The word “Cajun” has proven its appeal on menus and retail packaging for quite some time now and is perhaps more widely used now than ever before. But most, I find, lack authenticity in their flavor profiles. Having depended upon poor representations of “Cajun” cuisine found on the aisles of their favorite supermarket, many consumers outside of the South Louisiana region define “Cajun” simply as “really hot spice and salty.”
Having been born and raised in South Louisiana, I grew up with a love of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Even after having lived in Ohio for 20 years, I try to cook the dishes that I grew up with as often as I can. As any self-respecting Cajun would tell you, good food is meant to be shared. So, when a new neighbor recently moved in, I greeted them with an offering of Cajun Crawfish Jambalaya. As I offered him the jambalaya, he responded by saying, “Thank you so much, but we don’t eat Cajun food because we don’t like really hot spices.”
It was instantly apparent that he had never had an authentic Cajun cuisine taste experience.
Today’s consumers are far more adventurous when it comes to cuisines of different cultures and regions, and they love to explore. However, they are very demanding when it comes to authenticity. While the concept and product names alone might be enough to stimulate trial, it is the authenticity of the taste experience that drives repeat purchases.
In Cajun cuisine, it’s fairly easy to achieve an authentic taste experience by following these 7 simple tips:
- Base your dish on ingredients that have traditionally been readily available in Louisiana Bayou country. I cringe when I see menu items such as “Creole Salmon” or “Cajun Grilled Elk,” for instance.
- All savory Cajun dishes make use of what is commonly referred to as “The Trinity” as their flavor foundation. The Trinity is onion, green bell pepper and celery. Almost all of them use a good amount of garlic. Be sure to start with these 4 flavors, then add seasoning on top of that.
- If it’s soupy or stew-like, it will almost always have a roux. If you don’t know what a roux tastes like, think buttery and a little nutty. The darker the dish, the more present the nutty notes should be. Conversely, the lighter the dish, the more buttery notes should be present.
- Spice is nice, but it shouldn’t overpower the other flavors, and the choice of spice should also have ties to the Gulf Coast region. Black Pepper, White Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Tabasco Peppers, and basic Red Pepper are the most common associations. Other “south of the border” peppers (such as jalapeno or habanero) can be used along with the more traditional ones, but shouldn’t be the “hero” flavor. If you can’t imagine being able to eat a very large serving, then it’s probably too hot (spicy).
- Butter, or some suitable substitute, like bacon grease or animal fat, is used in most Cajun cuisine.
- Salt and rice are products of Louisiana and are therefore widely used. The same goes for cane sugar in sweet recipes.
- When deciding which ingredients to include in your recipe, ask yourself if it has historically and commonly been found in Cajun Country. If the answer is “no.” leave it out!
I’m fortunate to work for a company whose mission is to bring authentic taste experiences to consumers every day. If you’re involved in your own product development process and would like to sample flavors like the ones I mentioned in the above tips, you can visit our online Givaudan store to explore these and other flavors that will meet your needs. Request samples that are ready to ship.
As for my new neighbor, I convinced him that my jambalaya was well seasoned but not “too spicy.” He accepted my food gift and promised to try it and share it with his wife. A couple of days later, he was walking up my driveway to tell me how much he enjoyed it and wanted to know what other Cajun dishes I know how to cook. That’s been the story for as long as I can remember. Introducing someone to a real Cajun culinary experience always leaves them looking forward to the next one. For we Cajuns, our cuisine is all about our joie de vie — and good, authentic cuisine goes hand-in-hand with good authentic friends with whom it’s meant to be shared.
As we say down on the bayou, “Laissez les bon temps rouler!”