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Over the past year, so many interesting conversations about Creole and Cajun cooking between myself and Paella Clubbers have been heard across the kitchen and dining table, that I’ve been inspired to delve deeper into the subject and share the knowledge that has been picked up and learnt along the way.


There are subtle differences between both Creole and Cajun cuisine and culture and although they continue to coexist, they can often be placed in the same basket. So, let’s explore and further understand the differences and similarities while our mouths water over the rich culinary history of each one.


The term ‘Creole’ can refer to different mixes of cultures in different parts of the world and are relevant respectively. So, to avoid confusion I would like to focus specifically on the melting pot of culture and cuisine in the state of Louisiana in the United States of America.


Creole culture began its formation in North America during the 18th century colonial period and is closely associated with, and rooted in New Orleans. 


Louisiana Creole cuisine is an interesting blend of West African, French, Spanish and Native American roots, with French being the strongest influence. 


The term ‘Cajun’ originates from the term “les Acadiens,” which was used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada. This region consisted of present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. After the British conquest of Acadia in the 1700’s, the Cajuns were forcibly removed and migrated south where they have since occupied and influenced four different areas of South Louisiana. 


Cajuns have retained a dialect of the French language and have often been described as a rustic culture whose way of life is strongly influenced by fishing, farming, hunting and living off the land.


Cajun cuisine is known for its intense heartiness and spicy notes. Cajun spice is a well known ingredient of this cuisine and is a blend of cayenne pepper, salt, black pepper and garlic powder. Some blends also use paprika, onion powder and different herbs like oregano and rosemary.

 Cajun Spice


It would seem that Creole cuisine offers a lot more variety than Cajun cuisine. The main reasons would be the early availability of exotic ingredients to the Creoles and also the vast mix of cultures which have contributed to the cuisine. As Creole cooks often worked in the houses of the wealthier population, their access to ingredients and resources was greater than the Cajuns. 


One obvious difference between the two cuisines is that Creole recipes will use tomatoes and tomato based sauces and Cajun recipes do not – as Creole cooks had access to canned tomatoes from Sicily. 

 Fresh tomatoes are used in Creole cuisine


This is the difference between a Creole or Cajun Jambalaya for example, and over the course of history the two cuisines have crossed paths and continue to be influenced by one another.


Let’s look at two star dishes of each cuisine and understand the subtle differences.


Jambalaya is a signature dish of Creole cuisine and is a one-pot meal representing a dry stew or even a paella in many ways, and features cooked rice with vegetables and almost any kind of meat. Chicken and andouille sausage are commonly used, with the other base ingredients being tomatoes, onions, peppers, and garlic. The final result of the cooking process will be much less soupy or saucy than a gumbo.

Gumbo is the official dish of Louisiana.


Fresh ingredients for seafood and sausage Gumbo


Gumbo could be seen as the star of Cajun cuisine, and can be described as a deep and dark soup or stew made with shellfish, meat, different types of sausage and okra. The stock or broth used is always bursting with flavour and is thickened with a Cajun style roux using oil and flour, as opposed to the traditional French way of making a roux with flour and butter. The roux in a Gumbo is cooked for around 30-45 minutes to achieve a very dark brown colour. 


The ‘holy trinity’ is the starting point for the cooking process of a Gumbo, which is a mix of onion, celery and bell peppers. 

Holy Trinity – Onion, celery, bell peppers


The rice is always cooked and served separately, whereas in a Jambalaya the rice is cooked with the stew in the same pot. Three common versions of gumbo are chicken, seafood and sausage, however the dish is extremely versatile and the proteins can also be mixed together to create an alternative dish.


 Freshly made bowl of seafood and sausage gumbo with brown rice


The only way to get true Cajun and Creole cuisine is to travel to Louisiana and eat in restaurants or the homes of the locals. 


A simple way to refer to each cuisine is that Creole food is ‘city food’ and Cajun food is ‘country food’. While many of the ingredients in both cuisines are similar, it is the people behind each of these famous cuisines which makes them what they are. Cajun and Creole are two distinct cultures which continue to blend, and there is still a vast distinction in Louisiana and both have their own unique journey, stories and place in history.


If you are from Louisiana, and of course love these famous cuisines, we would love to hear your feedback!


See you again soon at The Paella Club!


Mark Chisholm


Professional Chef, Writer and Paella Club Instructor 





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