The Chesapeake Bay’s Spice: Old Bay or J.O.? Never Heard of J.O.?

Nothing says Chesapeake Bay more than Old Bay and crabs, or Old Bay and just about anything seafood, right? Turns out the reddish seasoning on your crabs and shrimp may not be Old Bay, but rather another spice blend that’s been around nearly as long. 

Baltimore Sun reports if you’re buying from a carry-out or crab house, more than likely it’s J.O Spice. 

J.O. is also in regional products that you may have simply assumed were spiced with Old Bay, such as Route 11 Chips.

Route 11 chips & J.O. Spice

“Old Bay is in the grocery store,” Ginger Ports, vice president of marketing and sales for J.O. Spice Co told the Sun. “J.O. is in the restaurants.”

Is it a bait-and-switch? Turns out, no. Old Bay was started in 1939 by a German immigrant fleeing Nazi Germany. J.O. Spice began in 1945 by a couple born and raised on Tangier Island, Virginia, J.O. (James Ozzle) Strigle and his wife Dot.

J.O. Spice
Photo courtesy J.O. Spice

Both companies set up spice shops in Baltimore. They both have secret recipes, but share the basics: celery salt, red and black peppers and paprika. Several online cooking websites swear they’ve discovered the Old Bay recipe.

No one much cares to break down the J.O. combination, although J.O. claims to use a “custom blend using ingredients and a special salt, which adhere to the steamed crab.”

Old Bay went big-time when it was bought by McCormack & Company in 1990. J.O. stayed a family-owned company based in an industrial park just outside the Baltimore beltway on the Washington, DC, side.

J.O. Retail Store
J.O. Retail Store opened in April, 2014 in Halethorpe, MD

Unlike Old Bay, it has a factory outlet at the warehouse, next to the corporate office. The way factory outlets used to be.

Old Bay’s outlet is in Baltimore’s toni Harborplace.

That just about sums up the difference between the two spices.

The Sun reports you won’t find J.O Spice in a Safeway, but the grocery story chain does steam its shrimp in J.O.’s No. 1 blend. 

cooked shrimp & J.O. spice
Photo courtesy J.O. Spice

One thought on “The Chesapeake Bay’s Spice: Old Bay or J.O.? Never Heard of J.O.?

  • August 19, 2014 at 8:28 pm
    Permalink

    JO is the best. So many of our crab houses and restaurants on Kent island and the shore use it and carry out places sell it. Rarely see Old Bay. It is almost like kosher salt mixed in and a coarser texture that works perfectly. We buy it by the bucket.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: