Don’t you just adore gumbo? It’s the heart of Southern Louisiana cuisine, a warm, meaty, spicy pot of goodness that has you wanting second, and even third, servings!
And if you want to make some gumbo, one of the most essential ingredients is gumbo file powder. This has a distinctive root beer taste that makes gumbo so delicious. (*)
But we know that not everyone has file powder in their pantry, and it’s a bit difficult to find in the supermarket. Fortunately, there are file powder substitutes you can use!
Additionally, you can make a homemade file powder substitute using dried and ground sassafras leaves if you have access to a sassafras tree. Choose the most suitable option based on your recipe and desired thickness.
Top 9 File Powder Substitutes for Gumbo
File powder is a traditional ingredient best known for its use in Louisiana gumbo. This ingredient is made of dried and ground sassafras tree leaves. (*)
It was traditionally used as a seasoning but then became known for adding thickness and flavor in traditional soups and stews.
File powder adds earthy flavor notes to your recipes while thickening stews, perfect for many dishes!
But If you don’t have file powder or want to try something different, here are some alternatives and how to use them in various recipes:
|Substitute||How to Use||Ratio|
|Root Beer & Corn Starch||Mix with root beer and add to recipe||2 tbsp corn starch + 1/4 cup root beer|
|Arrowroot Powder||Use as a thickener in sauces, stews, and soups||1:1|
|Okra||Chop and add to dish during cooking||As needed|
|Eggplant||Sauté, blend into a puree, and use as a thickening agent||As needed|
|Roux||Make with equal parts flour and butter, cook until light brown||As needed|
|Nopal Leaves||Dice and cook until tender, add to recipe||As needed|
|Rice Flour||Use as a thickening agent in soups and stews||1:1|
|Tomato Paste||Use as a thickening agent in recipe||As needed|
|Homemade File Powder||Collect, dry, and grind sassafras leaves||As needed|
1. Root Beer and Corn Starch
Corn starch is a Godsend in the world of cooking. It offers a neutral flavor and would thicken anything, from soups to custard.
Because of this, they are perfect for adding in gumbos and stews that already have strong and hearty flavors. Add as much cornstarch as needed until it reaches the desired consistency.
However, cornstarch can’t help add or replace the same flavor that file powder has. That’s why we highly recommend adding root beer flavor to your gumbo!
Root beer won’t give the exact earthy notes gumbo file powder does, but it gets you closer to the flavor. Plus, it’s gluten-free!
How to use:
- In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of corn starch with 1/4 cup root beer until smooth.
- Add the mixture to your recipe during the cooking process, stirring well to incorporate it evenly.
2. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder is similar to cornstarch, a neutral thickener that will give gumbo and stews the thickness you want without gumbo file powder.
This ingredient gives you clearer stews compared to cornstarch and will sustain its thickening function even after freezing some of your dishes for later consumption.
Like cornstarch, arrowroot powder has neutral flavors, so you can use root beer for a more authentic taste. Arrowroot powder is protein, nut, and gluten-free, so this is an excellent option if you’re allergic to nuts or gluten.
How to use:
- Measure out the same amount of arrowroot powder as you would file powder.
- Stir the arrowroot powder into your recipe, ensuring it dissolves completely.
Okra has been a traditional base for many West African soups and stews. Heck, you can find a traditional gumbo that uses okra as a thickener.
In fact, okra is known to be one of the main thickening ingredients of gumbo before it was replaced by Native American file powder! (*)
If you plan to use okra, be wary of how and when you add the okra. Only add okra once your main ingredients are cooking in the pot, then allow it to simmer for just a few minutes, allowing the stew to thicken.
Be careful with timing because if you add okra too early, you might end up overdoing the thickening process.
How to use:
- Chop fresh or frozen okra into small pieces.
- Add the chopped okra to your dish during the cooking process, letting it cook until tender.
Similar to okra, eggplant can be a thickening agent and adds more flavor to gumbo. If you don’t like okra’s mucilaginous texture, then eggplant is one of the best file powder alternatives, as it adds a creamier note and matches gumbo well. (*)
If you want an extra touch, drizzle eggplant in bacon fat before you roast and blend it. Then, like okra, add the eggplant once your main ingredients are in the pot and allow it to simmer for a few minutes.
You’ll achieve suitable thickness from the eggplant and earthy, savory notes from the bacon fat!
