The Surprising Versatility Of Old Bay Seasoning

These herbs and spices can even warm up your desserts.

Whenever Old Bay pops up in a new product, chaos ensues. When Old Bay Hot Sauce debuted in 2020, it sold out quicker than anyone could find out whether it was a stunt. Now, the popular blend, a go-to topping for seafood, is featured in a sweet-and-savory seasoning: I stumbled across McCormick's Old Bay Caramel Seasoning on Twitter in early September, drawn in (understandably) by a photo of a crab covered in the spices and hovering over a little pot of caramel sauce.

The limited-time product has sold out a few times over, but I did manage to snag a shaker of it. I was one of the lucky ones. The McCormick website provides a few recipe recommendations for the caramel blend—but what about all of those left in the Baltimore cold, their sweet-and-savory dreams dashed?

I toyed around with recreating the blend myself, combining regular Old Bay seasoning with caramel popcorn seasoning to only modest success. But what I really learned was just how versatile Old Bay is without the added caramel. Old Bay's original notes don't need any caramel complement; the seasoning on its own will transform your favorite foods—especially those you least expect.

What is Old Bay seasoning?

We always had a tin of the stuff at my parents' house growing up, but I don't have much experience using Old Bay, having long assumed it was relegated very specifically to seafood. And outside of the occasional fish stick, I didn't have a ton of seafood in my life as a kid.


Classic Old Bay seasoning is a blend of 18 herbs and spices, including celery salt, red pepper, black pepper, and paprika. Some of the other spices that migh be used are laurel leaves, mustard, cardamom, cloves, and ginger, but we can't be sure—it's a mystery seasoning!

When I take a whiff, I'm mostly getting the paprika, but it's the type of warm profile that more than hints at fall. Really, it screams of autumn, and those cozy mid-Atlantic white sweaters that Chris Evans and his dog wear so well.

Uses for Old Bay seasoning, beyond seafood

You can lean into the savory elements of the spice blend and use it to season your popcorn, zest up your tater tots, or add dimension to an aioli. But if you really want to be bold, add it to your desserts.


I was pleasantly surprised by the Old Bay Caramel Seasoning. My first attempt at using it was as a replacement for the usual sugar-cinnamon mix that you roll snickerdoodles in. It was phenomenal—and I foisted those cookies on a bunch of different people to ensure it wasn't just a personal preference. In the future, I'll swap out the cinnamon for classic Old Bay, pairing it with the sugar in the rolling mixture.

I even sprinkled some regular Old Bay over some vanilla bean ice cream, and the results were the same: It warmed up the otherwise straightforward sweetness of the ice cream and gave it a little more depth. Don't be put off by the celery salt in the Old Bay; it really doesn't come through in an odd way, if at all.


The best comparison I can make to adding Old Bay to sweets is to think of Mexican hot chocolate, which often uses a blend of spices that can include cinnamon and chiles. This is the same warming concept, but with a touch more bite from the celery salt. I am still workshopping the name, but add this to your cocoa and we're looking at something along the lines of Swiss Miss Maryland.

A few other ideas: 

  • Top peanut-butter-dipped apple slices in Old Bay.
  • Sprinkle Old Bay over frosted cupcakes.
  • Fold it into whipped cream and top your pumpkin pie with it.
  • Whatever you do, don't assume this stuff is just for crab boils—you can nudge it toward the sweet side of the pantry, too.