Gumbo vs Jambalaya – What’s the Difference?

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gumbo vs jambalaya

What’s for dinner tonight? If you’re ready to try something from the state of Louisiana, gumbo and jambalaya are two favorite meals. Read on to find out what makes these two meals so similar and so different.

Gumbo and Jambalaya? Both gumbo and jambalaya are stapled foods in Louisiana. They are a mixture of meat and vegetables and rely on aromatic herbs and seasonings to produce flavors that truly pop. While both are served with rice, gumbo cooks the rice separately, and then pours the soup-like dish over top, while jambalaya cooks the rice in with the dish. Within each category, gumbo and jambalaya, there are many varieties that rely on unique cooking techniques to produce these rich dishes.

What is Gumbo?

what is gumbo

If you travel to Louisiana, be sure to order some gumbo as it is actually the state designated cuisine.

Gumbo is more of a soup than a stew, although there are many variations. It includes meat, which can be sausage, beef, or shellfish, as well as vegetables, which are celery, green bell peppers, and onion. Finally, a thickener is used, which is either okra or a dark roux.

Rice is used in this dish but is cooked separately. The gumbo stew is normally served over top of the rice.

What is Jambalaya?

what is jambalaya

Jambalaya is a dish that has a rich history. It has origins in West Africa, Spain, and France.

This is a meat and vegetable dish that uses a wide assortment of protein. While jambalaya typically includes sausage, you can also add chicken, beef, or shrimp.

As for vegetables, jambalaya starts with the “holy trinity” of vegetables, which are celery, onion, and green bell pepper. Then, depending on your preference, you can add other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, and chilis.

Finally, jambalaya also includes rice, which is normally cooked into the meal, for a one-pot dish.

Difference Between Gumbo vs Jambalaya

Dish type

Gumbo is usually classified as a soup. It is a thick soup, though, thanks to the use of a roux or okra. However, it is poured over rice to create the final presentation.

Jambalaya is more of a stew, thanks to the fact that the rice is cooked with the meal.


Gumbo and jambalaya are popular meals in Louisiana but both have rich histories. The origins of jambalaya include West Africa, Spain, and France.

Similarly, gumbo has origins in Africa, France, Spain, and the Native American Choctaw people. However, it is now recognized as the state cuisine of Louisiana.


While gumbo is a bit thinner than jambalaya, because the rice is added afterwards, both will have a chunky consistency to them.

The addition of plenty of meat and vegetables means both dishes are pretty hearty.

Gumbo requires a thickening agent, such as a roux or even okra, while jambalaya uses the rice to thicken up the sauce.


Gumbo and jambalaya use a mixture of meat and seafood. Sausage is popular in both, although chicken, shrimp, crab, and beef can also be used in either dish.

Both dishes start with green bell peppers, onion, and celery for the vegetable portion. Other vegetables that can be added include carrots, tomatoes, and okra, depending on the recipe.

A healthy dose of seasonings is used in both gumbo and jambalaya. Hot peppers often play a role, again depending on the recipe and the taste of who is eating.

Rice Used

For both gumbo and jambalaya, long-grain rice is needed. Usually, basmati rice is used because it can be cooked longer without becoming too mushy.

Cooking Method

Gumbo and jambalaya have a lot of flavors that need to be stewed fully. Expect any recipe to require you to cook the meal for a few hours at a low temperature so that everything blends nicely.


Gumbo and jambalaya are relatively healthy meals. They incorporate good protein and often plenty of vegetables.

If you want a richer medley of nutrition, consider substituting the sausage for leaner meat such as chicken or seafood, and add more vegetables.

Types of Gumbo

types of gumbo

Gumbo z’herbes

When translated to English, this gumbo is all about greens. Gumbo z’herbes is different from other gumbos in that it is only made with vegetables and seasonings.

You can add a wide variety of vegetables, although more common ones include spinach, turnips, cabbage, collards, and chard. Other ingredients include parsley, garlic, onions, and green bell pepper.

Because most of the ingredients are green in color, the result is a rich, green stew packed full of both flavor and nutrients.

Gumbo z’herbes is traditionally made during Lent.  

Creole gumbo

Creole gumbo is all about the addition of okra. While it starts with meat, such as sausage, ham, chicken, shrimp, or crab, it also adds okra as a thickening agent.

Cajun gumbo

Cajun gumbo is very similar to creole gumbo. It includes different meats, such as chicken, beef, sausage, crab, or shrimp.

However, it does not include okra, which Cajun gumbo uses. Instead, a dark roux is used to thicken the dish.  

Types of Jambalaya

types of jambalaya

Cajun jambalaya

Cajun jambalaya uses a medley of meat such as chicken, sausage, and the most popular, crayfish, as well as rice. Its distinguishing feature is that it does not contain tomatoes.

Cajun jambalaya will also have a smokier taste to it, as the meat is usually browned in a cast iron pot.

While you can easily find Cajun jambalaya throughout Louisiana, it is originally from the rural areas of the state.

Creole jambalaya

Creole jambalaya shares similar characteristics of Cajun jambalaya, except for one important ingredient. While you can use an assortment of meats and seafood in it, Creole jambalaya must also include tomatoes.

White jambalaya

When making either Cajun or Creole jambalaya, rice is added into the pot while cooking the meat. However, with white jambalaya, the rice is cooked separately and only added at the end.

The result of this dish is a softer color because the rice maintains its white color.


Gumbo and jambalaya both use meat and vegetables, as well as unique seasonings to produce scrumptious dishes. Gumbo is normally poured over rice while jambalaya has the rice cooked into it.

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