If you’ve never used or heard of gumbo filé powder, don’t worry I’m going to keep it simple for you.
In this post, you’ll learn what filé powder is, what it does in a recipe, and when to add it to your gumbo so it turns out delicious!
What is Filé Powder
Filé powder is a green-colored seasoning made from dried and ground sassafras leaves that is added to gumbo for its flavor and thickening properties.
Powdered sassafras leaves were used by Choctaw Indians (southern area of the US), and when the Cajuns arrived in the area of Acadia (southeast Louisiana), they began using it to thicken and flavor their gumbos, soups, and stews.
If you’re looking for it at the grocery store, you’ll find it in the spice aisle labeled as “filé powder,” not gumbo filé. People refer to it as a gumbo filé because it’s a staple in creole and cajun recipes, like in the classic Chicken Gumbo Recipe.
What Does Gumbo Filé Do?
The most well-known use for Gumbo Filé is in gumbo, where it’s added to add earthy flavors and to thicken it. It’s added at the end, once you’ve turned off the heat since its thickening properties begin as the gumbo starts to cool down.
In many Louisiana homes, including mine, you’ll find gumbo filé powder at the table, so each person can sprinkle a little over the gumbo.
Is Gumbo Filé the Same as Roux
Gumbo filé is not the same as a roux. A roux is made with flour and fat, at the beginning of the recipe. And while a roux helps thicken a gumbo, it’s the base of the gumbo and without a roux, you don’t have gumbo. Filé powder is added at the very end, once the gumbo is off the heat and ready to be served. Filé, while delicious, is not considered essential to making gumbo.
Gumbo Filé Substitute
If you find gumbo filé or filé powder in a recipe and that’s the only ingredient you don’t have on hand, don’t fret. You can substitute its thickening properties by making a slurry in a small bowl; which is a simple mixture of 1 teaspoon cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water, and adding that at the very end.
You can also substitute some of the filé powder flavors by adding a bay leaf or two to the recipe, at the beginning of cooking or adding a few sprinkles of poultry seasoning right before serving.
Starting out with a great recipe is the trick to not needing filé for thickening your gumbo in the first place, even if you’re trying to make a Gluten-Free Gumbo.