Creole vs. Cajun — What’s the difference?

Welcome to another addition of the unofficial category here loosely titled “An Education in Food.” In this (a favorite) category, I remind you all that I have zero culinary training (save for some Sur La Table and similar classes and a whole lot of recipe-pinning and reading), discover something about food, wine, or the culture around either, learn it, and then share it with you.

Today’s edition?

Creole vs. Cajun – What’s the Difference?

I’ve looked this up a number of times, so I figured it was time to commit it to memory (or at least, the blog archives). And if you’re traveling to the bayou and want to sample both Cajun and Creole cooking, check out these good eats in New Orleans. So, here we go.

Creole

The word Creole refers to New Orleans’ original European settlers (mostly French and Spanish, but also including those of Italian, German, Native American, Caribbean, Portuguese, and African descent) in French colonial Louisiana. They were mostly wealthy and arisotcratic, and many brought their own chefs from European capitals. This high-brow heritage would influence Creole food as we know it, food that is rich in variety and flavor, and is much more complicated than its simple Cajun counterpart.

Cajun

Cajun, on the other hand, is a nod to French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada (today, this area includes New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). These colonists were called les Acadians, and they migrated to an area of Louisiana now known as Acadiana following the British conquest of Acadia in the early 1700s.

In addition to a food culture drawn from the area (including flatlands and bayous), Cajuns also created their own Cajun French music and language unique to this group and location.

So, what about the food?

Creole food is a reflection of many rich, diverse cultures, and is considered a bit higher-brow than its Cajun counterpart. It’s more involved and varied, while Cajun food is much simpler. Examples of common Creole seasonings and ingredients include okra, spices, red peppers, garlic, tomatoes, black pepper, mustard, and potatoes. This more refined, luxurious food (originally prepared by servants with extensive access to time and exotic resources and seasonings) includes a lot of butter, cream, seafood (except shellfish), herbs, and garlic. For this reason, Creole food includes a number of rich sauces (like remoulade) and time-intensive dishes (like jambalaya).

Cajun food is famous for its seasoning, and this goes far beyond “spicy.” These dishes and flavors often start with a mirepoix (though they use bell pepper instead of carrots — something I want to try next time I make soup!), and then go on to include green onions, garlic, paprika, thyme, ground sassafras roots, and parsley. Upon their relocation to southwest Louisiana from Canada, they were met with a completely new terrain (swamps, bayous, and prairies) that included some exotic forms of meat, game, fish, produce, and grains. Applying their French cooking techniques to these new ingredients, Cajun cooking was born.

While Cajun food certainly includes spices and peppers, that’s just one element of this cuisine, and its important to think beyond “hot and spicy” when thinking about Cajun food.

So, there you go! Creole — a bit more complicated, upscale (in history, anyway) cuisine from the wealthy early settlers of New Orleans. Cajun, on the other hand, is the French-style cooking applied to locally available foods and seasonings in southwestern Louisiana, created by a group of people who were forced to leave their Acadian homes and relocate to America’s south.

This post was written in collaboration with Courtney Black.

doniree

Doniree is based in Portland, Oregon, where she is pretty damn thrilled about the Pacific Northwest's focus on local and seasonal food and great wine. When she's not at home, she's on the hunt for the best brunch, the best happy hour, and the best whiskey bar a city has to offer.

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