What is the Difference Between Creole and Cajun?
The main difference between Creole and Cajun arguably is in migration history, as the latter group comes from Canada and the former combines people from Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and many other regions. Their cuisine is also different, varying in spiciness and the ingredients typically used for similar dishes. Although both types of people use French as a basis for their speech, Creoles rely more heavily on other languages. They also tend to include elements of African, Native American or Caribbean culture into their music and faith, while Cajuns usually use a jazz or blues style and lean toward Catholicism.
Both Creole and Cajun people are strongly influenced by French culture, but differences in their development keep them distinguishable. Cajun refers to someone whose ancestors came from Acadia, a region that includes Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The British were in control of the area in the early 1700s, and during the French and Indian War, they were afraid the Acadians would rise and fight with the French. The British expelled them from the region between 1755 and 1763, an event known as “Le Grand Derangement” (the Great Upheaval). Eventually, these displaced people arrived in Louisiana, where they settled.
By contrast, Creoles are descendants of people who settled in Louisiana — especially in New Orleans — from several countries, mainly France and Spain. Africans and African Americans, both slave and free, were also part of the population, as were people from the Caribbean, Italy and Germany. Many of the French and Spanish settlers were members of the upper class, who often had servants. People called someone with European roots "French Creole," while those who were of mixed ancestry were called "Louisiana Creole."
An easy way to remember the difference in history is that Cajun is how the word “acadien,” which is based off the Canadian region, is pronounced in Cajun French. The word Creole comes from the Spanish word, criollo, which roughly translates to native or local. People used this term to describe things that were part of the New World during the time that the Spanish and French controlled Louisiana.
Very broadly, given the backgrounds of both groups, some people say that Cajun cooking is more “country,” as those from Acadia learned to live off the land and tended to cook in pots frequently. People often describe Creole cooking as more “urban,” because these people had access to a larger variety of foods from their native countries and could shop in local markets easily. They also often brought their chefs with them, who blended European styles of making dishes with the local herbs, vegetables, seafood and other ingredients.
In general, Cajun cooking is more likely to use pork, chicken and sausage. Cooks often include crawfish as well. Creole dishes usually move toward lighter options, such as crab, shrimp and oysters. This difference is especially noticeable in traditional gumbos.
When someone is making a Cajun recipe, he or she will typically lean on what is known as the “holy trinity” of bell pepper, celery and onion. Corn and rice are also common. With Creole cooking, people use the trinity, too, but they include a lot of tomatoes, a sign of Italian influences.
Cajun cuisine usually includes a good dose of cayenne pepper, which gives it a spicy kick. It also generally uses herbs like thyme, paprika, pepper, parsley and ground sassafras root (filé). Creole dishes typically go easier on the cayenne and filé, relying more on red peppers, mustard, allspice, okra and garlic. As a result, it is full of flavor, but isn’t necessarily hot the way it often is portrayed.
In both types of cooking, people often use flour to provide a base for or thicken dishes such as sauces and stews. These bases are known collectively as roux, rue or panada. Those from Cajun descent generally use oil as the fat in the recipe, while Creole ones usually use butter. The use of butter was possible for this group because they had better access to dairy and had a stronger influence from Italy, where making roux this way was standard.
People in Louisiana speak both Creole and Cajun French. The former is a grammatically distinct form of French with roots in Native American, African, Spanish and traditional or standard French. The latter has a base mainly in Acadian French, a Canadian dialect, although it borrows vocabulary from other languages. Many Creole speak Cajun and vise versa, so the speaker isn’t important when trying to distinguish between the two languages.
Creole French is an endangered language, having few monolingual speakers out of the 20,000 to 30,000 people who know it. Cajun French is in an even worse state, with only an estimated 15,000 speakers as of 2013. Part of this is because of a previous prejudice against the French language in Louisiana, which is slowly fading. Both individuals and major organizations, such as the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, are working toward preservation.
