Jambalaya vs Gumbo

If you’ve never been to the Deep South, you may not know the difference between gumbo and jambalaya. Gumbo is a stew invented by Louisiana’s French immigrants, and jambalaya is a one-pot rice dish inspired by paella and created during the New Spain years. Beloved by both Louisiana Cajuns and Creoles, gumbo and jambalaya exemplify each ethnic group’s cooking style and the differences between them.

Because immigrants adopted the proteins, produce, and spices available on the bayou, many south Louisiana dishes have overlapping ingredients. Adding gumbo and jambalaya to your lineup is a low-cost way to expand your menu.

Read on to learn everything you need to know about gumbo and jambalaya or click the links below to read the section that interests you.

Difference between Gumbo and Jambalaya

The most obvious differences between gumbo and jambalaya are their consistencies and their rice. Gumbo is soupy and served with a scoop of absorbent, medium-grain white rice. Jambalaya is a moist rice-based dish made with Louisiana-grown, long-grain rice. Glutinous short grain rice varietals turn to mush in Jambalaya recipes, but you can swap any long grain rice for Louisiana-grown long-grain rice. A subtler difference between jambalaya and gumbo is that most gumbos are made from a roux, and jambalaya is not.

The addition of hot sauce differentiates gumbo and jambalaya. Long simmered, rich, and complex gumbo needs no additional flavorings. New Orleans chefs take offense when customers add hot sauce to their gumbo, so avoid committing this faux pas while dining in The Big Easy. However, servers provide bottles of the cook’s favorite hot sauce with jambalaya orders. Most New Orleans chefs swear by Crystal.

What Is Gumbo?

shrimp gumbo in bowl on yellow placemat

A staple of southern Louisiana cuisine, gumbo is a dense soup loaded with meat, okra, and seasonings served over rice. Three traditional thickening agents create gumbo’s trademark consistency: okra, roux, or file powder (dried, crushed sassafras leaves). You will not typically see okra and file powder in the same recipe, but chefs often pair roux with the other two thickeners. Since roux is the base of the five French mother sauces, roux-based gumbos honor Louisiana’s French heritage. File powder comes from Choctaw Native Americans, and okra reveals the influence of West African cuisine.

  • What spices are in gumbo? Common spices are thyme, bay leaves, fresh parsley, Cajun seasoning, Creole seasoning, minced garlic, jalapeno, and salt
  • What kind of rice for gumbo? Medium grain rice
  • What does gumbo taste like? Gumbo offers the rich flavors of a roux base, the sweet and slippery texture of okra, and/or the root beer essences of sassafras leaves. The chefs’ chosen meats add additional flavor, with spicy andouille sausage being a popular and dominating addition.

What Is in Gumbo?

Gumbos require a thickening agent and the trinity of Cajun and Louisiana Creole cuisine: onion, bell peppers, and celery. Most gumbos use a stock built on smoked meats such as ham hocks, bacon, or turkey necks. From there, okra and a wide variety of the chefs’ preferred ingredients give gumbo its bulk. Discover the most popular types of gumbo and their predominant ingredients below:

  • Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo - The most popular gumbo variety is loaded with andouille sausage and chicken meat. Most chicken and sausage gumbos include a lot of okra.
  • Seafood Gumbo - Seafood gumbo recipes are brimming with shrimp, crawfish, and crabmeat. They often substitute alligator sausage for andouille and/or include chunks of alligator meat. New Orleans has a love affair with both oysters and red fish, so you’ll often find them in seafood gumbo.
  • Gumbo z’Herbes - Catholicism’s powerful influence on south Louisiana inspired a vegetarian gumbo that is traditionally eaten during Lent. Loaded with mustard, collard, and turnip greens, as well as other delicious vegetables, gumbo z’herbes is a flavorful stew that accommodates vegetarians.

Cajun vs Creole Gumbo

Traditional Creole gumbo is tomato-based and has a soupy consistency, whereas Cajun gumbo is thick and stew-like. Cajuns and Creoles use different fat sources for their roux. Creole gumbo follows the French tradition of making roux from butter and flour, whereas Cajun roux incorporates either lard or oil into the flour. Historically, most Louisiana Creoles had greater wealth, providing them with dairy farming abilities and access to local markets that Cajun peoples lacked.

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What Is Jambalaya?

shrimp jambalaya in speckled dish

Jambalaya is a one-pot Louisiana rice dish inspired by Spanish paella. Chefs add their vegetables, meats, stock, and rice to a pot and simmer the mixture until the rice absorbs the liquid. Common meats for jambalaya include sausage, ham, chicken, and shellfish.

Thanks to its ingredients, spices, and garnishes, jambalaya typically has a piquant flavor profile. Andouille sausage is the most common protein, and the second most popular addition is spicy, smoky Tasso. Most chefs cook with a generous pinch of cayenne pepper and encourage patrons to garnish their jambalaya with hot sauce.

