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. 

Never Heard of J.O. Spice?

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

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

Is J.O. an Old Bay bait-and-switch? Turns out, no.

Old Bay was started in 1939 by a German immigrant who fled 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.

At the time, Baltimore became a hub for spice blending due to foreign spices coming into the U.S. through the Port of Baltimore.

Both J.O. and Old Bay set up spice shops in Baltimore.

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

Old Bay is in the grocery store. J.O. is in the restaurants.

Ginger Ports, J.O Spice co marketing and sales vice president

What’s in J.O. Spice?

Both Old Bay and J.O. 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 and became a national product.

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

Old Bay’s outlet is in Baltimore’s posh Harborplace, a shopping center at the Inner Harbor.

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

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

The Baltimore 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. 

Where Do You Buy J.O.?

There are several versions of J.O. Seasoning. #1 is the all-purpose version. #2 is crab seasoning. There are several more for different types of meats and seafood.

You’ll find them in Annapolis, Maryland, tourist shops, and Maryland hardware stores.

Where in those hardware stores? The BBQ section, of course… and often near the checkout counter, not far from the peanuts.

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