What’s A Good Sazon Seasoning Substitute?

Sazon seasoning is one of the key seasoning blends in Central American and Caribbean cooking. It is used in many of the region’s cooking styles, including those with European and African origins. You will need sazon (and its tasty umami flavor), especially if you are cooking Puerto Rican dishes. If you have run out or don’t want to use the branded commercial blends, here are some good sazon substitutes.

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Your best bet: Make your own sazon seasoning

Most of the ingredients for making a sazon seasoning blend are common, and you can find them in virtually every grocery store’s spice section. They include basics like garlic powder, cumin, and salt. The one that you might not find is annatto seed, which is responsible for the orange color.

You can find annatto in most Latin grocery stores. But if that’s not an option, just replace it with another mild but colorful spice like saffron or turmeric. To make it a closer flavor match to the commercial versions sold in foil packets, you can add a little monosodium glutamate (MSG) to boost the umami.

Making sazon seasoning from scratch allows you to play with the levels of the ingredients so that you can customize the flavor profile to suit a specific dish or your preferences.

A decent second choice: Adobo

If you want a sazon seasoning substitute that has most of the same ingredients and flavors but without the bright color, adobo is your best option. If you cook Latin food regularly, you probably have some of this in your spice cabinet already; if you plan to start cooking Latin food, get some.

Adobo has the same main ingredients as sazon including garlic and monosodium glutamate, depending on which version of the blend you use. Adobo is often easier to find than sazon seasoning and can be less expensive if you price it on a cost-per-ounce basis. If you do want the orange color, you can add some annatto seeds, yellow food coloring, or saffron to your adobo to make it a closer visual match.

The downside of adobo is that its flavor profile is not the same as that of most sazon blends. It has more of a distinctive note that might distract from a dish’s flavor profile.

In a pinch: Creole seasoning

Another popular seasoning blend that is widely available in most North American grocery stores, Creole seasoning contains the same main spices as sazon seasoning, including salt and garlic. Creole seasoning is easy to find and usually inexpensive.

Some famous brands of commercial Creole seasoning contain no MSG, which means that they won’t be as good at enhancing your dish’s savory flavor as sazon. But you can add your own to them or use another source of glutamates.

The flavor profile is not the same as sazon seasoning, but the difference probably won’t be noticeable in dishes with strong flavors. Another downside stems from the fact that Creole seasoning contains no annatto seed and is therefore not as brightly colored as sazon. So it won’t give your dish the bright orange-yellow color of sazon.

Other alternatives

Old Bay is a popular seasoning blend that is sold all over the US. It is heavily associated with blue crabs from its home state of Maryland, but is also widely regarded as a general-purpose seasoning blend. Old Bay contains a greater variety of spices than sazon seasoning, but its flavor profile is not that much more complex. It should work in most recipes that require sazon as long you don’t expect it to provide exactly the same flavors.