How to use:
- Dice an eggplant and sauté it in a pan with a little oil until soft.
- Blend the cooked eggplant into a puree using a blender or food processor.
- Stir the eggplant puree into your recipe as a thickening agent.
While the roux is French, it will work excellently! Make your own by cooking wheat flour in butter or melted bacon fat. If you’re vegan, you can use vegetable fat.
When cooking roux, let it reach a reasonably dark color, so you get a rich and warm flavor. Then, add your main ingredients to the mixture, making your stew or recipe as you usually would.
The taste won’t be like gumbo file powder, but it will be just as satisfying!
How to use:
- In a saucepan, melt equal parts of butter and flour (e.g., 2 tablespoons each) over low heat.
- Cook the mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches a light brown color.
- Gradually whisk in liquid from your recipe (such as stock or milk) until the desired thickness is achieved.
6. Nopal Leaves
Nopal leaves are used in Mexican cuisine, a kind of cactus with a tart flavor but similar thickening effect okra has. All you need to do is chop Nopal leaves, then add them simultaneously as you would with okra.
It’s pretty accessible and available in canned or bottled form, so no worries about cactus spines!
How to use:
- Remove the spines and dice the nopal leaves (cactus pads).
- Cook the diced nopal leaves in a pan until tender.
- Add the cooked nopal leaves to your recipe, allowing their sticky sap to thicken the dish.
7. Rice Flour
We like rice flour as a gluten-free thickening agent, which is found in Japanese cuisine. If you’re like us, you may already have rice flour, so it’s a great alternative to thicken soups.
Ike cornstarch can thicken your dish without any added flavors. However, it’s not best for gumbo, so use this for other stew and soups asking for gumbo file powder.
Alternatively, you can use other types of flours as well, such as:
- Tapioca flour is made of dried and ground cassava root, which you can find in Indian and African cuisine. It’s best for sauces, gravies, and soups.
- Gluten-free flour, which you can make into a roux for gumbo.
How to use:
- Measure out the same amount of rice flour as you would file powder.
- Stir the rice flour into your recipe, ensuring it dissolves completely.
8. Tomato Paste
If you’re in a pickle and have none of the ingredients above, you must have tomato paste! Gumbo contains tomatoes, so tomato paste can be a good thickener for soups, stews, and gumbo.
This ingredient can add flavor and thicken your dishes without being hard to find in the kitchen or your supermarket. That said, you might need another thickener alongside tomato paste or cook it down to reach your preferred consistency.
How to use:
- Measure out the desired amount of tomato paste to use as a thickening agent.
- Stir the tomato paste into your recipe, mixing well to incorporate it evenly.
Make File Powder Substitute At Home From a Sassafras Tree
Yes, you can make homemade file powder to get more of the authentic flavor for your gumbo. Here are the ingredients:
- Sassafras tree branches
- Rubber band
- Spice grinder or coffee grinder
- Airtight jar
How do you make filé powder?
Follow these steps:
- Cut tips of sassafras tree branches, then tie them using rubber bands.
- Hang the branches and store them in a cool, dark place, away from any heat or light sources. Let it stay for one week or once the leaves become dry and crunchy.
- Separate the leaves, pouring them into your grinder. Grind them until they become ground sassafras leaves, having a distinctive aroma.
- Use the sieve to sift the leaves, eliminating stems, lumps, and any big leaves.
- Pour the powder into your jar, and you now have file powder! Store this in a dark and dry place.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve got more coming up in the next section; check out these frequently asked questions to learn more about file powder:
Wrapping It Up
Achieve the distinctive flavor you want from the traditional thickener with any of these alternatives. We hope this list helped you out, and let us know what you think about any of these ingredients in the comments section below.
Enjoy your gumbo!
Need a File Powder Substitute for Gumbo? Here Are 9 Alternatives
- Root Beer and Corn Starch
- Arrowroot Powder
- Nopal Leaves
- Rice Flour
- Tomato Paste
- Make File Powder Substitute At Home From a Sassafras Tree
- To use the table and the information provided, follow these steps:
- Identify the substitute you want to use.
- Read the corresponding instructions in the “How to Use” column to understand how to incorporate the substitute into your recipe.
- Note the recommended ratio or amount for the substitute in the “Ratio” column.
- Using the table as a guide, you can easily select a file powder substitute and incorporate it into your recipe based on the instructions and ratios provided.