Best Substitutes for Old Bay Seasoning

Herbs and spices

Getty Images /klenova

A mix of herbs and spices, Old Bay seasoning was originally used to add flavor to seafood. But you may use the sweet, salty, and spicy mix of seasonings to flavor chicken, salad, or stew.  

Though considered a kitchen pantry staple in many kitchens, what do you do if you are all out or you cannot use this all-purpose blend of herbs and spices? Well, in addition to making your own spicy blend, there are plenty of other mixes that serve as a good substitute for Old Bay seasoning. 

About Old Bay Seasoning

Old Bay seasoning is a ready-made blend of herbs and spices chefs and home cooks use to add full-body flavor to meat, seafood, soup, chowder, stew, and salad. The seasoning is a little bit spicy, a little bit sweet, and a little bit savory, hitting all the right tastebuds.

According to the makers of Old Bay seasoning, the flavorful blend contains 18 herbs and spices. However, the ingredient list only includes celery salt (salt and celery seed), spices (red pepper and black pepper), and paprika. 

Old Bay seasoning is Kosher and has no monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is a savory flavor enhancer and food additive commonly found in commercial products. MSG is generally recognized as safe (GRAS), according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, there are reports of intolerances to the food additive.

You do not have to worry about MSG with Old Bay seasoning, but you may need to regularly check the label if you have food allergies. The ingredients tend to change and some batches may contain common food allergens. Allergens are listed on all food labels.

Old Bay Seasoning Nutrition Facts

Though full of flavor, Old Bay seasoning is not a significant source of calories or essential nutrients. However, it does have sodium. Nutrition information for 1/4 teaspoon (0.6 grams) of Old Bay seasoning comes from the USDA.

  • Calories: 0
  • Fat: 0
  • Sodium: 140mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0
  • Fiber: 0
  • Sugars:
  • Protein: 0

The small serving of Old Bay Seasoning provides 6% of the daily value for sodium. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines encourage keeping daily sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams. High intakes of sodium increase your risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease.

Why You Might Need a Substitute

Why would you need a substitute for Old Bay seasoning? There may be any number of reasons why you may be looking for something to replace the Old Bay in your famous crab cakes. It could be that you are all out of the seasoning blend or it is not available where you do your grocery shopping. 

Or, you may need an Old Bay seasoning substitute because of food allergies. Though considered a classic seasoning blend, ingredients may change. If you have a food allergy, you need to read the food label each time you purchase Old Bay to look for allergens. 

Though spices and food additives may cause an allergic-like reaction, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology says a true spice allergy is rare. You may develop an itchy mouth after eating a certain spice, which is sometimes called oral allergy syndrome.

In any event, if mustard causes an itchy rash or itchy mouth and your container of Old Bay seasoning notes mustard as an allergen, then you may need to find a different seasoning for your crab cakes. You may also be searching for an Old Bay seasoning substitute if you have concerns about the sodium content in the prepared spice blend. 

Best Old Bay Seasoning Substitutes

No Old Bay? No problem. Old Bay seasoning is a mix of herbs and spices. You may not have the pre-blended mix, but you may have other herbs, spices, or blends that fit the bill.

Celery Salt and Paprika

Celery salt and paprika are two of the main ingredients in Old Bay seasoning. If you happen to have these spices in your cupboard, then you have a good substitute.

When substituting, mix 1/4 teaspoon of celery salt with 1/4 teaspoon of paprika. Use this for every 1 teaspoon of Old Bay seasoning. For a little heat, add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a shake or two of black pepper. 

According to the USDA, 1/4 teaspoon (0.9 milligrams) of celery salt has 290 milligrams of sodium, no calories, and no other nutrients. Paprika is also free of calories and essential nutrients.

Celery Seed and Paprika

To limit sodium, use celery seed in place of the celery salt to mix with your paprika. The USDA notes that 1 teaspoon (2 milligrams) of celery seed has only 3.2 milligrams of sodium per teaspoon.

However, you may not get the full flavor of the original Old Bay seasoning without the salt. Adding other herbs and spices may be necessary, like ground mustard, onion powder, garlic powder, and pepper, to get more of that Old Bay flavor.

Cajun Seasoning

Cajun seasonings use many of the same herbs and spices as Old Bay seasoning, including paprika, pepper, and celery salt. Though the mix of ingredients is a bit different, cajun seasoning works as a substitute for Old Bay. 

You can use the same amount of cajun seasoning in your recipe as you would the Old Bay seasoning. However, keep in mind that the cajun blend may be a bit spicier than the Old Bay.

Like Old Bay, cajun seasoning has no calories or other essential nutrients, but it has 130 milligrams of sodium per serving (0.6 grams), according to the USDA.

Crab Boil

Crab boil is a lot like Old Bay in that it is a blend of herbs and spices for seasoning seafood. However, crab boil is used to season the water when boiling shellfish. It has celery seed, paprika, chili pepper, and clove. 

If you have crab boil spice blend, use the same amount of this spice as the Old Bay seasoning. Crab boil may add a bit more heat and a touch of sweetness to your dish. Like Old Bay, crab boil has added salt and is a source of sodium.

A Word From Verywell

Old Bay seasoning is a flavorful seasoning blend that can contain as many as 18 different herbs and spices. And while it is often a popular spice found in many kitchens across the country, having a few alternatives in mind when you run out can be particularly helpful in a pinch.

Some popular substitutions for Old Bay include crab boil, cajun seasoning, and celery salt mixed with paprika. When using a substitute, make sure to start with a small amount to begin with and taste as you go.

Sometimes an alternative can change your dish's flavor profile slightly, so it is best to go slow. You can always add more, but you cannot take any out if you happen to add too much.

11 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. McCormick & Company, Inc. Old Bay seasoning.

  2. McCormick & Company, Inc. McCormick for Chefs. Old Bay Seasoning.

  3. USDA Food and Drug Administration. Questions and answers on monosodium glutamate (MSG). Updated January 4, 2018.

  4. USDA, FoodData Central. Old Bay, seasoning.

  5. USDA and US Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

  6. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. Allergies. Can spices cause allergic reactions?.

  7. USDA, FoodData Central. Celery salt, celery.

  8. USDA, FoodData Central. Paprika.

  9. USDA, FoodData Central. Spices, celery seed.

  10. USDA. FoodData Central. Cajun seasoning.

  11. USDA. FoodData Central. Supreme crab boil.

By Jill Corleone, RD
Jill is a registered dietitian who's been learning and writing about nutrition for more than 20 years.