Ingredient of the Week, July 15: Old Bay Seasoning
Old Bay Seasoning is a blend of herbs and spices that is currently marketed in the United States by McCormick & Company, and produced in Maryland. It is produced in the Chesapeake Bay area where it was developed by German immigrant Gustav Brunn in the 1940s, and where the seasoning is very popular to this day. At that time, crabs were so plentiful that bars in Baltimore, Maryland, offered them free and seasonings like Old Bay were created to encourage patrons to purchase more beverages. Old Bay is just one of many crab seasonings created during that era, yet it is one of only a few that survived. Notable others are J.O. Spice and Baltimore Spice.
Old Bay Seasoning is named after the Old Bay Line, a passenger ship line that plied the waters of the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore to Norfolk, Virginia, in the early 1900s. Gustav Brunn’s company became the Old Bay Company, producing crab seasonings in the unique yellow can container until the company was purchased by McCormick & Co in 1990. McCormick continues to offer Old Bay in the classic yellow can.
The seasoning mix includes mustard, paprika, celery seed, bay leaf, both black and red pepper, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, salt, mace and ginger. It is regionally popular, specifically in Southern States and parts of the Gulf Coast. Due to the strong presence of the United States Navy in Maryland and Virginia, it is a common fixture in galleys onboard Navy ships. It is chiefly used to season crab and shrimp.
In addition to flavoring seafood, the seasoning is often used as a topping on popcorn, salads, eggs, fried chicken, french fries, tater tots, corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and potato chips. Several movie theaters in the Chesapeake region offer it in the condiment section. Potato chip manufacturer Utz created the original "Crab Chip" based on an analogue spice mix. The popular potato chip variety was later copied and marketed by Herr’s (however, Herr's uses the Old Bay seasoning and it is sold as "Herr's Old Bay Chips").
Early in its history, the Subway sandwich shop used Old Bay when mixing their seafood and crab salad. Many local Subway shops in the Baltimore region still have Old Bay for use on sandwiches. Old Bay is also occasionally used around the Chesapeake Bay region as an ingredient in Bloody Marys.
Do you use Old Bay Seasoning? What do you use it on?