by Kevin Farrell for USA TODAY 10Best

Cajun vs. Creole: What's the difference in these cuisines?

Cajun and Creole people, cultures and especially cuisines may blend well together, but should be appreciated for their differences. Here’s what you need to know to be respectful of these two distinct cultures and cuisines.

On the surface, the simplest way to discern between the two is to think of Creole as city food (and people), and Cajun as country food (and people).

Creole historically refers to the descendants of the French (and later, Spanish) colonial settlers of New Orleans. As Africans were eventually introduced to the city by wealthy slave owners, the definition of Creole expanded to include Black New Orleanians as well.

Creole food was prepared in the kitchens of colonial New Orleans, one of the most thriving port cities in the world. As such, Creoles had access to ingredients first grown in the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.

Vanilla, whiskey, okra and limes are just some of the foods brought into New Orleans from ports across the world that then made their way into Creole cooking.

The word 'Cajun' and its culture are derived from the original wave of French colonists who settled in Canada’s Acadia region. Following a British takeover of the land, a large population of Acadians headed way, way south to Louisiana.

Though Cajuns lacked access to the spices and produce that Creoles had, they adapted the bounty of Louisiana to their French roots. This is evident in the Cajun Holy Trinity – onion, celery and bell pepper – itself a play on the classic French mirepoix.

Creole kitchens had access to ice boxes and rudimentary refrigeration, which allowed for the preservation of products like butter or seafood. To this day, a Creole roux is made with butter and flour, while a Cajun roux calls for flour and oil instead.

In a pinch, many Creole and Cajun dishes can be discerned from one another by the tomato test. Cajuns didn't have access to this produce staple. Cajun jambalaya is therefore tomato-free, while the Creole take on the classic usually incorporates them.

One final misconception that both cuisines share is the idea that food in New Orleans is slap-ya-mama spicy. Nope! The word you’re looking for is seasoned.

Cajun and Creole food are both known for their heavy-handed spicing of dishes. But these spices – paprika, thyme and file (ground sassafras), for example – are better described as bold than spicy.

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