Adobo seasoning is the spice blend that is responsible for the distinctive flavor of many Latin American dishes. It is widely used and you will need it or something like it if you want to follow traditional recipes as closely as possible. If you are out and need some in a hurry, consider the following adobo seasoning substitutes.
Your best bet: Make your own adobo seasoning
Powdered adobo seasoning is not complicated. Relative to many curry powder blends or ras el hanout, adobo seasoning could almost be described as painfully simple. Most blends consist of fewer than eight ingredients, most of which will be available on the shelves of an average grocery store. You may already have all or most of the adobo seasoning ingredients in your spice cabinet. The important components include salt along with garlic, cumin, and black pepper. By making your own, you have the opportunity to use fresher spices to create a more flavorful version than the prepackaged blends. In addition, you can adjust ingredients to suit your preferences. While many households in Latin America do rely on bottled adobo seasoning blends, serious cooks will always look for fresh ingredients and will make their food from scratch whenever possible.
See a tasty adobo seasoning recipe at PepperScale.
A decent second choice: Chili powder
Chili powder is another seasoning blend from the Americas. Just as curry powder is a European blend using Indian spices, chili powder is an American seasoning made with spices typically used in Latin American cuisine. All of the spices in most chili powder blends also show up in most adobo seasoning blends. Both usually contain chili peppers and black pepper along with cumin, garlic, and oregano. Originally used to flavor chili con carne, chili powder is a versatile spice with many applications.
It is important to note that some popular adobo seasoning blends include turmeric and have a yellow or yellowish color as a result, while chili powder will have a deep red color from the red chili peppers in the blend. You should also keep in mind that some chili powder blends will have a mild heat, while powdered adobo seasoning is typically not hot at all.
You can use chili powder in dry rubs or as a part of a marinade, just as you would use adobo seasoning. Start with chili powder as a 1:1 adobo seasoning substitute and increase to taste.
In a pinch: Cajun seasoning
Powdered Cajun seasoning is a great way to replicate the flavor profile of Cajun cuisine. While traditional Cajun cuisine typically relies on fresh herbs and spices, powdered seasonings are still used in many households. Cajun spice blends and adobo seasoning blends often contain the same spices, resulting in a similar flavor profile. For example, you can find garlic along with oregano and black pepper in many popular Cajun seasonings. Use Cajun seasoning just like you would use adobo seasoning. It is great as a rub and for adding flavor to a sauce or soup.
Use Cajun seasoning as a 1:1 substitute for adobo seasoning.
Greek seasoning is similar to both adobo seasoning and Cajun seasoning, but it may have a greater variety of herbs. Adobo seasoning blends typically have only oregano as the sole herb, but Greek seasoning may also include thyme and marjoram. Both blends contain garlic and pepper and thus are able to give similar flavors to food.
This mild-flavored curry powder invented by French chefs using Indian spices has ingredients with similar flavor profiles to those found in adobo seasoning. Most blends will have the onion, garlic, and cumin found in adobo seasoning blends. Vadouvan can also have another common adobo seasoning spice: turmeric, which is absent in most of the other substitutes on this list.