  • What spices are in jambalaya? Cayenne pepper, Cajun seasoning, garlic, Creole seasoning, black pepper, dried thyme, dried oregano, red pepper flakes
  • What kind of rice for jambalaya? Long-grain rice
  • What does jambalaya taste like? Jambalaya has a spicy flavor enriched by either a deep smokiness or a pleasant acidity depending on whether it follows the Cajun or Creole tradition.

Cajun vs Creole Jambalaya

Creole and Cajun jambalaya share commonalities but diverge in execution and flavor. Both Cajun and Creole chefs add the trinity to their jambalayas (a trio of onion, celery, and bell pepper that evolved from French mirepoix), but they incorporate the trinity at different points in the cooking process. We explain what differentiates Cajun and Creole jambalaya below:

  • What Is Creole Jambalaya? Creole jambalaya contains tomatoes, earning it the nickname “red jambalaya.” The holy trinity of vegetables is the first thing Creole chefs add to their pot. They simmer the trinity with their meats of choice. Seafood such as shrimp, oysters, and crab are common in Creole jambalaya. Once cooked, chefs add tomatoes, stock, and rice to the pot and bring it to a boil. They cover the pot and cook the mixture until the rice absorbs the stock. The tomatoes give the final product a red hue. Creole red jambalaya is the variety most New Orleans restaurants serve.
  • What Is Cajun Jambalaya? Cajun jambalaya, otherwise known as brown jambalaya, forgoes tomatoes and has a smokier flavor than Creole jambalaya. Cajun chefs start their jambalaya recipes by browning their meats. Once the meat caramelizes, chefs saute the meat with the trinity before pouring in their rice and stock. They simmer the mixture until the rice absorbs the stock. The browned bits of meat will dissolve, producing Cajun jambalaya’s signature brown hue. You’ll find Cajun jambalaya in rural Louisiana restaurants.

Difference between Cajun and Creole

Cajuns and Creoles are two distinct ethnic groups; together, they’ve shaped the culture and cuisine of Louisiana. Historians define Cajuns as the descendants of Acadian (French Canadian) immigrants. The term Creole describes a broad ethnic group encompassing peoples of European, African, Hispanic, and Caribbean descent. In Louisiana, the term Creole also applies to those born in New Orleans with French or Spanish ancestors.

What Is the Difference between Cajun and Creole Food?

Cuisine helps distinguish Louisiana Cajun and Creole culture. Creole food favors tomatoes, rich sauces, and seafood. Dine at New Orleans’ old-line restaurants for Louisiana Creole dishes such as shrimp creole, roux-based gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. Cajun food is the rustic fare served in the bayous of Louisiana northwest of New Orleans, particularly in Breaux Bridge and Lafayette. Smoked meats and one pot dishes like crawfish boils and smoky brown jambalaya epitomize Cajun cuisine.

Cajun vs Creole Seasoning

Cajun and Creole seasoning are both spice blends from Louisiana, but they have different flavor profiles. Cajun seasoning contains paprika, cayenne pepper, white pepper, black pepper, bell pepper, and garlic powder. Creole seasoning blends oregano, bay leaf, basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley, and paprika. Since Cajun seasoning is full of peppers and Creole seasoning uses herbs, Cajun seasoning has a hot profile and Creole seasoning is reminiscent of herbes de Provence.

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Jambalaya and Gumbo FAQs

louisiana crystal hot sauce in bottle on wooden table

Below, we answer frequent questions that arise as chefs make gumbo and jambalaya:

What to Serve with Jambalaya

If you’re running low on time and are wondering what to serve with your jambalaya, you don’t have to serve it with anything other than hot sauce! Its balanced blend of vegetables, proteins, and carbohydrates makes jambalaya the perfect one pot meal. Putting a warm basket of French bread on the table is always a popular choice. If you want to create a full course meal, other classic Louisiana dishes that go with jambalaya include:

  • Beignets - These famous New Orleans doughnuts are the perfect dessert to serve with jambalaya. Beignets are deep-fried, pate a choux dough squares served hot in a cloud of powdered sugar.
  • Red Beans and Rice - Historically, Louisianians made red beans and rice on Mondays with the leftover red beans, vegetables, and pork bones from their Sunday dinners. Wealthier families added Tasso ham and sausage to their red beans and rice. These ingredients are slow cooked together in a pot and served over rice.
  • Turtle Soup - Chefs use traditional French culinary techniques to prepare this regional Louisiana soup. Turtle soup has a beef stock base and the meat of American snapping turtle, which populates Louisiana swamps.
  • Boudin - Louisiana boudin is a cooked sausage made from a blend of rice, pork meat, vegetables, and seasonings stuffed into a natural pork casing.

