What’s the Difference Between Cajun and Creole?

Messina's Crawfish Cheesecake

New Orleans is a cultural gumbo and one of America’s most diverse yet blended cities. You see it in the architecture, taste it in the food, enjoy it in celebrations, and hear it in the dialects spoken only in the Crescent City. Understanding the difference clarifies how each origin has indelibly left its mark on New Orleans.

How Cajun and Creole Differ Begins with Where their Ancestors Originated

French culture has highly influenced Cajun and Creole people, even though they hail from far distant points on the planet. Cajun refers to someone whose ancestors came from Acadia, the region in Canada that includes Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. When the British took control of the area in the early 1700s, they drove out the Acadians during the French and Indian War, fearing that they would fight with the French. An expulsion known as Le Grand Derangement (the Great Upheaval) displaced many Acadians to Louisiana, where they settled.

On the other hand, the Creoles are descendants of French and Spanish immigrants who enhanced their culture by blending with African and African Americans (both enslaved and free) and people from the Caribbean, Italy, and Germany. Someone with European roots is often referred to as French Creole, while those of mixed ancestry are known as Louisiana Creole.

Both Ethnic Flavors are Evident in New Orleans Cuisine

During Colonial times, New Orleans was one of the most thriving port cities in the world. Vanilla, okra, whiskey, and limes are some foods that found their way into Creole cuisine.

On the other hand, Cajun cooking stems from Cajuns that have clung to their French heritage, especially their foods. They masterfully adapted the bounty of Louisiana’s agriculture and wild game into the food born of their French roots. This is evident in what’s known as the “Cajun Holy Trinity”- onion, celery, and bell pepper, which is a play on the classic French mirepoix.

The day’s technology also had a lot to do with the emerging cuisine that is uniquely Louisianan. Creole kitchens would often have access to ice boxes allowing them to preserve items like seafood and butter. Cajuns, by contrast, often didn’t have even the most rudimentary forms of refrigeration, so they relied on smoking and salting foods to preserve them. Even today, a Creole roux is made with butter and flour, while a Cajun roux calls for flour and oil due to the early impact of having access to different preservation solutions.

Messina's Cajun fried turkey

Classic New Orleans Tends to Be Creole, not Cajun

One of the simplest differences between the two cuisines is that Creole food typically uses tomatoes and tomato-based sauces, while traditional Cajun food does not. Historically, Creole dishes often go a little easier on the cayenne and filé (sassafras), while Cajun cooks embraced the heat and cooked many one-pot dishes (like Étouffée) which has a definitive, spicy kick. Classic New Orleans cuisine typically refers to Creole. Think gumbo, crawfish, etouffee, BBQ shrimp, and jambalaya. Although not all classic New Orleans cuisine has a tomato base. Other favorites include oysters Bienville, shrimp remoulade, po-boys, turtle soup, red beans and rice, blackened redfish, dirty rice, and the infamous beignets. These are New Orleans favorites typically requested for destination events in the Big Easy.

Messina's fresh new orleans seafood

Authentic New Orleans Catering

When Messina’s was voted best New Orleans Caterer by City Business’s Rankings from 2017 to 2021, we owe our Cajun and Creole forefathers and mothers a big thank you for the honor. After all, you’ll find a lot of both influences on our catering menus. We often blend the two, so our guests get the best of both worlds in dishes like andouille, smoked boudin, alligator sausages with creole mustard, our famous house-made crawfish pie, or plantain-crusted shrimp, to name but a few.

Messina's crawfish pie

You Can Also Hear the Difference in the Music

In addition to its cuisine, New Orleans is also famous for its music. Initially, Cajun music took on a kind of country and folk blend, threw in an accordion and fiddle, and Zydeco was born. Over time it absorbed elements of Dixieland jazz and blue. Creole music is a more inclusive melting pot with Caribbean and African music characteristics like people of Creole heritage. Both styles heavily rely on the fiddle and accordion and often use waltz and two-step tempos.

3rd Generation Caterer Serving Classic New Orleans Creole Cuisine

If you’re thinking about hosting a shin-dig in The Big Easy, you’ll want it to have an authentic New Orleans flavor. At Messina’s, we’re here to help you design an event that your guests will remember for all the right reasons. From extraordinary menu options and table settings and food staging to lively spirits bars and inventive chef stations, Messina’s can tailor the catering menu to fit your unique tastes and budget and give your event a distinctive New Orleans flare. Learn more by visiting MessinasCatering.com.