The Fascinating History Of Old Bay

An aromatic blend of salty, savory goodness, Old Bay is a seasoning that bottles memories of summertime seafood bakes. A legendary companion for crab, in particular, the seasoning has become a staple for all sorts of dishes — seafood and then some, as outlined by Epicurious. But what most people are blissfully unaware of is the fascinating history of Old Bay.

Currently owned by McCormick, according to Saveur, Old Bay has been an iconic seasoning since its conception in the 1940s. Primarily used on its own, the spice has also been the secret ingredient in an array of products, from vodka to ice cream, and even Goldfish crackers.

While the yellow container is a common sight at seafood boils on the east coast, the origins behind this unmistakable spice blend can actually be traced to a German spice merchant named Gustav Brunn. Saveur explains that after a remarkable release from a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Germany, Brunn packed his spice grinder and immigrated to the United States. Little did he know, his spices would become world-famous.

Chasing the American Dream

After attempts to find work were unsuccessful, Brunn decided to launch the Baltimore Spice Company. With a focus on individual spices and seasoning rubs for meat, he soon realized that vendors across the street at the Baltimore fish market were in need of spice blends to steam crabs, explains the Washington Post. Convinced he could make a better blend than the personal concoctions of fishmonger, Brunn began crafting an unlikely seasoning that featured hints of ingredients like cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves (via Washington Post).

Although many vendors initially rejected his spice blends, The Jewish Times notes that one crab steamer accepted a sample of the seasoning and was instantly hooked, prompting other vendors to buy Brunn's blend. Originally called the Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning, The Baltimore Sun reports that the blend was eventually renamed Old Bay after a steamship line that sailed between Baltimore and Norfolk.

Despite countless efforts to recreate the spice blend, competitors were unsuccessful. Even today, the seasoning is hard to imitate, with many still left scratching their heads. With a recipe that's remained the same since the beginning, the irreplicable flavor of Old Bay remains a national treasure and a favorite for crab from Maryland and beyond.