When it comes to Creole and Cajun cuisines and seasonings, there's more than just food at stake. Creole and Cajun cuisines are related to Creole and Cajun histories, traditions, and cultures. However, over time, the two have come to share several similarities and are oftened 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 cooking, Creole cooking is also influenced by the cuisines of Spain, Germany, Italy, several African countries and the West Indies. The Creoles lived and cooked in the city, a group of many cultures that formed an American-style "melting pot." 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. They were French-speaking, originally coming from France before being exiled and making their way to Nova Scotia and, later, exiled again and settling in Louisiana. These "Acadians" became known as "Cajuns." The seasonings used by Cajuns are spicier and more pungent than Creole seasonings, relying on a number of peppers. 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, as well.
Creole seasoning recipes vary a great deal, but can be considered variations on a European, refined type of cooking. Leafy herbs such as oregano, bay, basil, thyme, rosemary, and parsley -- herbs traditionally used in European cooking -- are commonly used. Today, Creole seasoning overlaps with Cajun seasoning in its use of salt, paprika and garlic.
The essential elements 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, such as parsley, sage, oregano, or thyme, but with less emphasis than Creole seasoning.