New Orleans is widely known for its cuisine. Creole and Cajun flavors for which Louisiana is famous have proven both marketable and much-loved by chefs and household cooks everywhere. Tony Chachere’s, Zatarain’s, McIlhenny’s Tabasco and Reily Foods’ Tiger Sauce are just a few of the universally appreciated flavors of the Crescent City and its region.
Brands like Chachere’s and Zatarain’s have been created to bring Louisiana zip and modern convenience to fish fry, red beans and rice, etouffee, crawfish, shrimp boil, jambalaya, dirty rice and other regional favorites. Each of these brands work well for people who do not possess the heritage and experience of cooking such intricately flavored Louisiana cuisine from scratch, or those who just want dinner completed quickly.
Southern Louisiana cuisine is revered as much due to its unique personality as its flavors. Even coffee is a standout with chicory added to coffee beans, providing that authentic French Market flavor visitors have grown to love as much as locals. Any traveler to the region should spend time sampling and shopping for their own favorites to keep in the pantry and on the stove.
Below are some of the standouts among authentic Louisiana foods and flavors that you can purchase in your grocery store or online. Each of these is guaranteed to make your mouth water while bringing back memories of time spent along the Mississippi, in the French Quarter and throughout the historic and flavorful gem of New Orleans.
As far as people in Louisiana are concerned, there’s only one brand of dried beans: Camellia. They are packaged in several varieties – black, navy, split pea, lentil, lima, field pea, crowder pea – but the reigning king locally will always be the red kidney bean, the primary ingredient red beans and rice. Apparently the rest of the U.S. is catching onto the quality of these little red legumes. Sales of Camellia red kidney beans top charts all over the nation. What makes them so popular? Beyond Louisiana authenticity, perhaps it’s the convenient, foolproof recipes Camellia is good enough to print on the back of each package. Camellia also offers dinner mixes, much like Zatarain’s and Tony Chachere’s.
Beer and Spirits
Abita Beer, brewed with pure water from nearby artesian wells in Abita Springs, has been loved since its debut in the early 1980s. Master brewers at Abita produce Golden, Amber and Turbodog varieties for everyday consumption. Mardi Gras Bock, Wheat, Red Ale, Christmas Ale and Fall Fest are brewed seasonally. Golden, Amber and Turbodog are distributed all over the east and southeast, in Texas and California. For younger crowds and teetotalers, Abita brews a root beer using Louisiana Sugar cane as its prime sweetener.
M. W. Heron, a bartender at McCauley’s Tavern just off Bourbon Street, came up with a beverage he called “Cuffs and Buttons” and began serving his mixture of liqueur, fruit and spice directly from a whiskey barrel in 1874. A decade later his concoction was renamed Southern Comfort and described as “The Grand Old Drink of the South” at the World’s Centennial Exposition in New Orleans. By 1889, Heron was bottling Southern Comfort with a label proclaiming “None Genuine but Mine.” In l939, Southern Comfort became the first alcohol to jointly promote a movie and a beverage. That was called the “Scarlet O’Hara,” made with cranberry juice and the affectionately nicknamed SoCo, introduced to coincide with the release of Gone With the Wind. This remains one of the most popular Southern Comfort drinks, as well as one widely requested at bars coast-to-coast.
Coffee and Tea
Community Coffee and Tea suffered humble beginnings. When Henry Saurage founded Full Weight Grocery in the early l900s in Baton Rouge, he began to package ground and roasted coffee he prepared for his regular customers. The product line grew to include bagged and iced teas, the latter of which are available in a variety of fruit flavors. Community is now a firmly established and favored product throughout the South. New Orleans is dotted with locations of their cozy coffee houses, CC’s.
A favorite with old-timers since l890, French Market, a Reily Foods Company Brand, has been shipping coffee all over the nation. Blending with chicory makes the product stronger and smoother. Visitors to the city who enjoy coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde will recognize and enjoy memories evoked by a nice cup of French Market coffee.
Luzianne was founded in 1903 by William Reily who provided his customers with already ground, ready-to-brew coffee, cutting down considerably on the time it took to indulge. This made him a pioneer in the convenience food industry. Increasingly popular with Southerners who live on sweet tea, Luzianne Tea is the number two brand of bagged tea for brewing iced tea in the United States, second only to Lipton. In addition to Luzianne, Reily Foods Company owns the CDM Coffee brand and recently acquired the New England Tea and Coffee Company in Boston.
