Adobo is a highly versatile culinary term that originates from Caribbean cuisine. You can use the term to refer to a sauce, dish, cooking technique, or spice blend, all of which share the same signature (warm and rich) flavor and aroma. However, today, I’ll focus on the spice that holds the adobo name, covering some of its best substitutes and a simple recipe for making it yourself.
The six best similar adobo substitutes include Cajun seasoning, Caribbean curry, chili powder, oregano, Greek seasoning, and a homemade mix of turmeric, black pepper, chili powder, paprika, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, onion powder, and salt. The last approach is usually recommended.
Now, let’s go into each option in greater detail.
1. Cajun Seasoning
Though it doesn’t have the exact flavor profile, Cajun seasoning can be a good substitute for adobo in certain dishes. That’s because some of the core ingredients remain the same between the two blends – they both contain oregano, salt, black pepper, and garlic.
So, if you have some Cajun seasoning on hand and the recipe you’re following calls for adobo, you can substitute the two following a simple 1:1 ratio – if the instructions call for a teaspoon of adobo, that’s how much Cajun you should use instead.
You’ll still get that smoky, aromatic flavor that’s neither too salty nor too spicy, which is why this substitution can work wonders if you’re in a pinch. The best part is that you can use Cajun seasoning on almost everything, so all proteins are fair game. If you’re working with milder-tasting ingredients like white fish or chicken breast, Cajun can do wonders in bringing out their flavors so that you can be generous with your seasoning.
If you want to go that extra mile, marinate your protein (or any other ingredient of choice, for that matter) for a few hours in the seasoning to allow it to truly soak in those flavors and aromas.
2. Caribbean Curry
If you’re still after that signature Caribbean taste, substituting adobo with a seasoning from the same area might be the smartest approach to having your dish taste as intended. Like adobo, the spice mix that comprises Caribbean curry contains turmeric and pepper; however, it provides an extra kick that comes through its ginger and coriander.
Keep in mind that Caribbean curry, just like adobo, doesn’t have one single recipe, and different variations may submerge from different regions. It helps if the variation you have on hand contains as many of the ingredients usually found in adobo as possible.
Either way, you’ll want to follow a 1:1 ratio for the substitution to taste right. With Caribbean curry, you get some extra herbs that add some freshness to the rich, creamy dishes that originate from the same region.
Moreover, Caribbean curry contains a variety of warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, all of which give it a sweeter taste profile. So, it’s important to consider that, when making this substitution, you’ll be forgoing some spiciness in favor of additional sweetness, which can ultimately impact the overall flavor and aroma of your dish.
3. Chili Powder
If you want to take an even simpler approach and steer away from seasoning mixes altogether, you can simply substitute adobo with chili powder. You’ll still get the spiciness and smokiness you’re after without all the bells and whistles.
Moreover, this is one of the most easily accessible options on today’s list since chances are you already have some chili powder in your pantry. Even if, for some strange reason, you don’t have the necessary amount on hand, you probably can find some in your nearest market.
This time, you’ll want to substitute adobo with chili powder in a 2:1 ratio. Since the latter is a bit more concentrated, you don’t want to overwhelm the dish by adding too much. Instead, use the remaining volume to add some other adobo ingredients you have on hand, such as oregano, salt, and black pepper.
If you have a chili powder variety mixed with other spices, all the better. Many varieties also contain garlic, cumin, or black pepper, taking you a step closer to that signature adobo flavor.
However, one caveat to keep in mind is that chili powder might not be the best substitution for adobo if you’re trying to achieve a certain aesthetic. The former will likely give the dish a vibrant red hue, while the latter is known for its distinctively yellow color. Other than that, however, I’d say this is one of the best substitutions you can make.
Oregano is an extremely versatile spice that goes well with dishes from almost any cuisine, which is why you can easily add it to many recipes that call for adobo.
While it’s obvious that you won’t get the exact effect through this substitution (seeing as oregano is only an ingredient of the adobo spice mix), you’ll still get an aroma that can achieve a similar impact. This is especially true if you add in some other of the spices usually included in adobo.
Again, if you’re substituting with a single spice and not a blend, it’s best to go with a 2:1 ratio (if the recipe calls for a teaspoon (5 ml) of adobo, use half a teaspoon (2.5 ml) of oregano instead). If necessary, you can always add more. However, I’d recommend erring on the side of safety and starting small, possibly substituting the rest of the volume with some turmeric or black pepper.
