Cajun vs. Creole: What’s the Difference?

First lesson when comparing Cajun and Creole cuisines? They are not the same.

Contrary to popular belief, Cajun and Creole cuisines are not the same thing. The names may have become synonymous and interchangeable with each other and Louisiana cooking–but true Southerners know what’s up.

Second lesson when comparing Cajun and Creole cuisines? Tomatoes make all the difference.

Creole cuisine uses tomatoes and true Cajun cookin’ does not. The end. No, I’m just kidding. But, really, how can you tell one gumbo from the other? The use of a red, round veggie. (Or is it a fruit…?) But the distinction between the two isn’t as simple as that. It’s not as simple as city food vs. country food either. In fact, the two have completely different cultures that trace back many years.

I’ve already told many of you already about the Cajuns (Read more here!), but let’s give a short history anyway. The word Cajun comes from the word Acadians, which were French colonists that settled in the Acadia region of Canada. After the Great Upheaval, many Acadians moved to the swamps in Louisiana. The Acadians were extremely resourceful and used only local ingredients in their food: think crawfish and lots of cayenne pepper. Most Cajun recipes start with the holy trinity of onion, celery, and bell peppers, and all dishes have one quality in common: they’re all pretty spicy.

Now the Creole population was also of French-descent but its people were mostly from the French upper-class. (The Acadians were peasants.) The term Creole expanded to include those of African descent as many slaves were the cooks for many of the wealthy households and they had a heavy hand of influence. Creole cuisine is seen as a little more, let’s say, aristocratic than its Cajun counterpart because Creole chefs had access to more exotic ingredients, like tomatoes. (Remember lesson two??)

Creole cuisine is known for its creamy soups and sauces. Because of its access to a wide mix of foods, a Creole sauce can be made with dozens of ingredients whereas a Cajun sauce sticks to the basics.

Of course the best Cajun and Creole food resides in Louisiana, but you won’t find the real stuff in some city restaurant. If you want some true, authentic Cajun or Creole cooking, you’re going to have to visit grandma’s kitchen.