When it comes to Creole and Cajun cuisines and seasonings, there's more than just food at stake. The cuisines have rich histories, traditions and cultures. However, over time, the two have come to share similarities and are often confused with one another, especially outside of the region. Today, the differences between them are marginal and often subtle.
Traditionally, Creole cooking was city-based, emanating from New Orleans. Emerging from French cuisine, Creole cooking is also influenced by Spain, Germany, Italy, several African countries and the West Indies. The Creoles were a group of many cultures that formed an American-style melting pot in the city. Creole cooking is generally more refined and less edgy than Cajun.
In contrast to the Creoles, the Cajuns lived outside the city in the backwaters and swamps of Louisiana. These French-speaking Acadians originally came from France before being exiled and making their way to Nova Scotia and settling in Louisiana. They became known as Cajuns. The seasonings used by Cajuns rely on peppers and are spicier and more pungent than Creole seasonings. Cajun food was originally peasant food and used ingredients indigenous to Louisiana, such as alligators, turtles and crawfish. Today, these ingredients are commonly found in Creole food, too.
Creole seasoning recipes vary but were generally derived from a European, refined type of cooking. Leafy herbs like oregano, bay, basil, thyme, rosemary and parsley are commonly used. Today, Creole seasoning overlaps with Cajun seasoning in its use of salt, paprika and garlic.
The essentials of Cajun seasoning include many forms of peppers, from mild to spicy: white pepper, black pepper, bell peppers and cayenne peppers. Anything grown in the garden was used in the typical, one-pot Cajun meal—onions, peppers and celery often form the base. The Cajuns also incorporate traditional Creole herbs like parsley, sage, oregano or thyme, but with less emphasis than Creole seasoning.