Cajun and Creole both have their roots firmly planted in Louisiana, but let’s find out what the actual difference is between them.
Of course, both food styles derive from the people with the same names, both of whom are primarily French. However, Creole food is influenced by a multitude of ethnic groups.
- French (French Canadian)
- Native American
- French (upper class)
- Spanish (upper class)
- Native American
- West African
In addition to being more diverse, Creole food is also heavily city-oriented (New Orleans, specifically); Cajun food is more associated with rural, small-town folks.
The Chicago Tribune says, “Where the Cajuns were typifying a ‘locally driven’ menu, making simple yet sustainable meals in a single pot with ingredients available to them, the. . .Creoles took advantage of an aristocratic heritage, the many exotic ingredients the Gulf/Caribbean trade system was bringing to their rapidly urbanizing city and gastronomy lessons from other cultures.”
So, Cajun is country and Creole is city, to put it simply. What else?
Most Cajun dishes start out with the “holy trinity:” onion, celery, and bell pepper. Clearly, this is a nod to their simple approach, using inexpensive, on-hand produce.
You may remember from the difference between gumbo and jambalaya that the Cajun versions of each are tomato-less. Along the same lines, their roux are different: Creoles had access to dairy products, and made roux from butter and flour; Cajun roux is lard or oil and flour. (You can check out further differences between Cajun and Creole on that post as well.)
Furthermore, Cajun dishes are usually reported to be more spicy than Creole, but this is not always the case.
I examined three recipes each of Cajun seasoning and Creole seasoning and found them both to include cayenne pepper, but not excessive amounts of it; one was not clearly spicier than the other. In fact, the two seasonings often contain the same ingredients, just in varying amounts.
The big difference I noticed here was that Creole seasoning tends to have more paprika than any other ingredient. Cajun seasoning tends to rely heavily on peppers and a little less on herbs – although again, not necessarily cayenne or red peppers. Bell peppers, black pepper, and white pepper can also be used.
In conclusion: Cajun food is born from country folks who make use of basic ingredients they have on hand; no tomatoes allowed. Creole food is more elite, born from an urban environment, with numerous nationalities contributing to the palate.