What’s the Difference Between Cajun and Creole Food?

Confused about the difference between Cajun and Creole food? This is a crash course in Louisiana's most famous cuisines.

Creole and Cajun cuisines aren’t just responsible for some of Louisiana’s most famous dishes, they’re also both incredibly popular across the country. This isn’t surprising, given the gorgeous flavors found in jambalayas, gumbos, and bisques. They do share several common ingredients and a passion for excellent food, but Cajun and Creole are two distinct, incredibly rich cultures.

The difference between Cajun and Creole

One very basic way to tell the difference between the two cuisines is that generally, Creole dishes use tomatoes while Cajun cuisine traditionally does not. Another clue is in how folks describe the two. You may hear Creole cuisine referred to as “city food” and Cajun as “country food.” Let’s take a deeper look.

What is Creole cuisine?

Creole culture is older, dating back to when New Orleans was first settled. It’s largely a blend of Spanish, African, Portuguese, Italian, Native American, and Caribbean influences. Creole has its origins in the Big Easy, where people could get a hold of a wider variety of ingredients, including butter, spices and yes, tomatoes. These dishes tend to be more complex as a result. The cuisine is also slightly richer, thanks to the use of cream and butter. You may know Creole desserts like beignets and a 1930s New Orleans original, doberge cake. Learn how to make beignets yourself just like they do in New Orleans.

What is Cajun cuisine?

Cajun cuisine is influenced by traditional French cuisine. The word Cajun has its origins in the French les Acadiens. The Acadians were French settlers who ultimately made their home in southern Louisiana.

Being farther away from large trading hubs, the Cajuns looked to the land and the ingredients available to them. This cuisine is based on seafood (especially shellfish), game, pork and generous seasoning. Both cuisines make use of herbs and spices like garlic and onion powder and paprika. In their rural surroundings, Cajun cooks excelled at using every part of an animal. Smoked meat is widely used in Cajun cuisine to this day. There’s also the famous Cajun “Holy Trinity” of onion, bell pepper and celery, which makes its way into many classic Cajun dishes like jambalaya.

Where can I find the best Cajun and Creole food?

Naturally, the best way to fully understand these cuisines is by experiencing them firsthand! It’s worth making a food pilgrimage to the Pelican State to sample authentic Cajun and Creole dishes. Now, learn the differences in regional food names people will argue about forever.

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Camille Berry
Camille Berry is a food and drinks writer who divides her time between her native San Francisco and the UK. Her work has appeared on Wine Folly, Vinepair, The Back Label, in Spirited Virginia Magazine, and many other websites and publications.

Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was practically born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director at several of San Francisco's most well-loved restaurants. This hospitality experience has endowed her with a wealth of first-hand knowledge of various cuisines, how to pair all manner of drinks with food, and entertaining – plus some serious kitchen skills. She is both a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and a Certified Wine Specialist through the Society of Wine Educators.