The Surprising Spice You'll Have Trouble Finding In Supermarkets

Last year's pandemic-prompted shortages seemed to include, well, just about everything. First we ran out of hand sanitizer, which makes sense, then we ran out of TP, which was actually kind of weird since you probably use less than you think. Soon we started panic-buying everything, and woe be unto the shopper who arrived late at the supermarket to find nothing left on the shelves but vegan meat substitutes and chocolate hummus.

This year, many of those shortages seem to have sorted themselves out. There are plenty of bathroom supplies to be had, plus everybody finally got off that sourdough-and-banana bread baking kick, so you can even buy flour and other assorted baking supplies again. If crab cakes are on the menu, though, you still may have some trouble getting all the necessary ingredients. For one thing, DelmarvaNow reports that the Maryland blue crab industry is in crisis due to a shortage of workers. (And no, you may NOT make crab cakes with king crab or snow crab!) Even if you can source the necessary crab, though, there's an all-important spice that's also in short supply.

Why Old Bay is in short supply

For many years, Old Bay Seasoning was a regional thing. The secret blend of herbs and spices manufactured by Maryland's McCormick spice company was pretty much that state's official condiment, beloved by natives who sprinkled it all over everything. Seriously, everything — Baltimore boy Duff Goldman has even said he'd like to see it used in breakfast cereal. As the world continues to shrink, however, word got out about this Mid-Atlantic cult favorite condiment, and, long story short, newfound popularity + post-pandemic supply chain snafus = severe shortages. As McCormick Chairman and CEO Lawrence Kurzius told Yahoo Finance, "Oh my gosh, the demand for Old Bay has been extraordinary, and we've been hard-pressed to keep up with it. And even now, it's one of those items that we are still struggling with to keep in stock. The demand is just high for favorites like that."

Kurzius did say that McCormick has hired an additional 1,400 workers and added "roughly the equivalent of an entire new factory" in order to ramp up production, but at present demand may still exceed supply. So what can you do if you can't find Old Bay to make those crab cakes? Put the crab meat back in the freezer and make something else for dinner instead. While we're usually all about ingredient substitutes, sometimes you've got to hold the line, and crab cakes just aren't crab cakes if they're made without Old Bay.