Southern Agenda

Spice Wars

As crab season kicks off, Marylanders instinctively take sides: Old Bay or J.O. For many, Old Bay is a state icon, a savory addition to everything from popcorn to doughnuts. Diehards even sport tattoos of the familiar yellow, blue, and red tin. Darrick Rosenberry isn’t one of those. “Blah, blah, blah. Everyone that knows uses J.O.,” says the third-generation ironworker from Denton. He learned about J.O. Number 2 spice blend from his grandmother, who ran a restaurant on Kent Island. Not so fast, says Chesapeake Bay commercial captain Phil Langley. He reaches for Old Bay when he steams crabs for the Waterman Heritage Tours he leads from St. Mary’s County, and explains that “it makes it more flavorful eating.” While the blends are secrets, it’s generally agreed that J.O. brings more salt and heat. Old Bay leans savory, with eighteen spices including pepper, cloves, and ginger. Both businesses have solid Baltimore pedigrees. Old Bay was founded in 1939 by Holocaust refugee Gustav Brunn, who arrived in the city carrying his spice grinder from Germany. Meanwhile, J. O. (James Ozzle) Strigle and his wife, Dot, founded their spice company in 1945, focusing on commercial clients. That might explain why an informal 2019 Baltimore Sun poll found that most city crab houses use J.O. But even Rosenberry concedes there’s a place for both blends: “If you have Old Bay on steamed corn, oh, oh, it’s amazing!”;