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.
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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.
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 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 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.