Cajun vs Creole: So What’s The Difference?


If you’re a fan of Louisiana cooking, you’ve likely heard the terms Cajun and Creole used interchangeably. Is that accurate? Are they two words that mean the same thing?

The Short Answer

No, Cajun and Creole are completely different from one another.

The Long Answer

It’s easy for those of us who don’t hang our hats in Louisiana to confuse Cajun and Creole foods. They’re similar looking words and many of New Orleans’ more famous dishes come in both Cajun and Creole varieties. However, these two cultures and ways of cooking are vastly different from one another.

People in Louisiana take their food seriously. Meal time is a big part of the culture in the deep South. It’s a time to pull up a chair and really get to know each other better. The best kinds of people always connect over food that way.

Louisianians also have a lot to be proud of in their food. Cajun and Creole food is some of the most beloved in the whole country.

Their foods are also deeply tied to the history of the people who make them. It’s that very history that shapes what the food is. That same history also defines the difference between Cajun and Creole foods. So, why do we need an article about the differences between them? Well, they often get confused for one another, much to the exasperation of many a native Louisianian.

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Why Do Creole and Cajun Food Get Confused For One Another?

Firstly, there’s the obvious fact that they come from the same region of the United States. They’re both exports from Louisiana.

Because they come from the same area, they also have many of the same ingredients. Some of these ingredients are rarer in other parts of the United States. By that same token, ingredients that are plentiful in the rest of the country weren’t always available in Louisiana. People of the area had to create their own unique recipes based on what they had.

They also use a lot of similar recipes with their own Creole and Cajun versions of each. For example, there are both Cajun and Creole versions of gumbo and jambalaya, quintessential meals from the Louisiana region.

Another reason they can be confused is that they both are greatly influenced by French cuisine. In fact, Creole and Cajun dishes both have French origins.

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Who Were The Creole People?

The term “Creole” describes the population of people who were born to settlers specifically in New Orleans in the 18th century. Creoles consisted of the descendents of the French and Spanish upper class that ruled the city. Over the years, the term Creole grew to include “native” born slaves of African descent as well as free people of color.

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Who Were The Cajun People?

The word “Cajun ” originates from the term les Acadiers which was used to describe French colonists who settled in the Acadia region of Canada (consisting of present-day New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia). With the British conquest of Acadia in the mid-1700s, the Arcadians were forcibly removed from their home for refusing to pledge allegiance to England in what became known as Le Grand Derangement, or the Great Upheaval. Many Acadians eventually settled in the swampy regions of Louisiana that is known today as Acadiana.

(Bourdin Sausage)

Cajun Food

The Acadians were an extremely resourceful people who combined the use of the flatlands, bayous, and wild game of South Louisiana with its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico to create a truly unique local cuisine.

While many Acadiana residents today have African, Native American, German, French, or Italian roots, among others (which have all influenced Louisiana cuisine in their own way) their way of life is strongly influenced by the Cajun culture.

With no access to modern luxuries like refrigerators, early Cajuns learned to make use of every part of a slaughtered animal. Bourdin, a type of Cajun sausage which consists of pork meat, rice, and seasoning stuffed into a casing, also commonly contains pig liver for a little extra flavor.

Tasso and Andouille are two other Cajun pork products that use salts and smoke as preservatives.

Seasoning is one of the most important parts of Cajun cooking and that comes from much more than a heavy helping of cayenne pepper.

Most dishes begin with a medley of vegetables based on the French mirepoix. “The holy trinity of Cajun cuisine” utilizes onion, celery, and bell pepper (rather than carrots) to provide a flavor base for many dishes.

Garlic is never far away from any stove. Paprika, thyme, file (ground sassafras leaves), parsley, green onion, and much more are also very common ingredients in Cajun kitchens.

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Creole Food

Like the people, Creole food is a blend of the various cultures of New Orleans including French, Italian, Spanish, African, German, Native American, Caribbean, and Portuguese to name a few. Creole cuisine is thought of as a little higher brow or aristocratic compared to Cajun.

Traditionally, slaves in the kitchen of well-to-do members of society prepared the food. Due to the abundance of time and resources, the dishes consisted of an array of spices from various regions and creamy soups and sauces. A remoulade sauce for example (which consists of nearly a dozen ingredients) would not typically be found in Cajun kitchens.

Creole cuisine has a bit more variety because of easier access to ingredients. Creoles had exotic ingredients and a wide mix of cultures that contributed to the cuisine. That’s why you find tomatoes on Creole jambalaya and not in Cajun jambalaya or why a lot of times you find a Creole roux made with butter and flour while a Cajun roux is made with oil and flour.

Creole vs. Cajun, the Main Difference

Things are much easier to remember when simple, right? So, to simplify the differences between Creole and Cajun cooking (even without digging into the flavor, ingredients, and methods) Louisianans refer to Creole cooking as “City Food” from New Orleans and Cajun cooking as “Country Food” from the rural areas of Southern Louisiana.

