Both Cajun and Creole Seasoning come from immigrants to Louisiana. These two spice blends represent a combination of Old and New Worlds and a mixture of cultures, much like other spice blends throughout history. Cajun seasoning is the product of the Acadians—Canadian Frenchmen forcibly relocated to the United States by the British. Creole seasoning is the product of different immigrant cultures, including those from Italy and Ireland as well as from Africa.
Both blends contain European spices, but were developed within cooking traditions strongly influenced by both Native Americans and African Americans. If you are trying to choose between these two spice blends, important questions include: how different is Cajun seasoning from Creole seasoning? Can one be used in place of the other? We will compare these two blends in this edition of SPICEography Showdown.
How do Cajun seasoning and Creole seasoning differ in flavor?
Both spice blends vary significantly from blend to blend and the makers typically draw from the same pool of ingredients. This means that not all Cajun blends will differ significantly from Creole blends. The more traditional blends do have some differences which include the fact that Cajun seasoning has an emphasis on spices, even though it will often contain at least one herb. That herb is usually oregano. Cajun seasoning blends are often spicy, with an emphasis on the heat from cayenne pepper.
Creole seasoning has a similar savory flavor profile, but with more of an emphasis on the herbs. The herbs that typically show up include oregano, thyme, and sometimes marjoram. Creole seasoning is considered to be the more refined of the two and blends typically will not have a strong spicy component like cayenne pepper; however, both blends do usually contain black pepper.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
Both Cajun and Creole seasoning blends make good substitutes for each other. They both contain many of the same spices and are used in many of the same dishes from Louisiana. That said, there are a few caveats. First, there is the spiciness of Cajun seasoning. Cajun seasoning’s extra heat may not be desirable if you are using it as a substitute for Creole seasoning. Creole seasoning is supposed to have the milder, more refined flavor profile of the two. Similarly, Creole seasoning can make an effective alternative to Cajun seasoning; however, you may need to add some cayenne pepper to get a closer approximation of Cajun seasoning’s heat.
When should you use Cajun seasoning and when should you use Creole seasoning?
Both spice blends are from Louisiana and are perfectly suitable for the same types of Louisianan dishes. They are more alike than they are different. Dirty rice or crawfish seasoned with either would be equally authentic. The differences between the two spice blends have more to do with the differences in Cajun cuisine and Creole cuisine. Cajun cuisine is more rustic, with an emphasis on bolder flavors that emerged from the use of spices to preserve meat. The Cajun people have historically rural with little access to refrigeration and other amenities of an urban lifestyle. Cajun seasoning contains pungent flavors and is suitable for dry rubs, boudin sausage, and other heavily flavored applications. While you can make dirty rice or crawfish with either, those dishes would only be authentically Cajun if you used Cajun seasoning.
Creole cuisine is a spice from New Orleans and is more in line with classical European cooking traditions. While it still bears the unmistakable stamp of the African and Native American influences, its flavor profile is more delicate in nature. Creole dishes often include tomatoes, and the herbal component of Creole seasoning reflects that. The oregano, thyme and marjoram that show up in Creole seasoning blends all work perfectly with tomato and in tomato-based dishes. Use it in a jambalaya or in a gumbo.