If you've ever visited southern Louisiana and New Orleans in particular, you know the food there is both outstanding and not like what you find in any other part of the country, not even other parts of the South. Traditional cooking here generally identifies as Cajun or Creole - and the two are not the same. The simplest way to describe the difference between Creole and Cajun food is city and country. While there are similarities between the two, the style of cooking and the seasoning is different. Creole seasoning tends to rely on herbs, while Cajun seasoning focuses more on spices.
To understand the difference between the two styles, you have to know a little about where they come from. Cajuns are descended from French-Canadian settlers who settled in Nova Scotia in the early 1600s. After the Seven Years War, France gave that part of Canada to Great Britain as part of their treaty and those French-Canadian people eventually made their way to southern Louisiana.
Creole specifically means "born in the colonies." At first, it was used to refer to people of French and Spanish descent who were born in New Orleans, but it evolved to describe people of mixed African and European descent. Both Cajun and Creole foods are influenced by a complex mix of French, African and Native American traditions and cooking styles. One (very basic) way to think of the difference between the two styles is that Cajun tends to be rustic and Creole tends to be gourmet.
Creole seasoning tends to be milder and focuses on herbs. Creole seasoning blends typically include oregano, thyme, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, or white pepper. Some cooks might also include bay leaf, marjoram, onion powder or celery salt in their seasoning mix.
Cajun seasoning is more about the heat. Cajun spice blends include cayenne pepper, paprika, and garlic powder, and if a particular spice mix uses and herb, it's likely to be oregano.
You can buy a Creole spice mix, but homemade Creole seasoning is easy to make. And because all Creole cooks have their own variations on traditional recipes, you can customize your homemade Creole seasoning to fit your tastes.
A basic Creole seasoning recipe is:
- 4 tablespoons paprika
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons onion powder
- 2 tablespoons dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 tablespoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon white pepper
- 1 tablespoon celery powder
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight container. You can customize this basic recipe by adding a tablespoon cayenne pepper for more heat or swapping smoked paprika in for the mild, sweet paprika. You can also add more or less salt based on your tastes and dietary needs.
Use your homemade Creole seasoning in Creole recipes like gumbo, jambalaya and Shrimp Creole for a taste of authentic flavor anytime. Keep the spice mix in an airtight jar to keep it fresh.