Old Bay Vs. Creole Seasoning: SPICEography Showdown

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When it comes to American spice blends, it is difficult to find any that have become more ingrained in the nation’s food culture than Old Bay seasoning and Creole seasoning. Despite being from very different parts of the US, these blends have a lot in common. The question that many cooks might have is how similar are they to each other? If you are thinking about using one or the other, consider their respective properties in this SPICEography Showdown.

How does Old Bay differ from Creole seasoning?

No discussion of the difference between Old Bay seasoning and Creole seasoning would be legitimate without pointing out the fact that these spice blends both have specific regional origins. Old Bay seasoning belongs to Maryland and is arguably the most distinctive component of that state’s cuisine. Creole seasoning is from New Orleans is one of Louisiana’s most important spice blends.

Old Bay seasoning is a specific trademarked blend owned by McCormick. It is made according to a precise recipe. Creole seasoning is a more generic term. While certain key ingredients are essential for a spice blend to be regarded as Creole seasoning, the proportions of those ingredients along with additional herbs and spices can vary significantly from cook to cook.

Can you use Old Bay as a substitute for Creole seasoning and vice versa?

Old Bay seasoning has some of the same ingredients that you will see in many Creole seasoning blends. One of the distinctive features of Old Bay seasoning is that it has many ingredients. Because of this, you can use it as a starting point in many different cuisines with Creole cuisine being one of them. The spices that it has in common with Creole seasoning are a good starting point if you are trying to replicate Creole seasoning’s flavor. You can build upon Old Bay’s foundation since it includes the celery seed and paprika that you will find in most Creole seasoning blends. Unless you add more of the spices used in Creole seasoning blends — like the previously mentioned celery seed and paprika — Old Bay will not be ideal as a Creole seasoning substitute.

Similarly, Creole seasoning lacks Old Bay’s complexity if you use it as a 1:1 substitute. Consider the fact that the typical Creole seasoning blend contains far fewer spices than you will find in Old Bay seasoning. Creole seasoning blends also do not usually include spices like mace and cardamom.

Their respective ingredients lists aside, both Old Bay and Creole seasoning can be used interchangeably without causing major problems. The resulting dishes will have different flavor profiles depending on which spice blend you use but they won’t be dramatically different and should still be palatable.

When should you use Old Bay and when should you use Creole seasoning?

Old Bay seasoning advertises itself as being versatile enough to be used on seafood, poultry, and salads. While it is undoubtedly true that you can use it on all of those foods, it is only essential for the Maryland blue crab. If you want to enjoy this classic American crustacean in the most traditional way possible, you will need to invest in some Old Bay seasoning.

Use Creole seasoning if you are making New Orleans staples like jambalaya. Jambalaya is an authentic Creole dish, and its origins are associated mainly with NOLA rather than with Louisiana as a whole. Better yet, make your own Creole seasoning by combining individual spices to taste. You are free to do this since there is no one set recipe for it the way there is with Old Bay seasoning.