Cajun music initially sounded a lot like the country or folk music played during the 1700s when Louisiana was still being settled. Over time, it absorbed elements of jazz, particularly Dixieland, and blues. The Creole style, because of the more inclusive “melting pot” nature of the Creole people, took on characteristics of Caribbean and African music. Both types of music, however, rely strongly on the fiddle and accordion, and both often use the waltz and two-step forms.
In general, Cajuns have strong ties to Catholicism. Many Creoles follow this religion, as well, but it is also common for them to follow other faiths based on their backgrounds. Some people, for example, lean toward Native American spirituality, using medicinal healing. Others focus on folk religions from Africa or the Caribbean. In some cases, individuals mix a little bit of everything together, using an eclectic combination of prayer, voodoo, charms, candles and “wild” church services that emphasize being “possessed” by the spirit.
Although the differences between Creole and Cajun are possible for someone to see, the two groups are increasingly intermingling in Louisiana. It is becoming more difficult for a person to label something as exclusively belonging to one category, and some experts believe that they are moving together to form one large group. Creole cooks, for example, are using crawfish in their recipes more often, whereas before, this seafood was almost totally a Cajun ingredient. Chef Paul Prudhomme is an example of someone who has merged the traditions in “Louisiana cooking.”
I am a creole from Louisiana and there is a difference between creoles and Cajuns! Gumbo is a creole dish but them Cajuns can sure cook it. My ex is a mixed creole from Slidell and I couldn't stand their gumbo. Now I throw a lot of Cajun in mine. Darker roux, mixed sausage andouille -- stuff like that.
The cultures have lived together for so long in SW Louisiana that they are almost one. All of my aunts and parents speak fluent French. Creoles closer to N.O. don't spice up their foods nearly as much as I do, but again, I grew up as a creole in a predominantly Cajun area. The music is even different. Zydeco is played at creole events and Cajun music is at Cajun events. Zydeco includes the washboard where as Cajun has the fiddle, but both use accordions. In New Orleans, Mardi is celebrated by parades, while in the country we ride horses chase chickens and get drunk. The creoles follow a Cajun tradition of Mardi Gras in SW Louisiana. All of my family lives and has always lived in Louisiana. There are some cultural differences. You just have to be from here to know it!
Great article and comments. The article mentions the Caribbean contributions to Créole culture in Louisiana, but I would add that it's a very much a living culture in Guadeloupe, Dominica (not Dom.Rep.) and my home of Martinique where Créole is still very much spoken. I'm a French speaker and I can't follow a conversation in Martiniquais Créole. Yet. Oh and also Haiti, which we tend to forget because it's so poor.
Cajuns had to adapt to the new land in order to survive, so they used regional ingredients adapted to regional influences. The food has Native American, French and Spanish influence. Creole has the aforementioned influences as well as African and Haitian.
If you're a true Cajun, you know the difference. There's nothing fancy about it. It's regional and true Cajun background and ancestry is not a fad. And some of the things people are saying on here are false. Shame on you. You obviously are not Cajun, nor do you know anything about true Cajun culture.
Of course it is not French. People up in Canada eat a lot of similar food to European French people. No, the Cajun food is mainly Creole. Let's be real. It's not what a normal French Canadian would cook. Very spicy food is not part of the French diet, but African.
Actually, the term "Creole" does not refer to a particular race of people and the majority of the people who call themselves "Cajuns" in Louisiana are not the descendants of folks from Nova Scotia.
The term "Creole" shows up in colonial documents of Louisiana as a way to distinguish the "locally born" from the foreign born, regardless of whether their parents were Africans or Europeans. If you were born anywhere in a French colony, you were described as a Creole.
And there is no difference culturally between Creoles and the so-called Cajuns. The only difference used to separate them is based on race only. But when you got to Louisiana, people will insist there is a difference, but can't explain how or why.
And as far as spices go, have you eaten gumbo from a Creole person vs. a Cajun? Who designated these distinctions? Visitors who have come from abroad to write on Louisiana people? Go sit down at a true Creole dinner table and you will find just as much difference in the spices used as you would from the next Creole household. The same thing with any Cajun household.
