Jambalaya and gumbo are two quintessential Louisiana dishes with Creole and Cajun roots. Locals who grew up with these dishes can tell you every chef has their own take on these dishes, but the key ingredients and big flavor profiles are constants.
In this article, we define what these dishes are, how they’re made, and what truly makes them different. Plus, we share some finger-licking recipes so you can whip some up at home!
What is gumbo?
Gumbo is a thick stew filled with meat or seafood and the “holy trinity” of Cajun and Creole cooking: onion, celery, and bell peppers. For chicken gumbo, sausage (usually pork) and chicken are added. For seafood gumbo, crab, crawfish shrimp, and oysters are added.
Creole gumbo has tomato in the broth, while Cajun gumbo does not. Both types of gumbo can also include ham.
Gumbo is always thickened with a roux (flour cooked in a fat source until it’s brown) and is served with rice. The rice is not cooked into the stew, which is a notable difference from jambalaya.
Origins of gumbo
The origins of this popular dish are traced back to West Africa. “Gumbo” comes from the Central Bantu word “kingombo” meaning okra. (Okra, which is used to thicken stew in West Africa, is another common ingredient of gumbo.)
The gumbo found in Louisiana today is a true “melting pot” dish that takes influence from French, Spanish, Native American, African, and Creole cuisines.
What does gumbo taste like?
Much of gumbo’s rich and distinct flavor profile comes from the roux base. The stew gets a bit of sweetness and a slick texture from the addition of okra. There is a subtle hint of root beer essence that comes from sassafras leaves.
In addition to filé powder (ground sassafras leaves), common seasonings of gumbo include sage, thyme, cumin, black pepper, parsley, dry mustard, paprika, cayenne pepper, and bay leaves. Gumbo can have a bit of spiciness depending on the seasonings.
How to make gumbo
To make gumbo, you will begin by cooking flour and fat (butter is the most common, but you can also use other fats such as oil or lard) into a roux. Next, add water and/or stock and simmer the trinity vegetables. Sear the meats separately before adding them to the pot and simmering, typically for hours. If using okra, add this towards the end of cooking.
What is best gumbo rice?
Gumbo is traditionally served over steamed white rice.
What to serve with gumbo?
Gumbo can be served alongside potato salad (sometimes in place of the rice), sliced scallions, and hot sauce on the side. Filé powder is typically sprinkled onto individual servings for further thickening and added flavor.
Best gumbo recipes
For a delicious and authentic Creole gumbo recipe, head over to All Recipes! This bold and flavorful stew is filled with hearty ingredients like fresh herbs, bell pepper, sausage, stewed tomatoes, and crabmeat. Yum!
What is jambalaya?
Jambalaya is a one-pot Creole and Cajun dish that includes vegetables and a combination of sausage, chicken, and shrimp over a rice base. As with gumbo, Jambalaya usually begins with the trinity base of onion, celery, and bell peppers.
Unlike gumbo, jambalaya is not a brothy dish or stew, and it does not use a thickener. There are two main jambalayas: Creole jambalaya (red jambalaya) which gets its color from tomato; and cajun jambalaya (brown jambalaya) which gets its color from beef broth.
Origins of jambalaya
Jambalaya was created in the European quarters of New Orleans in the 1700s. The dish is a descendant of Spanish paella, another rice-based dish, and incorporates the French influence of the trinity ingredients: onion, celery, and bell pepper.
Spanish colonists and West African slaves are credited with creating the dish in an effort to recreate paella with local ingredients.
What does jambalaya taste like?
This savory dish has a smoky, spicy, and earthy flavor profile derived from the trinity of vegetables as well as the meat—especially andouille sausage. Similar to gumbo, typical jambalaya spices include garlic, onion, cayenne, pepper, file powder (ground sassafras) tyme, yellow mustard, bay leaves, and sage. As well as tomato sauce if it’s a red jambalaya.
How to make jambalaya
Cooking jambalaya starts with stir-frying the trinity ingredients in oil. Next, add the meat and cook until seared. Finally, add the broth, seasonings, and rice. Cook until the rice is tender and the liquid is almost all absorbed. If using shrimp, add it towards the end of cooking.
What is best jambalaya rice?
Jambalaya is traditionally made with long-grain rice that is grown in Louisiana. It is heartier than other types of rice and doesn’t turn to mush in the pan. Jasmine and basmati rice can also work, but you have to be careful not to overcook them.
What to serve with jambalaya
For garnish, you can add some sliced green onions, fresh parsley, and fresh bell pepper to individual servings. Jambalaya is often served with cornbread and can be accompanied by salads and vegetables.
For serving ideas, be sure to check out our what to serve with jambalaya resource!
Best jambalaya recipes
Ready to give this spicy and savory rice dish a try? Head over to Delish for a hearty and flavorful red jambalaya recipe that uses chicken, sausage, and shrimp for protein and is full of nutritious veggies!
Summary: What’s the difference between gumbo and jambalaya?
Both of these hearty Louisiana staples commonly include a combination of sausage, chicken, shrimp, and rice as well as the “holy trinity” of onion, celery, and bell peppers. And both stews have a Creole and Cajun variety.
There are two main differences that distinguish these dishes:
- The rice: Gumbo is a soup served over rice whereas jambalaya is a dish with rice cooked in it as a main component of the dish.
- The roux: A roux—sometimes in combination with okra— is almost always used to thicken gumbo. Jambalaya does not require a thickener.
If you’re loving these flavorful and nutritious combinations of proteins, be sure to check out our 25 easy homestyle chicken and shrimp recipes! From soups and stews to paella, pasta, and fajitas, we have you covered!
Okra season is coming up, so if you’re curious about how to incorporate more of this southern staple into your culinary creations, head over to our 25 best okra recipes.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Is gumbo healthy?
This hearty meal contains high amounts of fat (a typical serving of gumbo has 17 to 27 g) as well as gluten from the roux. Calories and nutritional profiles vary depending on the meats and other ingredients used.
Is jambalaya spicy?
Jambalaya can be spicy, depending on the amount and ratio of seasonings used. For a milder version, tone down or omit the cayenne pepper.
Are jambalaya and gumbo the same?
Jambalaya and gumbo have similar ingredients but are distinctly different dishes, due to how the rice is incorporated and the use of roux in gumbo. Gumbo is brothy, like a stew, while jambalaya is much drier.