The similarities between Creole and Cajun cuisines are due to the French heritage of both cultures, along with the new ingredients to which French cooking techniques were applied by the Creoles and by Cajuns. Both types of cooking have culinary roots in France, with a nod to Spain, Africa, and Native America, and to a lesser degree to the West Indies, Germany, Ireland, and Italy. Both cultures take their food very seriously and love to cook, eat, and entertain.
The Main Differences Between Creole and Cajun
It is said that a Creole feeds one family with three chickens and a Cajun feeds three families with one chicken. Another major difference between Creole and Cajun food is in the type of roux used as the base for the classic sauces, stews, soups, and many other savory dishes. A typical Creole roux is made from butter and flour (as in France), while a Cajun roux is usually made with lard or oil and flour. This is partly due to the scarcity of dairy products in some areas of Acadiana (Acadia + Louisiana) when Cajun cuisine was being developed. Gumbo is perhaps the signature dish of both cuisines. Creole gumbo has a tomato base and is more of a soup, while Cajun gumbo has a roux base and is more of a stew.
The Cultural Differences Between the Two Methods
The cultural difference between the two methods of cooking lies in the fact that Creoles had access to local markets, and servants to cook their food while Cajuns lived mostly off the land, were subject to the elements of the seasons, and generally cooked meals in one large pot.
- Creole: Creole refers to the original European—particularly French and Spanish— settlers of New Orleans. They were mostly from wealthy families and brought or sent for chefs from Madrid, Paris, and other European capitals.
- Ingredients: Many of the ingredients the European chefs normally used in their cooking were unavailable locally. Governor Bienville, afraid of losing the new residents, asked his personal cook to teach the Creole people and their chefs how to make use of the native ingredients and to share his skills and techniques with them.
Incredible Creole Discoveries
Thus, the Creoles and their cooks discovered the wonderful shellfish, snapper, pompano, and other forms of seafood available in Louisiana. Native meats and game, and unfamiliar produce including mirlitons and cushaw, sugar cane, and pecans, were then adapted to the European cookery methods of the Creole chefs.
- Seasonings: Tips and seasoning ingredients from the native Indians, and the Caribbean and African cooks helped give birth to Creole cooking. Africans introduced okra; the Spanish, spices and red peppers; the Germans, black pepper, and mustard; the Irish, potatoes. In addition, file powder came from the Choctaw Indians; allspice and peppers from the West Indians; and garlic and tomatoes from the Italians.
- Cooking Style: Creole Cooking is city cooking: refined, delicate, and luxurious, developed, and originally prepared by servants. There is greater emphasis on cream, butter, seafood (though not shellfish), tomatoes, herbs, and garlic, and less use of cayenne pepper and file powder than in Cajun cooking, resulting in rich sauces, elegant pureed bisques, and time-intensive soups, brunch dishes, and desserts.
- Cajun Country: The southwest section of Louisiana is unique unto itself. Acadiana is an area comprising 22 parishes (counties) in Southwest Louisiana. This area is predominately populated by Cajun people who are, technically, descendants of the Acadians expelled from Acadia, now known as Nova Scotia, in 1755. While their new home in Acadiana was familiar in terms of being an agrarian setting already populated by Catholic, French-speaking people, the Cajuns had to adjust to the unknown terrain of swamps, bayous, and prairies that presented some new forms of meat, game, fish, produce, and grains.
- Ingredients: The Cajuns applied their French cooking techniques to these new ingredients, with a result that is recognized and respected as some of the best regional cooking in America, as well as one of the world’s most unique cuisines. There are versions of Cajun dishes on restaurant menus across the country, from upscale to hip and trendy to fast food establishments. Unfortunately, many of these restaurants misrepresent Cajun food by using their standard menu items and carelessly over-spicing them, making the food unbearably hot, then calling it “Cajun.”
- Seasonings: Cajun food and culture has little to do with the mass media hype of the past 20 years that presents Cajun cookery as fiery hot, and Cajun people as hot pepper-eating, beer-swilling caricatures of themselves. Pepper and spices are merely one element of Cajun cookery and not the most important one at that.
- Cooking Style: Cajuns in Southwest Louisiana have steadfastly adhered to the preservation of their habits, traditions, and beliefs in terms of lifestyle, language, and cooking. They became noticed by society during the oil boom in the mid-1900s, which brought many outlanders (non-Cajuns) into the area. These new residents began to discover the food-oriented, talented Cajun cooks whose lives and socializing revolve, to a large extent, around the preparation, sharing, and enjoyment of food. The word began to spread.
More About Classic Cajun and Creole Dishes