Depending on where in the world you are from, Adobo could mean a number of different things to you. This could be a Southeast-Asian sweet and sour dish, a wet rub comprised of various seasonings, or even a peppered sauce used in sauces and baking.
Usually when we refer to Adobo in western cuisine, most of the time we mean a particular dry/powder seasoning which is essentially a blend of dry spices.
With it being such a specialized kind of spice, sometimes it can be difficult to source in regular grocery stores. So today we’ve prepared a list of the best Adobo seasoning substitutes you can use. So you’ll never be left short on a great dry seasoning to spice up your dish.
The best substitutes for Adobo Seasoning
The exact content of this spice blend can vary greatly from manufacturer to recipe. But the general idea is that it’s a ground mixture of garlic, onion, pepper, and oregano. It may also contain a few other things to customize and make the flavor a bit more special.
With it being such a great savory spice to help give your meal some of that all-important Latin flare, it works well on many kinds of dishes. You can sprinkle it on meat as you sear it, or add it to stews, sauces, and soups.
Because of its liberal use of ingredients, it means the core taste of Adobo is not that rigid, leaving us free to take a few liberties with the flavors. This makes it very easy to get similar qualities and flavor profiles using alternatives.
Plus, all the ingredients that combine to create the ‘whole’ that is Adobo seasoning are very common and easy to source! So here are your best options when it comes to some alternatives.
1. DIY homemade Adobo seasoning
Making your own ‘homemade’ version of something is not always a viable option, the whole reason we need a substitute is that the ingredients were not easily accessible in the first place.
Adobo seasoning doesn’t fall under this category. Because it’s comprised of all fairly standard individual seasonings which are then combined to make the Adobo seasoning, making some by ourselves isn’t actually that difficult!
Now the exact ingredients you use can vary as Adobo seasoning isn’t a 100% ‘fixed’ seasoning, so you might need to do some solo research to find out exactly what you want in yours.
But as a general rule, it’s comprised of salt, paprika, ground black pepper, onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, and chili powder.
As you can see these ingredients are, individually, quite common. You can simply combine all those together, give them a good mix, and hey presto, your very own homemade Adobo seasoning!
2. Adobo Paste or Sauce
We mentioned previously that not every incarnation of Adobo paste is of the dry, powdered variety.
It also comes in a wet form which is used in various dishes such as soups. Since it’s fundamentally using all the same spices it yields a very similar taste and makes a great substitute for powdered seasoning.
However, this can’t be used across the board for any recipe. Because of the water content, it’s not always going to provide the correct texture for the dish you’re cooking.
But for other dishes, particularly if they utilize any kind of oil or watery ingredients you may want to consider reducing them slightly to compensate for the added wetness of the Adobo sauce.
Adobo paste may also have additional ingredients such as vinegar or added sugar depending on the brand you purchase, so be sure to read the ingredient list to ensure you get one that’s as close to the powered form in terms of taste as possible.
3. Chili powder
Providing you can find the right brand, chili powder makes a very good substitute because it contains many of the ingredients you will find in Adobo seasoning.
This includes things like black pepper, garlic, cumin, and oregano which is going to give it a remarkably similar taste to Adobo seasoning.
Not only that, but it’s also one of the most accessible suggestions on this list, you should have no trouble finding Chili Powder at any local supermarket regardless of what country you are from.
The main thing that will make it differ is in the color, Adobo seasoning usually has a bright, yellowish color while chili powder tends to lean more towards deep orange and reddish colors.
Providing you can forgive the appearance, taste, and texture-wise it’s an excellent choice.
4. Cajun Seasoning
For similar reasons to the chili powder, the right Cajun blend can also be used as a very respectable Adobo substitute.
This is because it shares many of the same ingredients. Including things like black pepper, garlic, and oregano.
Of course, Cajun seasoning also has some extra added ingredients so it’s going to have its own uniqueness to it, but who says that’s a bad thing?
