightly sweet, and floral quality to Old Bay, enhancing its aromatic characteristics.
As you can see, Old Bay seasoning is a masterful fusion of spices and herbs, each contributing a unique essence to the overall flavor profile. The precise proportions and careful blending of these ingredients are the keys to achieving the beloved, perfectly balanced taste of Old Bay.
So, there you have it – all the spices and ingredients that make up Old Bay seasoning.
Getting the Perfect Balance
When it comes to flavor, it’s all about getting the perfect balance. Think of it like a game of Jenga: the goal is to stack the pieces just right to create a beautiful and delicious tower of flavor. It’s not easy, but if you focus on the right spices and ingredients, you can make it happen.
For starters, try making the mix with the ratios as suggested in the recipe below. Then use it and taste it in a few dishes. Try to get a feel for the flavor and what you do and don’t like about it.
Think especially about the general flavor groupings I made in the section above. Also, take into account any spices you just aren’t a fan of.
Then it’s time to make your own adjustments as you see fit. Don’t like the heat? Take out some of the red pepper flakes. Not a fan of the smokiness? Pull back on the smoked paprika. Cutting back on sodium? Lose some of the salt.
Make it your own, that’s one of the best parts of making homemade spice mixes.
Blending or Grinding the Spice Mix
The goal is a cohesive mix of spices. Not just a jumbled hodge-podge of loosely layered powders.
So it is time to take all of our ingredients to a blender or spice grinder.
I use a small nutribullet blender when mixing together my spice mixes because it is what I have on hand. I’ve been interested in but never pulled the trigger on buying a spice grinder so I can’t really speak to their effectiveness. Let me know if you’ve used one before and if it produces much different results than a blender.
When blending the spice mix, it’s important to remember that you don’t want to overmix it. The idea is to combine the spices without crushing them too much. Overmixing can cause the flavors to become muted.
The best way to accomplish this is with short bursts or pulsing of the blender/grinder. Pulse the seasoning mix 5 to 8 times until everything has combined into a homogenous mix. The main thing to look out for is the bay leaves to make sure they have fully broken down with everything else.
Once it’s mixed together, store it in an airtight container. You may want to label it with the name of the mix as well as the date it was made.
Using the Old Bay Seasoning Spice Mix
With the Old Bay seasoning mixed together, it’s time to start putting it to use.
As noted above, it has historically been used with seafood. But seafood is just the beginning – especially if you ask anyone from the Chesapeake Bay area.
Try it with any of the following:
- Grilled Old Bay Chicken
- Topping any steamed seafood
- Simple Crab Cakes
- Popcorn topping
- Fries and potato wedge topping
- Old Bay Aioli for dipping
Old Bay seasoning is a great way to add a little bit of something extra to your meals. It can take a dish from ordinary to extraordinary. And the best part? You can use this seasoning on almost anything! So go ahead and add some Old Bay seasoning to your food and enjoy its delicious flavor.
How did yours turn out?
I’d love to hear when you try making homemade old bay seasoning! Take a pic of your food and share your success with me by adding it to your Instagram stories or feed, and tagging me @doyouroux, or by using #doyouroux.
Plus, leave a rating to let me know how you liked the recipe. It helps me out a lot to know how things worked out… or didn’t.
Old Bay Seasoning Spice MixCourse: Spices, Sauces and Condiments, SeasoningsDifficulty: Easy
Discover the perfectly blended spice mix for your culinary creations – learn the secret to homemade Old Bay seasoning!
8 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 and 1/2 tablespoons celery seed
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 and 1/2 teaspoons mustard powder
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
- Combine all of the ingredients in a small blender or spice grinder and pulse 5 to 8 times until well combined and the bay leaves are broken down
- Put your spice mix into an airtight container and keep it in a cool, dry place
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