Pittsburghers may not worship Old Bay like Marylanders do, but as a city on the water, Pittsburgh still has the potential to appreciate Old Bay's true versatility and potential. The salt blend is so much more than something to sprinkle on crab or a reminder of your last trip to Ocean City. With a stove, 10-15 minutes, and a little hubris, Old Bay can also be a strangely delicious latte syrup.
As a former Maryland resident, I feel a dutiful appreciation of Old Bay, the McCormick seasoning blend of celery salt, paprika, mustard, salt, red pepper, black pepper, and more. While it is strongly associated with Maryland crab, the McCormick website notes that “It’s great on everything else!”
So, following McCormick’s advice, I ventured into everything else.
Before working at City Paper, I worked as a barista at a local coffee shop where part of the job was preparing house-made syrups. Wanting to return to my roots, I decided to make an Old Bay latte syrup. When I told my friends and coworkers of my plans, their noses wrinkled in prognostic disgust, or they said something akin to, “That’s disgusting. Do it.”
To do that, I had to figure out what the base of the syrup would be. Running through the list of house-made syrup recipes I knew, I settled on a lemon syrup base through word association — Old Bay to crab, crab to lemon — with the hope that the fruity citrus of the lemon would balance out the salty, savoriness of the Old Bay.
I started by making a simple syrup with a 1:1 sugar-to-water ratio. While it took some trial and error, I landed on boiling 3/4 a cup of water, starting on medium-low heat, before adding 3/4 a cup of granulated sugar once the bubbles were rising. After stirring until the sugar is dissolved completely and the mixture begins to thicken, add 1 1/2 teaspoon each of lemon extract and Old Bay.
After letting it simmer for another 3-5 minutes, I ended up with a slightly viscous syrup that went down with surprising smoothness. For those who want to reduce the kick of the Old Bay, straining with a cheesecloth can help make the syrup less aggressive. I chose not to strain the syrup with cheesecloth, as I wanted to keep people on their toes.
Old Bay Latte Syrup recipe
- 3/4 cup of water
- 3/4 cup of granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay
- Bring the water to a boil on medium-low heat.
- Once bubbles rise to the surface, add 3/4 cup of sugar and stir until the sugar dissolves and the syrup begins to thicken.
- Add 1 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract and 1 1/2 teaspoon of Old Bay. Continue stirring over heat until the Old Bay is mixed in and the syrup thickens to the desired viscosity. The mixture will thicken slightly more once taken off heat and refrigerated.
- Bottle the syrup and enjoy! Syrup lasts up to four weeks refrigerated.
No recipe would be complete without test rats. I took a jar into the office, and my coworkers tried it in a variety of beverages: soy milk, iced coffee, honey vanilla coffee, black coffee, and lattes. Some even tried it raw.
The responses were encouraging. Across the board, my coworkers physically, mentally, and emotionally braced themselves for the first sip. But once it hit their tongues, they got the sweet citrus flavor, with the Old Bay following and lingering in the back of their throats.
“You get the Old Bay, that saltiness, and you really taste the sea,” says advertising representative Zack Durkin, who tried it in coffee before trying it raw.
Concerned about overpowering the rest of their drink, most people only added a few drops, maybe half a teaspoon in at first. Digital marketing coordinator Darya Kharabi added slightly more syrup to their soy milk after remarking, “OK, that’s actually not bad.”
Editor in chief Lisa Cunningham had fewer reservations and poured several tablespoons into her latte after deciding that she had initially poured too little. While she says the amount of syrup made it feel like her teeth were dissolving, she also gave it a 7.5 out of 10, and says she would have given it a nine had she not poured in so much. Across the office, the syrup averaged around an eight.
“I still feel like I might cry a little,” says Cunningham, who had been eagerly awaiting the syrup for months. “It’s very unusual at this strength.”