What to Serve with Gumbo

No bowl of gumbo is complete without a small scoop of white rice at the bottom, but what side dishes should you serve with this hearty Louisiana stew? Below we explain the traditional items that go with gumbo:

  • French Bread - Not just for po’boys, French bread is a New Orleans staple that’s perfect for sopping up gumbo broth.
  • Hushpuppies - Drop cornbread batter into oil to cook these doughy fried cornbread bites.
  • Potato Salad - Some locals scoop potato salad into their gumbo for extra creaminess, but most modern southerners eat their potato salad on the side.
  • Chargrilled Oysters - Chefs load oysters with garlic, butter, and parmesan before chargrilling them on the half shell.

Cajun Cooking Trinity

The trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking is a flavor base composed of equal parts onion, celery, and bell peppers chefs sweat in fat. It evolved from French mirepoix, a medley of carrots, celery, and onions. Since carrots don’t grow well in the bayou of Louisiana, French immigrants replaced carrots with bell peppers, and the trinity was born. The trinity is the foundational flavor of both gumbo and jambalaya.

What Is Roux?

A roux is a thickening agent made from equal parts flour and fat. To make roux, mix flour into a melted fat (butter, lard, oil, etc.) on the stovetop. Brown the mixture by stirring and cooking it between 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit until it reaches your preferred shade. New Orleans chefs use espresso-hued, dark brown roux to thicken gumbo.

How to Make a Roux for Gumbo

To make a roux for gumbo, blend equal parts flour and fat in a pan on your stovetop. If you’re making a Creole gumbo, use melted butter for your roux. If you’re following a Cajun gumbo recipe, use either melted lard or oil. Cook the mixture until it turns dark brown at a temperature between 350-375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Jambalaya vs Paella

Jambalaya and paella are both one pot rice dishes loaded with medleys of meat, seafood, and vegetables. Spices differentiate jambalaya and paella. Saffron is the main spice flavoring paella, but it is not in jambalaya. Cayenne pepper gives jambalaya a bolder flavor profile than paella. Chefs typically prepare jambalaya in a pot, where paella is prepared in a specialized paella pan.

From 1762 to 1801, Spain owned a majority of Louisiana. Because saffron wasn’t readily available in the bayou, Spanish settlers adopted new spices. Regional ingredients replaced old world options. For example, jambalaya often includes okra and crawfish, which aren’t found in Spanish paella.

How Long to Cook Gumbo

If you’re wondering how long to cook gumbo, the longer the better! Once your gumbo comes to a boil, reduce the heat and leave it to simmer for a minimum of three hours. Most authentic Cajun and Creole restaurants start their gumbo early in the morning. If you ask a Gulf Coast resident what’s in their gumbo, they’re likely to say, “12 hours of labor and lots of love.”

What Is Tasso Ham?

A specialty of south Louisiana, butchers cure and spice Tasso ham before smoking it. Tasso ham has a spicy, salty, and smoky flavor. Conventional ham comes from a hog’s hind leg, but they make Tasso from fatty and flavorful shoulder meat. Not just for jambalaya, chefs incorporate Tasso ham into gumbo, grits, and gravies. Some butchers sell Tasso hams whole, but most chop it into easy-to-use chunks, slices, and diced pieces.

gumbo file seasoning on black wood spoon

What Is Gumbo File?

Gumbo file, or file powder, is the dried and crushed leaves of the sassafras plant. Sassafras is native to the southeastern United States. Choctaw Indians cooked with sassafras long before the colonization of the Americas. You can buy gumbo file powder from a restaurant supply store.

What Kind of Sausage for Jambalaya?

Andouille is the most popular kind of sausage for jambalaya. Chorizo, alligator, or kielbasa also lends well to jambalaya.

Dried or Fresh Okra for Gumbo?

You can thicken gumbo with fresh or dried okra, but pieces of okra are popular additions to chunky gumbos.

What Is Louisiana-Style Hot Sauce?

Composed of aged cayenne peppers, vinegar, and salt, Louisiana-style hot sauce first emerged in 1928. Louisiana-style hot sauces are milder than Mexican-style hot sauces, but their high vinegar and salt contents create a tangier initial flavor. Tabasco sauce, a variant of traditional Louisiana-style hot sauce, uses tabasco peppers instead of cayenne. Tabasco sauce is spicier than other regional varieties.

How to Pronounce Gumbo

Gumbo is pronounced as “Guhm - bow”

How to Pronounce Jambalaya

Jambalaya is pronounced as “juhm - buh - lai - uh”.

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Just like jazz bands play the same songs to different rhythms, each south Louisiana chef puts a unique spin on their gumbo and jambalaya. The joy is in syncopation, the subverting of expectations. Now that you understand the difference between gumbo and jambalaya, you can take the framework of each tradition and create your own signature recipe.

Posted in: Recipes | Menu Tips | Seasonal | Product Spotlights | By Corrinn McCauley
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