New Orleans Coffee Company is continuing the great coffee tradition of New Orleans, while adding a stroke of genius to time-honored coffee brewing methods of the South. They have developed CoolBrew, a cold-dripped coffee concentrate that makes a fresh, delicious cup of hot or iced coffee in a matter of seconds. The product enables coffee lovers to save time and get themselves percolating – without percolation – on post-party mornings and includes chicory to give the coffee its regional New Orleans flavor.
Condiments, Spices and Spice-Based Food Mixes
Crystal Condiments are a creation of Baumer Foods, now found in Reserve, Louisiana. If you drive by their plant, your nose will soon tickle and your taste buds tingle, aroused by the scent of hot pepper mash cooking and fermenting. Milder than Tabasco, but similarly piquant, Crystal Hot Sauce is exported to nearly a hundred countries. The Crystal brand also includes mustard, teriyaki and fruit preserves.
Magic Seasoning Blend is the creation of Chef Paul Prudhomme, the man who started the Cajun food craze back in l984 at his French Quarter restaurant, K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen. Made in the suburb of Harahan, Magic is available in nine varieties. Chef Paul promises there’s one to enhance just about anything you cook.
One of the best-selling pepper sauces in the country, Melinda’s Original Habanero Pepper Sauce differs from other brands because it’s made with Hades-hot habanero peppers instead of jalapeno or cayenne, and is available in several increasingly lethal strengths. Melinda’s combines fiery peppers with a blend of lime, onion, garlic and carrot puree. The bottled sauce from Metairie packs more than a dollop of heat.
Reily Foods’ Blue Plate Mayonnaise is one of the most popular mayonnaise brands in the country and has been named the top mayonnaise by Cook’s Illustrated. The company also produces the nationally popular and versatile Tiger Sauce hot sauce. Their Carroll Shelby seasoning brand is popular across the country, with the Carroll Shelby Chili Seasoning as the number two chili blend in the country, second only to McCormick.
Rex Pure Foods & Horse Shoe Pure Products has been seasoning and dressing Louisiana foods since 1888 and is enjoyed throughout the nation. Look for a variety of hot sauces, cocktail onions, horseradish and remoulade sauces, Creole mustard, fish fry and seafood boil. The company started exporting in 1978 with overseas sales now comprising over 30 percent of the business.
Since 1920, Steen’s Syrup has been produced in Abbeville and is now sold throughout Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The company’s molasses is what gives the sweet taste to many commercial varieties of oatmeal cookies as well as K.C. Masterpiece sauces.
Blazing both tongue and tonsils alike, Tabasco is enjoyed by people in more than 100 countries. Labels are printed in over 19 languages. Established in 1868 by the family still in ownership today, McIlhenny Tabasco is produced on beautiful Avery Island, west of New Orleans. In addition to the little bottles of hot pepper sauce, look for spicy mayo, hot/sweet pepper jelly, pickled beans, okra, loud neckties and hot boxer shorts.
Usually the product comes first and then the cookbook follows. But, in the case of Tony Chachere’s seasonings, it was the other way around. In 1972, the seasoning company was founded in Opelousas, in the heart of Cajun country, after Tony hit it big with his Cajun Country Cookbook. Look for several kinds of fish fry and “quick fix” Cajun boxed dishes.
Products from Zatarain’s, established in the west bank suburb of Gretna, have been a staple in New Orleans kitchens since 1889. Zatarain’s jambalaya mix is said to be the country’s favorite. Each of their boxed mixes brings authentic Nola to the dinner table while ensuring the cost and effort put into each meal preparation are highly palatable.
Rice, Bread and Cakes
Both Watermaid and Mahatma Rice are synonymous with New Orleans cooking. Mahatma is a long-grain rice, Watermaid a medium grain. Both are distributed around the globe by parent company Riviana of Abbeville. New Orleanians believe the quality of both Mahatma and Watermaid is superior to any other.
The G.H. Leidenheimer Bakery in New Orleans has been the chief provider of crispy French bread loaves to restaurants across the region. Imitators are to be found in dozens of supermarket bakeries, but none compare to the original.
King cakes are New Orleans’ famous Mardi Gras dessert, a delicious combination of flour, butter, sugar, eggs and cinnamon and first introduced to the city in the 19th century. This type of cake takes its name from the three kings who visited the Christ child on Epiphany. Local baking dynasties such as Haydel, Gambino and Randazzo have royal status because of their original recipes and variations, such as pecan praline, cream cheese and German chocolate.
All first-time king cake feasters beware: you may hear the person next to you exclaim: “I got the baby!” In every cake, a plastic baby about the size of your thumbnail is baked in. If the piece you’re given yields this surprise, you are responsible for providing the next king cake. The above mentioned bakers will gladly ship a king cake anywhere UPS or FedEx delivers.
This story was produced in conjunction with New Orleans CVB.