They put Old Bay on everything in Maryland. Soon you will, too


Old Bay — it's not just for crab anymore. Photo via Flickr user bigbirdz, used via a Creative Commons license.

It's been said that Marylanders will put Old Bay Seasoning on just about everything: crabs, of course, but also pasta, pumpkin seeds, Cheetos, even chocolate. This year, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the seasoning mix, Maryland-based Flying Dog Brewery is releasing a special-edition beer brewed with Old Bay. Skeptics abound, but early reviews are overwhelmingly positive.

In short, it feels like Old Bay is everywhere these days, and not just in Maryland. Old Bay's Facebook page has nearly half a million 'likes.' On its Web site, the company claims 50 million ounces of the seasoning were sold last year — that works out to about 8.3 million of the little yellow tins that are ubiquitous on dinner tables in the Chesapeake Bay region. The company also maintains an "Old Bay Nation" fan site that collects testimonials from Old Bay enthusiasts worldwide.

Search data from Google confirms that interest in Old Bay — nationwide, not just in Maryland — is indeed on the upswing.

old-bay-interest

The search data don't tell us how many people are looking for Old Bay online, simply that more people are doing it now than before. You'll notice that interest in Old Bay peaks in the middle of each year, usually around June. This happens to be the peak of crab season in Maryland, so this makes sense. Further cementing Old Bay's status as a quintessential summertime flavor, Google trends data also show that interest in the seasoning correlates strongly with interest in gin and tonics and with interest in crab recipes of all sorts.

crab-correlate

The Google data can also be sliced by state. As expected, Maryland is the epicenter of Old Bay interest in the U.S., followed by Delaware and other mid-Atlantic states. Interest in the seasoning remains fairly strong throughout the South, and then tapers off as you head west. Old Bay doesn't appear to have much of a following in the northern Plains states. Vermont is also unique among New England states in the lack of interest there (on its site, the company encourages New Englanders to "PUT IT IN 'YA CHOWDA").

The maps below, taken from Google, show how state-level interest in Old Bay has spread since 2010. The mid-Atlantic states were early adopters, as were Florida and Georgia ("PUT IT IN 'YER CATFISH!").

old-bay-over-time

Finally, data from Google suggest that Old Bay might be poised to break out of the regional mode. I compared it to that other famous Southern condiment, Tabasco sauce, which originated in Louisiana and has since become ubiquitous nationwide. While Tabasco currently has a larger social media footprint than Old Bay, in recent years, interest in Old Bay has caught up to and appears to be surpassing interest in Tabasco for the first time.

old bay vs tabasco

So who knows? Our national cuisine may soon taste a lot more like Maryland's.

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.
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