How is gumbo "overall Cajun"? Explain that please. The gravy that is used to make a gumbo (roux) is a cooking preparation that has been practiced, and still is practiced mind you, in France to this day. The ingredients: rice (West African in origin), the seafood, found locally here in Louisiana, filé, thickening sauce that is a contribution from Amérindiens. Not to mention that very similar dishes are found all throughout Latin-America and the Caribbean.
People are so fixated on Cajun that they want to label everything Cajun. If we are to assume that Cajun means "deriving from Acadie" then still, gumbo being "overall Cajun" is still debunked. None of those ingredients have come from Acadie.
@DeniseP: Gumbo is overall cajun.
Also, the Acadians descended theory is debunked. Genealogy research shows that a great percentage of those claiming to be Cajun based on Acadian ancestry have no Acadian ancestry at all. This thing is cultural. Let's stop trying to make it into a phony "racial" issue. Race isn't biologically even real.
Culturally, "Cajuns" are Louisiana Creoles, as they were native to the land. At one point, they even identified this way (all of what I'm saying by the way is well studied and documented; it's just buried deep inside libraries and scholastic files). Creoles and Cajuns both speak either French or Creole and in some cases both. The predominant religion is Catholic, both enjoy Zydeco and "Cajun" (once called "Old French" before the Cajun economic ploy) music.
Cajuns aren't the only people who are farmers and "self-sufficient" as it is thought. As a matter of fact, in the 18th and 19th centuries, contrary to popular belief, many Acadians acquired land, established businesses and purchased many slaves. Census records document this clearly and it debunks the theory that the Acadians were "simple country folk". Cajuns settled lands that were already inhabited by French-speaking Native Americans and Creoles and they lived among them and they learned from one another.
Prior to the 60's, people all identified as either Creoles or simply, Frenchmen. This Cajunness didn't come into play until Jimmie Domengeaux was appointed the Head of CODOFIL (Center pour le developpement du Français en Louisiane) and because he was a self-identified Cajun, he would use this term to fuel economic efforts and generate funds into Louisiana under the label Cajun. This is the truth.
All of this is incorrect, including the article. Gumbo is Creole - i.e., "native to the land" created right here. It has ingredients such as okra in most cases, rice, and others were imported from Africa originally. Cooking preparation styles were taken from the French and African and also includes Native American ingredients. The difference between Cajun and Creole people? None! Again, Creole means native to the land.
Culturally, there is no difference between cajun and creole people. Clearly, the same foods are eaten. Don't buy into the bull about "Oh, Cajun food is spicy and Creole food is more "elite" and flavorful" or "Cajun is country and Creole is city." All of this is erroneous.
Cooking preparation styles vary from Cajun household to household and Creole household to household. Some "Cajuns" cook things the same was as Creoles in other parts where their Cajun neighbors cook entirely different from the Cajuns in their community.
I went to college in Louisiana, and let me tell you, as an outsider you learn the difference between Creole and Cajun people pretty quickly.
It's not like people really get offended if you mix them up or something, but it's just good to know so you don't look like a tourist.
Not too long ago, I did a report in school about the Creole people of Louisiana. Up until the Civil War, the Creole people were made up of French and Spanish, who were descendants of French and Spanish immigrants.
Today the Creoles of New Orleans are two groups. One is the Creoles who are mixed heritage of the French and Spanish. The other group is called Creoles of color. They are mixed heritage of European and African ancestry. They have had a great influence on the food and culture of the New Orleans area.
@Denise P - Gumbo is both Cajun and Creole! Or, at least, there are Cajun kinds of gumbo and Creole kind of gumbo. Cajun gumbo is usually made from dark roux, a mixture of flour and butter, and generally spicier than Creole gumbo. That's usually got more tomatoes and shellfish. I personally prefer Cajun gumbo.
I just went to New Orleans, and there was so much good Cajun and Creole food. I'm confused, though. Is gumbo Cajun or Creole?
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