What Is Adobo Seasoning?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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Adobo seasoning is an all-purpose seasoning and marinade used in Spanish cuisine as well as in a specific method of Filipino food preparation. The Spanish marinade is a stock or blend of different ingredients such as oregano, garlic, and black peppercorns that is used to preserve raw food and to flavor it prior to cooking. The Spanish named a similar but unrelated Filipino flavoring and cooking method adobo after conquering the Philippines in the late 16th century. The distinct Filipino adobo seasoning flavor is used in a meal of meat or seafood marinated in vinegar and garlic and then browned in oil.

The primary spice in Spanish adobo seasoning is paprika. This is what gives the marinade its distinctive red color. Oregano, garlic, and salt add additional flavor. The base of the marinade is vinegar. This marinade is widely used throughout the former Spanish colonies on the American continent. As a result, recipes for adobo seasoning vary significantly between regions and can include ground chipotle chiles and cumin.

The Spanish developed this marinade prior to refrigeration when fish and meat were more difficult to preserve. Paprika has antibacterial properties that, along with vinegar, help extend the shelf life of foods that would otherwise spoil quickly. With the advent of refrigeration, adobo seasoning shifted from a preservative to a flavoring and marinade applied before cooking.


This seasoning blend is used to flavor everything from french fries to black soybeans. Recipes for adobo are available in many Latin cuisine and barbecue cookbooks. Premade adobo can also be purchased in most grocery stores, although the spice blend may differ depending on the product’s origin.

After the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the late 16th century, they discovered a marinade superficially similar to their own adobo seasoning and gave it the same name. The two types of adobo seasoning are not synonymous. The original term for this Filipino dish and method of food preparation and marinade is lost. Unlike the Spanish seasoning that is added to a variety of marinated dishes, the Filipino method uses it in a specific meal.

The Filipino adobo typically includes pork or chicken cooked slowly in vinegar and soy sauce. Crushed garlic, black peppercorns, and bay leaf form the core of this type of seasoning. The dish is then pan friend or browned in the oven until crispy. The vinegar inhibits bacterial growth, giving this dish a long shelf life.

In addition to its use in Filipino cuisine, the flavor of adobo seasoning has been developed for commercial products. It is used to market many snack foods throughout the Philippines. Nuts, chips, and soups can all be made and sold as adobo flavored.


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