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What is Creole Food?

By Jessica Hobby
Updated May 16, 2024
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Although Creole food is found primarily in the United States in Louisiana, its heritage has many cultural influences which make it popular throughout the world. Creole food has cultural influences from all the countries on the American slave trade route. Slaves came from West Africa and traveled to the Caribbean, the eastern coast of South America and back to Louisiana. When they arrived in the New World, the slaves cooked things that were fed to slave owners and slaves for hundreds of years.

The cooking of West Africa, infused with cooking styles and food from the slave trade route, was brought to Louisiana and called Creole food. Almost all Creole food is heavily seasoned with some sort of pepper and is very spicy. The level of spice depends on who is preparing the dish. The basic ingredient of beginning of almost all Creole dishes are is a roux. A roux, French for “brown sauce,” is a base used for gravies and sauces in Creole cooking. A roux is made to use three of the most popular Creole dishes: red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.

Many of the most popular Creole dishes have long histories behind them. For example, red beans and rice were traditionally made on Mondays. The tradition comes from a time in history when ham dinner was served on Sundays, and Mondays were wash days. The women could wash clothes while they let a pot of beans simmer all day long. Although the Monday tradition is not very popular, red beans and rice remain one of the dishes of choice for Mardi Gras celebrations and other large gatherings.

Another popular Creole dish for large celebrations is jambalaya. Jambalaya was a product of the Spanish influence in Louisiana and was meant to be a substitution for paella, which is Spain’s national dish that is made with saffron. With saffron not being readily available for a reasonable cost, tomatoes were substituted in the sausage, rice and vegetable dish.

Gumbo, also a popular dish for large celebrations, is a stew or soup that usually contains meat and/or shellfish such as shrimp or crawfish, and okra. The soup is thickened with the okra or with file powder, which is ground sassafras which is made by the Choctaw Indians. Gumbo also contains the bell peppers, onions and celery which is referred to as “the Trinity” in Creole food. Gumbo is stewed all day and served over rice.

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Discussion Comments

By anon317659 — On Feb 03, 2013

All of your comments are partly true and some are utterly ridiculous. Slaves were a part of the criolllos/creole system. Has anyone stopped to think who really occupied the Americas and Mexico first? Please read -- it was the Native Americans. So let us leave out who occupied what and just stick to creole cooking facts.

By anon157651 — On Mar 03, 2011

The first Africans arrived in Mexico in the 16th century, and came from the island of Cabo Verde and from the Guinea Rivers. Please remember Christopher Columbus did not discover America; the Native American was already here and so were Africans. It was an African who first planted wheat in America; his name Juan Garrido. Per Dr. Doudou Diene, Director of The Route of the Slave, UNESCO, Paris. This research was done for a project called E'BANO by Nicolas Triedo.

Creoles are a mix of people and for the most part, Africans/Blacks in America are more mixed than anyone else you can image in America. I am Creole and I know who I am. I am African/French/Irish/Native American and I live as a Black woman in America.

By anon150435 — On Feb 08, 2011

My apologies, but creole food is not found primarily in Louisiana. This is grossly incorrect. The creole community and culture is much bigger than than Louisiana alone. When Christopher Columbus got lost going to india, he landed in Haiti (la Navidad)first before traveling to "lands along the Gulf of Mexico".

Does Jambalaya not have Spanish and West African influences? It also resembles the Jollof rice (Benachin).

By anon102429 — On Aug 07, 2010

I'm afraid that the first posting is correct, except that there was a Spanish law forbidding the holding of a high office in a colony to anyone not born in Spain. Those born in the colonies were called Criollios, transmuted to Creole by the French in New Orleans. Slaves were not a part of this system.

By anon53136 — On Nov 19, 2009

Read the history. creoles are a descendant of french, spanish, black and european early settlers in the 1700's. if you are creole of color, you have all of these bloodlines.

By morelock — On Nov 12, 2009

I lived in New Orleans for a number of years and feel that this is the most accepted definition throughout the area. However, I imagine some of the white supremacist types who live in LA, such as David Duke, would not accept a definition that includes slaves.

By anon44145 — On Sep 05, 2009

Your Creole explanation is crap because there was a Creole cuisine before the slaves in the Americas. Creole actually means the first born in a new land and many French and Spanish people occupied lands along the Gulf of Mexico before the slave trades began.

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