While both Gumbo and Jambalaya are classic New Orleans recipes, they’re not the same.
Below you’ll learn the differences –and avoid calling it the wrong thing in front of a local from New Orleans as many have done –and links to excellent recipes for both.
What is the Difference Between Gumbo and Jambalaya
I’ve lived in New Orleans since 2000 and make both of these dishes for my family at least once a month. The main difference between gumbo and jambalaya is that Gumbo is a thick stew-like soup that’s served with a small scoop of rice on top. Jambalaya is a rice dish that isn’t liquid at all.
In the gumbo, the white rice is cooked separately and spooned on top of the gumbo after it’s served, while the rice is the main ingredient in jambalaya.
What is Gumbo
Gumbo is a Louisiana staple recipe categorized as a rich soup or stew filled with meat and seafood, sometimes one or both.
Gumbo’s rich texture starts with a roux, a mix of flour and fat that’s cooked until it develops a dark brown color. Once the roux is ready, you sauté the holy trinity veggies (onions, celery, and carrots) with spices, then add the protein, and stock. You simmer this heavenly mixture and add gumbo filé at the very end to add flavor and thicken it.
What is Jambalaya
Jambalaya is a rice-based dish that includes protein and many of the classic New Orleans spices we’ve all come to know. The liquid that is added to the pot is fully absorbed by the rice and the result is a delicious rice and protein dish.
The Flavor Difference
The flavor of gumbo is complex since its main source of hearty flavor comes from the roux. The darker the roux, the more complex and deeper flavors your gumbo will have.
As far as spices, gumbo is made with Cajun seasoning, a mix of garlic powder, Italian seasoning, paprika, cayenne pepper, onion powder, salt, and red pepper flakes. Jambalaya, on the other hand, is made with paprika, cayenne, thyme, and salt. The flavors of jambalaya are much simpler.
Gumbo serves its rice on the side and is cooked separately while jambalaya is a rice-based dish.
In Louisiana, we make Jambalaya with white long-grain rice since this is something grown locally. Use regular long-grain white rice, like Uncle Ben’s, for your jambalaya, although basmati or jasmine will work.
For gumbo, we also cook long-grain white rice separately in a pot or rice cooker and put a few spoonfuls of it on top.
Are They Spicy?
Neither gumbo nor jambalaya are spicy Louisiana dishes. They have complex flavors that are rich and full of spice but a good recipe should not be spicy. However, sometimes, when either dish includes andouille sausage, some varieties can be a bit spicy, so it’s often not the dish but the sausage added.
Are They Healthy?
Real gumbo can be high in fat because the roux is made with equal parts fat and flour as well as sausage, which can also be high in fat. Jambalaya can be healthier than gumbo, especially if it’s seafood and chicken or you use a lower-fat smoked sausage in the recipe.
What to Serve with Gumbo
In New Orleans, when we make gumbo for our family we typically serve it with freshly sliced French bread. It’s a filling dish and can be enjoyed as a main meal.
What to Serve with Jambalaya
My kids think of jambalaya as a complete meal because the grain and protein are quite filling. However, sometimes, the mom-side of me, or when I’m making it as one of the New Orleans dishes for a gathering, I also make my famous Deviled Eggs, we’ll Fry Catfish outside, or a Creole Tomato Salad.