From the ground up and into the pot
Spices are a foundation of Louisiana cuisine and the telltale sign in every bite of Cajun cooking.
It’s what elevated the rustic Cajun cuisine of Acadian settlers, who would sprinkle spicy mixtures on rice and beans. Today, Cajun chefs use these same “magic” ingredients to create their distinctive, flavorful dishes.
Cajun seasonings are a blend of salt with a variety of spices, with cayenne pepper and garlic being the most common.
The unmistakable spicy heat comes from the cayenne pepper, but flavor can be tweaked with various amounts of bell pepper, paprika, celery, green onions, parsley and more. Chefs use Cajun spices as others use salt and pepper. The complex flavors of Cajun spices work perfectly with simple, prevalent ingredients like rice and chicken but it’s also mixed with fish fry batter for an extra kick. From do-it-yourself Cajun seasoning mixes to pre-blended exotic mixes found at local grocery stores, it’s easy for cooks to get Cajun dishes seasoned to their special tastes.
Louisiana-style spice blends have caught on throughout the country, gracing tables nationwide. In 2010, spices exported from Louisiana helped account for a $12 million industry, according to the World Trade Center New Orleans data. The spice market is poised to increase even more as it has been steadily expanding to an international market with a growing number of more home cooking and more adventurous palates. Authentic Cajun spices continue to be manufactured right in Louisiana.
One of the more recognizable brands in Cajun seasoning is the Tony Chachere’s brand, which still makes its Creole Seasoning at its facility in Opelousas. Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods began in 1972 as a retirement hobby for chef Tony Chachere. He soon began to manufacture his blend, and a sketch of his likeness is on the label, standing next to a big pot of Cajun cooking. Tony Chachere’s Creole Foods is still owned by his family and operates out of its Lombard Street site – a 40,000 square foot facility with over 75 full-time employees. Tony’s grandson, Don, spearheads the growing business, which has expanded primarily through supermarket and mass-merchandise chains throughout the Southeast.
Zatarain’s, another brand synonymous with Cajun seasoning all over the country, was started Gretna, a New Orleans suburb, by Emile A. Zatarain Sr. and has been an important part of New Orleans–style cooking for more than 100 years. More than 200 products are now offered, and although McCormick & Company, the world’s largest spice maker, bought the business in 2003, Zatarain’s brands are still manufactured in Gretna.
Louisiana Chef Paul Prudhomme has also made a name for himself – literally – in the Cajun seasoning market by manufacturing spice blends in his own name. The blends at his flagship restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen in New Orleans, were a hit, and he would make up little batches to give away.
He decided to manufacture and market his special recipes in 1983, and a 125,000-square-foot plant outside of New Orleans still blends Chef Paul’s dry spices and Magic Seasoning Blends to all 50 states and 37 countries around the world.
More Cajun spice blends have come on the scene, including “Slap Ya Mamma” seasoning, manufactured by Walker & Sons. Started in 2001, the blend is made in Ville Platte, in the heart of Cajun country. The endless variations of Louisiana Cajun spices speak to their necessity in the kitchen, for no Louisiana cook wants to create a humdrum meal. With just a few dashes, Cajun spices are a true “wake up” for traditional and tasty dishes.
OTHER LOUISIANA COMPANIES
• The Red Stick Spice company is based in Baton Rouge.
• Louisiana Fish Fry Products of Baton Rouge was founded as an
offshoot of the company’s retail seafood operation, Tony’s Seafood.
• Southern Seasonings / Ragin’ Cajun Foods is located in Central South Louisiana.
• Mr. Pete’s Cajun Spices is a family-owned operation delivering authentic Cajun flavors in its seasoning blends in Houma.
• Cajun Land Brand,a retail product of Deep South Blenders Inc., is a spice company located in New Orleans.
•Deep South Blenders Inc. has been blending spices for almost 30 years.
• Barataria Spice Company has been owned and operated by Mike
Hymel since 1993.
• Rex Fine Foods of New Orleans ground its first batch of fresh spices back in 1888 and claims to have been the first to offer a fully seasoned fish fry.