A look at the history of the seasoning considered the “flavor of Thanksgiving” by many.

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An illustration of Bell's Seasoning
Credit: Illustration by Amy C. Evans

Everything old is new again. Or so the saying goes.  And lately, Bell’s Seasoning, the iconic poultry seasoning blend considered the “flavor of Thanksgiving” by many, is feeling fresh again. It hit the market in 1867, and is still on the shelf, remarkably using the same blend of spices and its vibrant original packaging.

Chef John Critchley, Corporate Executive Chef for Bell’s Seasoning, claims it’s the warm blend of spices and comforting smell that makes it popular. “And that’s not in a pumpkin spice way,” he said. He also ties the resurgence of its popularity to the fact that it has no salt or MSG. “Spice blends in general have become really popular recently and people are always looking for more healthful ways to get maximum flavor,” he said. “The majority of other seasonings on the market are made with around 40 percent salt, which is extremely high,” he said.

The Thanksgiving go-to was invented by William G. Bell in Boston in 1867 and is a blend of herbs and spices, including rosemary, oregano, sage, ginger, marjoram, thyme and pepper. And just like the original, it is gluten-free, vegan and contains no additives or preservatives, salt or artificial ingredients.

“I remember seeing a box of Bell’s in my mother’s pantry year after year. I remember loving the box with its red, yellow, green and blue graphics, the turkey looking like an oversized duck,” said Kathy Gunst, Resident Chef for NPR’s Here and Now and author of numerous cookbooks.

Beyond turkey, Gunst said the blend would work well on slow roasted tomatoes, grilled peaches and in vegetable soup. Critchley said one of his favorite ways to use Bell’s is to combine it with olive oil and fresh herbs to create a “Bell’s Boost,” which enhances chimichurri or garlic butter.

“But why has it lasted so long? Tradition? No additives? An age-old recipe? The fabulous vintage graphics?” asked Gunst. “I suspect it has to do with family memories being passed down, like recipes, around a box of spices and seasonings.”