Louisiana (Cajun or Creole) Seasoning
How we tested
Cajun and Creole are terms often used interchangeably to describe the flavorful dishes that Louisiana is famous for. Recipes for Louisiana spice blends vary in name, but whether called Cajun or Creole, most contain a mix of paprika, garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and cayenne—ingredients typically found in the region’s gumbos, seafood boils, and meat rubs. To determine the best Louisiana spice mix, we tasted five seasonings labeled Creole or Cajun on white rice and in pork grillades.
Tasters wanted seasoning that packed a punch and preferred saltier and spicier products. We liked the “pungent” kick from products that list black pepper, cayenne, or chili powder high on their ingredient lists. Since salt is a flavor enhancer, tasters also thought that products with more sodium had “stronger,” “more complex” spice blends: Our favorite product contains 350 milligrams of sodium per 1/4-teaspoon serving and was deemed “punchy” and “vibrant.” Seasonings with less than 130 milligrams of sodium were “flat” and “bland,” and one salt-free product was “completely boring.” But lots of salt didn’t guarantee a great seasoning: One product contains as much sodium as our winner but also includes flavor-enhancing chemicals, like disodium inosinate and guanylate, which made it too salty for tasters.
Products that stuck to traditional paprika-heavy and garlic-forward notes also rated better with tasters. Two bottom-ranked products included marjoram, fennel, or cumin and were ranked lower for their “misplaced,” “confusing” flavors.
We were concerned that some products were “papery” or “dusty” when we tasted them sprinkled on rice, but texture differences disappeared when the seasonings were cooked in a stew like grillades. Still, we thought seasonings that had a slightly “grainy,” “consistent” texture worked equally well when cooked and when sprinkled as a garnish (like for seafood boils or as a table spice).
When we tested the products against our homemade recipe for Louisiana seasoning in pork grillades, the homemade blend won out for its “balanced” complexity, so we think it’s worth the extra time and effort. But in a pinch, we prefer our winner, a local Louisiana favorite, for its “punchy,” “vibrant” flavor featuring plenty of chili powder, pepper, and garlic. An added bonus: At $0.28 per ounce, it’s the cheapest seasoning of the bunch.