Is That Old Bay? MD Crab Houses Opt For Different Seasoning
HALETHORPE, MD — A small spice company in Baltimore County wants Maryland diners to know — it’s probably not Old Bay you’re tasting on those blue crabs.
During a recent appearance on the Discovery Channel show Dirty Jobs, the owners of Halethorpe’s JO Spice Company dropped a small bombshell on lovers of Maryland’s legendary Old Bay spice.
That’s correct. Many crab houses across the state use JO’s No. 2 Crab House Spice, WTOP reported.
“You think when you sit down it’s Old Bay on the crab, but it’s really JO Spice,” Ginger Ports, the company’s director of marketing and sales, told WTOP. “That doesn’t limit Old Bay at all. It’s an iconic Maryland product.”
ports is not wrong. Old Bay was founded in Baltimore by a German-Jewish immigrant named Gustav Brunn, who came to the city with his wife in 1938, according to Preservation Maryland. Brunn opened a spice shop across from the Baltimore Wholesale Fish Market.
Originally billed as “Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning,” Old Bay was born during World War II. It was manufactured and sold by the Baltimore Spice Company until Brunn’s son, Ralph, retired in 1985. McCormick bought the Old Bay recipe in 1990 and now sells it worldwide.
Today, Old Bay is used in almost everything, including french fries, popcorn, clam chowder, and even in vodka. Still, it’s probably not on this plate of steamed crab.
“I would use it as a finishing sauce, like a ketchup,” Tim Ebner, food writer and Maryland native, told WAMU. “It’s not something I’m going to cover my steamed shrimp with while cooking.”
Ebner is not alone. That’s because Old Bay is a refined powder that melts crab when steamed. That’s why crab houses turn to JO Spice.
“The most common misconception in Maryland is that all the crabs in Old Bay are covered,” Ports told WAMU in May.
It turns out the JO Spice Company has been around almost as long as Old Bay.
The JO Spice Company was founded in 1945 by James Ozzle Strigle and his wife Dot, according to the company’s website. Strigle was born and raised on Tanger Island, Virginia, where “everyone’s livelihood depended on seafood. reads the website.
Strigle eventually opened a small shop in Baltimore. Strigle died in 1974 and the business was run by Dot until her retirement. The company has remained a family business run by the Strigles’ daughter, Jane, and her grandson, Donald.
Since the episode of Dirty Jobs aired, the company has ramped up shipments from about 50 packages a week to 900, Ports told WTOP.
“We’re busy,” she added. “It’s very exciting.”