What Is Adobo Seasoning? The Story Behind The Spice

| Last Updated: May 29, 2020 |

Adobo seasoning is a staple spice blend popular with Latin and Caribbean cooks. The adobo part of the name comes from the Spanish word adobar, which means marinate or marinade. It comes from the Spanish and Portuguese practice of pickling meats with vinegar and spices.

Adobar was used as a way to preserve perishable food centuries before refrigeration became an option. The earliest adobo seasoning blends contained a lot of paprika. Paprika contains antioxidants that help to slow spoilage. These days, it is used mostly as a seasoning rather than for preservation.  

Note that the adobo seasoning used in Latin America and the English-speaking Caribbean has no relation to Filipino adobo, a dish marinated and cooked in vinegar and soy sauce. The two share the same root word but are not otherwise connected. Adobo seasoning also differs from the adobo sauce that is a popular ingredient in Mexican cooking. 

Adobo seasoning can be in the form of a wet (adobo mojado) or dry rub (adobo seco), with the dry rub being the more popular of the two. Most people who refer to adobo seasoning mean Puerto Rican-style adobo seco. Adobo seasoning is a replication of the spice component in the original Spanish adobar mixture. 

The adobo seasoning from Goya is the most popular in the Caribbean. While the original Goya seasoning mix contains no ingredients native to the New World, other blends include mesoamerican ingredients like chile peppers. Paprika is a significant feature in some adobo seasoning recipes. 

What does adobo seasoning taste like?

As with most traditional powdered seasoning blends around for a while, adobo seasoning’s ingredients can vary depending on location and a manufacturer’s recipe or a cook’s personal preferences. As a result, the flavor profiles do tend to vary.

The classic Goya version of adobo seasoning contains garlic powder, oregano, and black pepper along with cumin and onion powder. Some variants include citrus zest or annatto. The result is always an earthy, nutty blend of classic savory flavors. You should note that commercial adobo seasoning usually also contains sodium in the form of table salt and monosodium glutamate. 

How spicy is adobo seasoning?

The original Goya adobo seasoning is mild and contains only black pepper as a source of heat. Most home cooks in Latin America and the Caribbean add heat separately in the form of chili powder or hot peppers like habaneros and scotch bonnets. If you are making your own adobo seasoning, you can use a hot pepper powder to the other ingredients to get a spicy version. 

What are common uses for adobo seasoning?

The best way to use adobo seasoning is as a dry rub for roasted or grilled meats, but it also works well in stews and other braised dishes. You can use it for cooking any kind of protein, including seafood and poultry, as well as chicken, pork, and beef. Remember that commercial adobo seasoning often contains salt, so adjust any other salt in your recipes to compensate.

Adobo seasoning is the dry rub of choice for most forms of the Puerto Rican pork shoulder dish called pernil asado. You can also use it in pollo guisado, which is consumed throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. Adobo seasoning also works well as a general-purpose dry rub that can be used in place of (or along with) Jamaican jerk seasoning, or on in a standard barbecue dry rub. Many Puerto Rican households use it as the main seasoning on their Thanksgiving turkey. 

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