When it comes to Maryland food, misconceptions abound .

It often shocks people to learn that lake trout is not actually trout and that most crab cakes sold in Maryland are really made from imported crabmeat. Another surprise: most crab houses don’t use Old Bay Seasoning to season crabs. Instead, they use a similar-tasting blend made by Halethorpe’s J.O. Spice Company.

So TV host and celebrity cook Rachael Ray, who lives in upstate New York, might be forgiven for confusing the two.

Except, she made the mix up during a segment of her morning show on ABC in which she was interviewing Ellicott City-born Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” about J.O. and the family that has made this seasoning for years. J.O. will be featured in an episode of Rowe’s show, which is now in its ninth season and highlights unconventional trades, from skull cleaning to iguana hunting.

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Mike Rowe, host of TV's “Dirty Jobs,” highlights J.O. Spice Company in an upcoming episode. The seasoning is often confused with Old Bay, and Rowe hoped to set the record straight. (Handout photo courtesy of Mike Rowe) (handout)

It didn’t help that Ray was holding a can of Old Bay during the segment and, in fact, took a mouthful of Maryland’s most famous seasoning as Rowe looked on. “Doing a hit!” she said, laughing.

Old Bay Seasoning, as any Baltimoron knows, is made by Hunt Valley’s McCormick & Company.

From his home in Northern California, Rowe told The Baltimore Banner that during the interview with Ray, which was recorded three weeks ago via Zoom, “I did notice that she misspoke once or twice. I think I gently corrected her once and I figured the producer would edit it up later on.” He only later learned that the mistake had made it onto the show.

The gaffe left J.O. Spice feeling salty.

“Really???? Meet the family that makes Old Bay? NOT NOT NOT!” they wrote in a post to Facebook Wednesday morning. They urged followers to write Ray in complaint. “What if we gave her show credit to Oprah?”

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Mike Rowe highlights J.O. Spice in an upcoming episode of “Dirty Jobs,” which airs this weekend on Discovery. (Handout)

In a 10-minute video posted to the company’s Facebook page, Ginger Ports, vice president of marketing and sales for J.O. Spice, said, “Mike [Rowe] was trying so hard to tell Rachael Ray [the truth] but Rachael is pouring Old Bay in her mouth. While the Old Bay can was even in front of her. … it’s bewildering.”

Reached by The Baltimore Banner, Ports said she had nothing further to add beyond that she wished to set the record straight and is all about “family, love and truth.”

The post appeared to have been deleted from the Rachael Ray Show’s website by Wednesday afternoon. But the original article, although not the video, was saved to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. The clip was later obtained by The Banner.

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Beneath the headline, “Meet the Family Who Makes Old Bay + See How It’s Made,” the article falsely states that J.O. #2 seasoning is the spice blend that makes up Old Bay. A spokesman for the Rachael Ray Show did not respond to an email or tweet from The Baltimore Banner.

J.O. Spice was founded in 1945 by waterman James Ozzle (“J.O.”) Strigle. Meanwhile, Old Bay’s inventor Gustav Brunn created his signature seasoning in 1939, according to the seasoning’s motto.

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McCormick & Company acquired Old Bay in 1990 and in recent years has fueled Old Bay fandom with products like Old Bay vodka, hot sauce and even Goldfish crackers.

Old Bay Seasoning is manufactured by Hunt Valley’s McCormick & Company. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Reached for comment, McCormick avoided addressing the dispute, but said in a statement: “If there was an official taste of summer, it would no doubt belong to OLD BAY Seasoning, which made its name over 75 years ago. Fans recognize this must-have flavor when they taste it, and reach for it as often as salt and pepper.”

Ironically, Rowe’s goal in highlighting J.O. on his show was to correct a longstanding misperception about the brand.

Rowe said the idea for the episode came after reading an article a few years ago about J.O., which is often mistaken for Old Bay. “I had to laugh because I had contributed to that confusion,” he said, in posting photos of crabs that he’d always assumed were steamed in Old Bay.

Rowe, who grew up in Overlea and returns often to visit his parents, said he thought the episode would be a chance “to set the record straight and have some crabs with my mom and dad.”

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His takeaway from the experience shooting with Rachael Ray: “It’s just the story of how hard it is to correct a misperception once it takes hold.” Even Ray, with her years of experience in kitchens, didn’t get the difference.

The “Dirty Jobs” segment featuring J.O. Spice will run Sunday at 8 p.m. on Discovery.


This story has been updated with the correct year for the creation of Old Bay Seasoning.

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner. A former Baltimore Sun reporter, she has covered the city's dining scene as well as crime and politics. 

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