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Ingredients and Cooking Styles

Creole cooking uses a wide variety of ingredients like shellfish, snapper, pompano, and other forms of seafood, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic. Their cooks also adapted European cooking by using native meats and produce including mirlitons and cushaw, sugar cane, and pecans.

The Creole style tends to be more refined, delicate and luxurious. They also have rich sauces, elegant pureed bisques, and time consuming soups, brunch dishes, and desserts.

On the other hand, Cajuns adapted to swamps, prairies, and bayous. And that meant adapting to new meat, game, fish, produce, and grains.

When Cajuns applied their French cooking techniques to these new ingredients, it became known as one of the world’s most unique cuisines. Even restaurants and fast food establishments across the country had versions of Cajun dishes.

But then many restaurants misrepresented Cajun food by making it unbearably hot and calling it Cajun. While hot pepper and spices are essential elements of Cajun cuisine, they’re not the most important.

Similarities Between Cajun and Creole Cuisine

The similarities between Cajun and Creole cuisines are found in their techniques of fusing flavors from different cultures, specifically flavors from France, Africa, and Native Americans.

One way these two types of cooking reflect this similar fusion of flavors is in dishes like gumbo and jambalaya. However, while the basic concept of these two dishes is similar, they each have their own unique ways of preparing them.

The difference in preparing these two traditional dishes in both Cajun and Creole cooking reflects the historical differences between these two groups of people and their cuisine. The differences in their cultural history and place in society are greatly reflected in the different ingredients they use for cooking.

Differences Between Cajun and Creole Cuisine

The biggest difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine is seen in the ingredients used. The ingredients used by each group of people reflect what they both had access to when they originally settled in Louisiana.

The most common place this difference is seen is in the fat base for Cajun and Creole cooking. Cajun cuisine uses lard or oil as the base for beginning most of its recipes. However, Creole cooking is primarily focused on using butter as the base for cooking.

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Cajun Gumbo vs. Creole Gumbo

The difference between using lard/oil and butter is significant because it provides the base flavor and texture for many dishes, specifically the roux that is used to begin cooking gumbo or jambalaya.

Remember, both Cajun and Creole cuisines include gumbo and jambalaya. How each one is made, though, is what shows their different histories, beginning with the roux.

Cajun recipes use oil or lard and flour to create a roux. This provides a neutral base to build the rest of the dish around, without adding any additional flavor.

Creole recipes use butter and flour to make a roux. This difference from the Cajun roux is because the butter imparts a rich and savory flavor to the sauce being prepared.

Moreover, while both types of cuisine use a roux in many of their dishes, Cajun cuisine is traditionally the only one to use it in gumbo. Cajun gumbo starts with a roux that is turned into a rich and savory stew with the addition of broth.

On the other hand, Creole gumbo has a tomato base. Therefore, rather than a thick stew, it has a soup-like consistency.

Cajun Seasoning vs. Creole Seasoning

Cajun and Creole cuisines share many of the same seasonings. However, Creole cuisine includes more herbs while Cajun cuisine includes more spices.

Common Cajun Seasonings

  • Ground black pepper
  • White pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Onion powder
  • Garlic powder
  • Paprika

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Common Creole Seasonings

  • Black pepper
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Cayenne pepper (in small amounts)
  • Thyme
  • Basil 
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Bay leaves
  • Rosemary

Typically Cajun food is spicier than Creole food. Unfortunately, over the last few decades there has been a rise in thinking that Cajun food just means spicy food. As we mentioned above, this is not true. Simply adding a ton of spicy seasonings does not make good Cajun food.

Mouthwatering Creole and Cajun Recipes

More important than the origins and differences between Creole and Cajun cooking is knowing how to create them. No worries, we have you covered. With the help of Ryan Boudreaux’s The Easy Creole and Cajun Cookbook you could soon transform your kitchen into a Louisiana paradise!

The Easy Creole and Cajun Cookbook by Ryan Boudreaux

If you are feeling hesitant about attempting Creole/Cajun cooking, the 50 recipes in Boudreaux’s cookbook are a great place to start. With “easy” in the title, this cookbook offers recipes that can be prepared in less than an hour without compromising authenticity or quality.

Prioritizing affordable, easy-to-access ingredients that any cook can acquire (where, exactly would one purchase alligator meat?) Boudreaux’s recipes are sure to make the novice Creole/Cajun chef’s life a little easier.

At their best, both Cajun and Creole cuisines draw from the abundance of Louisiana’s resources and are nurtured by cultures that celebrate the role of good food in family and social life. Compelling and deeply satisfying even on their own, when the two traditions get together they can throw an unbeatable culinary party.