This year's Society of Flavor Chemists breakfast meeting at IFT New Orleans highlighted the differences between Cajun and Creole cuisine with the help of Charles Ray, corporate chef, R&D, for Diversified Foods. Ray pointed out that Creole traditions are an amalgam of numerous ethnicities that poured into Louisiana over the last few hundred years: French, English, Spanish, African and Acadians (a French population that relocated from Nova Scotia to the prairies and bayou of southern Louisiana). These settlers learned to use filet (ground dried sassafras leaves), locally developed tomatoes (Creole tomatoes) and cloves. This culinary tradition is responsible for dishes such as gumbo, oysters Rockefeller and jambalaya (a meld of Spanish and African influence).
Meanwhile, Cajun cooking is much more simple. Describing it as peasant fare, Ray noted that this tradition "was not directly influenced by classical French cuisine." A product of French, German and Native American influences, Cajun cooking employs strong seasonings and flavors such as local andouille sausage (smoky-spicy), cayenne pepper, high levels of salt, garlic and onions to cover the gamy flavors of the foods they were eating. (High temperatures quickly "turned" meats in the region.) Thus, Ray said, this tradition's gumbo would be smokier than Creole varieties, its flavor further characterized by the use of iron pots.