Are you making some gumbo or stew and looking for a quick substitute for filé powder? If you are, then you’ve definitely come to the right place. Here, you’ll find a list of the 7 best filé powder substitutes that you can use in a pinch.
What is filé powder?
Filé powder, also called gumbo filé is a powder made from grinding the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. Filé powder is usually green in color and is most regularly used in New Orleans-style cooking.
Filé powder is also used in the production of root beer.
What ingredients are used in gumbo file?
The ingredients used in gumbo filé are dried sassafras leaves.
Uses of gumbo filé powder
Gumbo filé powder is an herb used to add savory earthy flavors as well as thickness to sauces, gumbos, soups, and stews. Filé powder is used in many cajun recipes, but most popularly in gumbo recipes as a way to add that authentic southern flavor to the recipe.
Flavor of gumbo file
Filé powder has a lemony scent with some hints of thyme, eucalyptus, and sugar, and tastes very similar to root beer.
7 Best substitutes for filé powder
Root bear (for flavor)
Root beer is a great flavor substitute for filé powder in gumbo, jambalaya or even stews and other soups. This is so because both root beer and filé powder are made from the sassafras tree.
The difference is while root beer is made with the root bark of the sassafras tree, filé powder is made using the dried leaves of the sassafras tree. And so, the flavors are similar.
On the other hand, root beer does not provide the thickening abilities that filé powder provides, so in order to make the perfect substitute, use a combination of root beer for the filé powder flavor, with some cornstarch to add the thickening effect to the recipe.
You can use this combination of root beer and cornstarch as an alternative to gumbo filé in recipes such as gumbos, sauces and certain stews.
How to use: Simply use the cornstarch in equal quantities in place of the gumbo filé for thickening, then for the filé powder flavor substitute, use root beer where water is called for in the recipe. The results will be great!
Okra (for thickening)
In recipes like gumbo, okra has been used from the 18th century until now to add thickness to gumbo recipes and other sauces. In times when okra was not available, powdered sassafras (also known as filé powder) was then used as an alternative to thicken up gumbos.
Now, people use both gumbo and filé powder to make their gumbo. However, if you don’t have both of them on hand, one will work fine.
So, if you’ve run out of filé powder, adding some okra is perfect for adding that thickness and authentic gumbo flavor to your dish.
Ratio: 1/2 tablespoon file powder = 3 cups of okra
Cornstarch (for thickening)
Cornstarch is another good substitute for filé powder in recipes such as stews, soups, and gumbos. Cornstarch is a flavorless powder that can help to thicken just about anything that needs some viscosity.
As mentioned it is flavorless, so while it will add a very similar thickness to a recipe that gumbo filé would, the earthy flavors will be missing.
This should be no problem at all as gumbos, stews, and soups are typically quite flavorful due to all the other flavorful ingredients in those recipes.
Nonetheless, if the filé powder flavor in your recipe is very important to you, consider using root beer together with the cornstarch for better results.
Ratio: 1 teaspoon water + 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch = 1 teaspoon filé powder
- Note: use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every 1 cup of liquid used in the recipe for thin to medium thickness.
- Note: use 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for every 1 cup of liquid used in the recipe for a thicker, gravy-like consistency
- Note: to add cornstarch to any recipe, first mix it with some cold water to form a slurry, then gradually stir the cornstarch slurry into your hot, or cooking pot until it is well combined.
Arrowroot powder is another easy replacement for filé powder for adding viscosity to your soups, stews, gravies, or sauces. Like cornstarch, it does nothing in terms of adding that earthy filé powder flavor.
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for another close alternative to filé powder in terms of thickness for gumbos and other recipes, try out arrowroot with some root beer.
Note: Use 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder for every cup of liquid used in the recipe.
Another easy sub for filé powder, especially in gumbo are eggplants. It has somewhat of a similar flavor to root beer or filé and adds some creaminess to gumbo recipes, without the gooey, slimy feel.
Another easy way to add both thickness and some flavor to a gumbo if you’re out of powdered sassafras is by using a roux.
Roux is made by using equal parts flour and fat (i.e oil, bacon fat, or butter) and cooked down slowly while whisking until a paste is formed.
Roux is often used in gumbo and is a good alternative to filé powder for recipes such as gumbos.
Xanthan gum is another easy alternative for filé powder. Xanthan gum is usually used in gluten free cooking and has a very neutral flavor, so it won’t change the flavor of any meal.
However, what it will do is add some much-needed viscosity to any soup, stew, or sauce.
To use this product, combine 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum with 1 tablespoon of hot water and mix well for every 1 cup of liquid. Add it to the recipe and whisk quickly until properly combined.
Most of these filé powder substitutes are suitable for adding that thickness to your gumbo, but only a few add both thickness and gumbo file flavor to your respective dish.
If you’re looking to add both the thickening effect and the flavor of filé powder, consider using some root beer in addition to any of the substitutes outlined above to get the filé powder flavor as well.
And if you just want to use powdered sassafras or gumbo filé in your recipes, without having to worry about these alternatives, you can always order filé powder anytime!
Where to buy filé powder
You can purchase filé powder from most grocery stores or food markets.
You can also buy filé powder from Walmart or even get filé powder on amazon at any time of year!
How to make homemade filé powder
If you don’t want to buy it or you’re in a country where you can’t get it shipped, you can also make your own homemade filé powder. To make this type of spice, find or buy sassafras leaves, dehydrate them, then use a coffee grinder to grind the dried sassafras leaves into a fine powder for your own homemade gumbo filé!