What’s the Difference Between Cajun and Creole Food?

Confused about the difference between Cajun vs. Creole food? This is a crash course in Louisiana's most famous cuisines.

Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.

If you find yourself with a hankering for Louisiana recipes, chances are good you’ll accidentally call something Cajun that’s actually Creole. It’s a common mistake, as the two cuisines share similar ingredients and a passion for excellent food. But Cajun vs. Creole is about more than gastronomy. Each represents a distinct, incredibly rich culture that takes a lot of pride in its heritage and traditions.

So how do you know which gorgeous flavors found in jambalaya, gumbo and bisque are part of Cajun cuisine, and which identify as Creole?

Cajun vs. Creole

These two cuisines are strikingly similar, so it’s often hard to tell the difference. You may hear Creole cuisine referred to as “city food” and Cajun as “country food,” so that’s an easy way to get a heads-up. While the spice profiles are generally similar, you’ll find that Creole food is a little richer and may contain more butter or creamy sauces.

One major clue about the cuisine centers around a single ingredient: tomatoes. Generally, Creole dishes use tomatoes and tomato-based sauces while Cajun cuisine traditionally does not.

Cajun vs. Creole Seasoning

Both Creole and Cajun seasoning consists of black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper and smoky paprika. Creole seasoning adds dried herbs to the mix, like thyme and oregano. You can make your own at home, or look to a store-bought brand. Popular options include Slap Ya Mama, Tony Chachere’s and Zatarain’s.

What Is Cajun Cuisine?

Cajun cooking is influenced by traditional French cuisine. The word Cajun has its origins in the French les Acadiens—a group of Acadian settlers from present-day Nova Scotia who settled in rural South Louisiana in the 18th century. Being farther away from large trading hubs, the Cajuns looked to the land and the ingredients available to them.

This cuisine is based on generous seasoning and uses plenty of meat, including seafood (especially shellfish), game and pork. In their rural surroundings, Cajun cooks excelled at using every part of an animal, and they were well known for smoking meat (like tasso ham or andouille sausage).

Cajun Food

Cajun food is rich in herbs and spices like garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, smoked paprika and cayenne pepper. You’ll find the famous Cajun “Holy Trinity” in most dishes, a combination of onion, bell pepper and celery that creates a flavorful base for dishes like jambalaya. Cajun dishes tend to contain a lot of smoked meat or be meat-heavy, like gumbo, crawfish boils or rice-filled boudin pork sausages.

What Is Creole Cuisine?

Creole culture is the older of the two, and it’s a little harder to define. It dates back to when New Orleans was first settled, and it came together from a blend of Spanish, African, Portuguese, Italian, Native American and Caribbean influences. Creole has its origins in the Big Easy, a bustling city where people could get a hold of a wider variety of ingredients, including butter, dried spices and tomatoes.

Creole Food

Creole food uses many of the same spices as Cajun food, but in general, they aren’t used as abundantly. Being located in the city, Creole cooks had more access to exotic ingredients, making the cuisine slightly richer and more complex due to the use of cream and butter.

You’ll find creamy sauces like rémoulade and buttery grits as part of Creole meals. Creole gumbo tends to be thickened with a flour and butter roux (compared to Cajun’s oil and flour roux), and they have their own version of jambalaya that contains tomatoes. The cuisine contains a lot of seafood, featuring shrimp, fish (like redfish, crawfish, oysters) and even turtle meat.

Need some inspiration? Try our favorite New Orleans-inspired dishes.

Lindsay D. Mattison
Lindsay has been writing for digital publications for seven years and has 10 years of experience working as a professional chef. She became a full-time food writer at Taste of Home in 2023, although she’s been a regular contributor since 2017. Throughout her career, Lindsay has been a freelance writer and recipe developer for multiple publications, including Wide Open Media, Tasting Table, Mashed and SkinnyMs. Lindsay is an accomplished product tester and spent six years as a freelance product tester at Reviewed (part of the USA Today network). She has tested everything from cooking gadgets to knives, cookware sets, meat thermometers, pizza ovens and more than 60 grills (including charcoal, gas, kamado, smoker and pellet grills). Lindsay still cooks professionally for pop-up events, especially when she can highlight local, seasonal ingredients. As a writer, Lindsay loves sharing her skills and experience with home cooks. She aspires to motivate others to gain confidence in the kitchen. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her cooking with fresh produce from the farmers market or planning a trip to discover the best new restaurants.