Cajun seasoning primarily works best on any kind of savory meal and it can simply be used as a 1:1 substitute. In particular, for any kind of grilled or smoked meat, you’ll be very pleased with it!
5. Greek seasoning
Greek seasoning, otherwise known as ‘Greek spice’ is a Mediterranean spice blend that makes use of things such as marjoram, oregano, basil, dill, and thyme.
Obviously, these ingredients differ quite a bit from that of Adobo and it will yield even more of a different taste than cajun seasoning.
But don’t let that put you off, it still contains many of the same base ingredients as adobo including the black pepper and garlic.
So feel free to use this as another 1:1 substitute if it’s all you have to hand.
6. Caribbean curry
This one can be a bit hit or miss. Firstly you need to consider whether it’s in powder form or a cube that gets dissolved in water, as this will dictate what kind of meals it’s appropriate for.
But this is a particularly good option if you are fond of milder and more toned down flavors. It uses additional spices such as coriander, ginger, turmeric, and even some cayenne if you get a hot one.
It presents a really flavorful palette that works fantastically on most of the meals you’d use Adobo seasoning on.
Feel free to use it as a dry rub for your meats, or if you only have it in liquid form it can also act as a really good marinate.
7. Caribbean Jerk seasoning
Not the most accessible substitute on this list due to only really being widespread and available in the Caribbean. If you see some at your local store be sure to grab it because it works as a great seasoning.
Using ingredients such as thyme, allspice, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and black pepper, it does a great job of spicing your meal up in a similar way to the Adobo seasoning.
It does add a bit of heat to whatever you use it with, and also gives a slightly smokey quality to it. But this is not a bad thing, it provides a slightly more unique flavor compared to the Adobo seasoning and really works great on things like chicken or pork.
8. Chipotle in Adobo sauce
We’re not just trying to straight-up list Adobo sauce here as a substitute, chipotle peppers in adobo sauce are a real thing and are considered a separate kind of product.
Now of course making use of the chipotle peppers makes it significantly more spicy than adobo seasoning, so providing that’s appropriate for the kind of meal you are making it’s a really good choice.
But the added use of smoked jalapenos is really delicious and well worth trying out in place of adobo seasoning.
How to choose the best Adobo seasoning substitute
While many of these substitutes can get you fairly close, there are definitely some choices that are more appropriate than others depending on what kind of meal you’re making.
It depends on whether you want a wet or dry seasoning, and how much heat and spice are appropriate for your guests.
So here is a quick rundown of which substitutes are the best choices, based on a wide range of criteria so you can make the most informed choice when deciding which substitute is best for you.
Hands down the best flavor are going to be the ‘homemade Adobo seasoning’. Not only is it going to contain all the same spices you’d find used in the real, store-bought version. If there is any aspect of it that you don’t like, you can simply use less of that particular ingredient.
So not only can you accurately match the flavor, you could potentially surpass it if you know what you want from it.
Of course, this does mean you need to have access to all the ingredients, but fortunately, they’re all common enough that you may well very have most of them on your spice rack already.
We have provided a range of substitutes that are in both powdered and wet forms.
But if the texture of the seasoning is very important to you, for example, if it’s to be used as a dry meat rub or a liquid marinade, we recommend the homemade Adobo seasoning or chili powder for a dry substitute, and the Adobo paste if you need a wet substitute.
The key is to identify which kind of texture is most appropriate for your meal and then choose accordingly.
For those on a budget, chili powder is going to be your cheapest option simply because it’s so common. It’s in every grocery store and is produced in huge quantities, meaning the price is far lower than that of specialized seasonings such as the cajun or Caribbean jerk seasonings.
Chili powder is the best choice here once again, because of how common it is you will be able to find this absolutely everywhere without issue.
Our top pick
If you need just a single, reliable substitute that’s as close as possible in all areas, from taste to texture, homemade Adobo seasoning is your best option.
It’s made from easy-to-source ingredients and keeps for a long time, making it an ideal seasoning to prepare in bulk and store on your spice rack for a long time.