5. Greek Seasoning
Next, we have Greek seasoning. Though Greece might be so geographically far away from the Caribbean that it’s hard to make a connection between the two, it seems that their closeness to the sea and the hot climate have inspired their people to create some similarly flavored dishes and spice blends.
That’s why Greek seasoning contains many of the same base ingredients as adobo. These include:
- Black pepper
- Onion powder
- Garlic powder
However, instead of cumin, paprika, chili powder, or turmeric, Greek seasoning contains thyme, dill, or basil. This means that the end product will likely taste fresher, sacrificing some of that signature spice.
With that said, the general flavor profile of adobo will still come through. That’s as long as you make your substitution in a 1:1 ratio, giving each ingredient in the mix a chance to shine.
If you’ve read every section thus far, you’ve heard me repeat myself time and time again, saying that none of these substitutions will make a dish taste exactly the same as adobo. So what happens if you’re set on replicating both the taste and the look of a dish whose recipe calls for adobo?
The good news is that you can easily make an adobo spice blend from scratch. Though its taste profile might seem complex and intimidating at first, the individual ingredients used to achieve it are actually pretty simple, and chances are they’re already lying around in your pantry.
So, if you have some extra time, I’d recommend trying to make your own adobo spice rather than search around for a substitute that’s never going to replicate its flavor and aroma. If that seems like something you’re willing to try, head over to the following section.
6. Homemade Mix
If you’re short on store-bought adobo, the good news is that you can make your own mix in less than five minutes. All you have to do is mix the spices I’ll list below. Keep in mind that there are no exact ratios you absolutely need to follow, as the adobo recipe is pretty flexible. A good rule of thumb, though, is to add the same amount of every spice apart from paprika and salt, whose volumes should be double that of the other ingredients.
With that out of the way, let’s see the ingredients of a fairly traditional adobo blend:
- Black pepper
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
- Onion powder
You can make as much or as little as you want following the ratio tip mentioned above. Mix all spices thoroughly, and voilà – you have made your very own adobo mix. Take as much as the recipe requires and store the rest for later use.
The Spice Closest to Adobo
Chili powder is the closest spice to adobo. It boasts the same smoky and spicy flavor profile, making it a great substitute in a pinch. Cajun seasoning, chili powder, Caribbean curry, oregano, and Greek seasoning are also acceptable substitutes.
However, it isn’t easy to single out a single spice or blend as the best substitution for adobo, as each of them is better suited to certain dishes. For example, chili powder is obviously the best choice if a dish benefits from adobo’s spiciness. However, if a recipe uses adobo for that fresh, herby quality it provides, it’s best to opt for Greek seasoning or oregano instead.
What Adobo Seasoning is Made From
Adobo is usually made from oregano, pepper, salt, onion powder, turmeric, and either garlic powder or diced fresh garlic. However, the recipe can vary a lot depending on the source you get it from, with many variations containing chili powder, citrus zest, cumin, paprika, pimentón, and so on.
As you can see, there’s no clear-cut answer to this question, as this type of spice leaves so much room for experimentation that many regions and even individual cooks have put their own spin on it. This means that you can take some creative liberty on it, assuming all the base ingredients are still there.
Adobo aims to bring the whole dish together and add some of that fantastic umami flavor created by these spices. If you feel like the specific dish you’re making could benefit from a new addition to the mix, don’t hesitate to experiment.
Can I Make Adobo Seasoning?
You can make adobo seasoning. Adobo is one of the easiest seasoning blends to make, as all its ingredients are easily accessible and popular all across the globe. To make adobo seasoning, you’ll usually need salt, pepper, chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, oregano, and onion powder.
However, though it’s not a must, I’d still recommend adding some citrus zest to your adobo mix. Doing so can really take the taste to the next level and give your dish new depths.
I want to reiterate that since making your own adobo mix is also easy and quick, the best substitute to the store-bought stuff is undoubtedly your homemade blend. The other substitutions, though handy in a pinch, will never replicate adobo’s exact aroma and flavor profile.
For more, don’t miss 6 Substitutes for Black Pepper to Spice up Your Cooking.
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
She has a professional canning business and has been featured in the local newspaper, and has been her family canner for decades. Anyone growing up in the South knows that there is always a person in the family who has knowledge of the “old ways,” and this is exactly what Anne is.
With over 55 years of experience in these endeavors, she brings a level of hands-on knowledge that is hard to surpass.
Lovingly known as “Jelly Grandma” by her grandkids, Anne hopes your visit here has been a sweet one.