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Gumbo Help

Making Gumbo and don't have file powder.
Can anyone think of a worthy substitute?

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  1. I don't think there really is a good substitute- it's made from sassafras. If you can't find any, you can always order online, but should be able to find in a store.

    1. some people may jump all over me for this but i have had and made plenty of gumbo without file and this is in southern louisiana

      1 Reply
      1. re: frankiii

        Thank you, I was gonna say that! Last time I had gumbo in New Orleans (with file) I didn't like it. Leave it out. You'll be able to taste more . . . gumbo?


      2. I like okra in my gumbo. So I just leave out the file. Anyone use both okra and file at the same time? I was informed to use either or.

        4 Replies
        1. re: rumgum

          Okra, no file is how I make it, but that's just because I don't like file. I didn't know about the "rule" rumgum.


          1. re: TexasToast

            I guess both okra and file can be used to thicken gumbo. So, theoritically you wouldn't need both at the same time. I'm not from the south, nor was anyone else who ate my gumbo. All raved but no one would have known otherwise about the file. I grew up eating okra in other dishes, so that's what I used. Didn't bother trying to find file.

          2. re: rumgum

            Ive always heard that you use either okra or file' but never both. I don't like okra so I use file'.

            1. re: rumgum

              Antoine's recipe for Creole Gumbo calls for okra and file. They describe their version as the "classic creole seafood gumbo" but say that there are many forms.

            2. I have file on my shelf but when I can get good fresh okra I use it instead. The flie powder should be added just before serving for thickening. It loses power if you add it too early.

              Yeah, yeah, yeah! Some people would argue there is no such thing as "good fresh okra." They are misinformed.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Candy

                Oh no, I'm sure there is Candy . . . in Kenya!


                1. re: TexasToast

                  Oh, I can get it in Bloomington, IN with no problem. Some people just have a preconceive attitude about the pod.

              2. I've made plenty of Gumbo and never use file. I don't like it. I either thicken with okra or with a roux. I get raves all the time.


                1. this must be okra season -- we're getting good fresh okra (at food coops and farmer market especially) in NYC right now

                  1. Many gumbos are made without file powder. In fact, the great Paul Prudhomme makes many of his gumbos with neither file powder nor okra.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PBSF

                      Indeed! Been making his seafood and andouille gumbo for years. No file, no okra. Outstanding gumbo.

                    2. Never heard of this file powder stuff but for the record I use okra too. And I have to ask why would anyone want to use a powder ingredient when you can add a veg instead??

                      1. file (pronounced FEE-lay as in Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and file' gumbo
                        'Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio) is ground sassafras and a very traditional finish for gumbo. It's origins are in Native America cuisine, or so i have been told. I dont really like it all that much though and tend to side with the okra crowd. I think i have had the same jar of Zataran's brand sassafras for two years. Not really sure what else to use it in.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: frankiii

                          Try adding a pinch or two of it to brown gravies at the very end. It will thicken, a little, and add a nice flavor.

                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                            I love that idea HC. I love the taste of file`, but I never can think of another use. I'll try it.

                        2. I use both okra and file.
                          I add okra at two different times in the cooking, because I like to have two different textures of okra.
                          I add the file toward the end.
                          Gumbo, yum.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: howboy

                            Okra AND file in a gumbo is like wearing a belt AND suspenders! But if you enjoy it, that's what matters.

                          2. made gumbo last night in a fit of late night creativity. It was already plenty thick because I begin with a roux, but when it was time to serve both my daughter and I agreed it was just missing that certain something that makes it gumbo and not just another stew. re-reading my recipe I realized it was the file, which I have never stocked in my pantry. One does not find file powder at a convenience store at midnight. Barq's Root Beer can be found almost everywhere, though. It took less than a quarter cup for about a gallon & 1/2 pot of sausage & chicken gumbo. I wouldn't make it my first choice, obviously file is preferable, but it saved the gumbo. Late afternoon today... vthe pot is nearly gone. The kids have declared it the best gumbo ever. (They have it fairly frequently at their bio-Mom's house, I usually make goulash when planning a filling "comfort food" meal)

                            1. We add the file in the bowl as desired. I never cook with it. I also add okra at the very last… just get it tender.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Gtravis3

                                Try using Annis instead of File. It might taste a little better, and give it a "zing" in your taste buds.

                                1. re: Gtravis3

                                  Used to make my own file from hand-picked sassafras. Problem is that sassafras grows on the side of the road, and you need to get away from roads so your file doesn't taste like motor oil.
                                  When I've used my own file, it's not used as a spice, like a dusting of cayenne pepper, but as an ingredient in its own right, like Hungarians use paprika. (By the tablespoonful)
                                  For the stuff in bottles, it's too expensive to do that!
                                  Okra is good to use in gumbo, but frozen okra is seriously inferior to fresh okra.

                                  If you live outside of the area where sassafras grows, you might subsitute dried Egyptian Milookhiya. It's also a dried leaf used as a primary ingredient and not as a spice.

                                2. Can't stand okra. File is my gumbo thickener. Love the stuff.

                                  1. IMHO, you can leave it out and just use okra. I like it both ways, but prefer okra. Gumbo does not have to have file.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                      For the United States, the Creole cuisine is designed by people who basically have very little to eat. When on the 80's TV sitcom "Designing Women" Cajun cuisine was described as "A biology lab spread out on a buffet table" it means that the foods offered in general take more work to consume than bigger, fatter foods. Okra and file instead of pumpkin and potatoes. (I'm a little foggy on Yankee cuisine) Shrimp and catfish and crawdads instead of cows and buffalo.
                                      Rice instead of wheat. (It grows in the warm wet better)
                                      Some things they got from the French, like love of frogs' legs. Some are from the Africans, like Okra. And some from the Indians, like file.
                                      But basically, it's what you can get that you eat.
                                      Or as Boudreaux and Thibodeaux said when they were running a trotline at night and saw a spaceship filled up with little green beings land on the levee: "What's dat?" "I doan know, but go get some rice!"
                                      There's one gumbo that should be scary: Gumbo z'herbes. When you've got nothing but rice and green stuff, and nothing else to serve. In Ethiopia in the 80's you'll remember massive starvation, where people could only get gumbo z'herbes and didn't even have rice or another starchy vegetable to serve with it. Hundreds of thousands starved, remember?
                                      So I'd say, if you got filé, and you like it in your gumbo, use it. If you've got nice okra and you like that in your gumbo, use it, and if you like both, who cares if someone who eats with a silver fork on a plate of gold cares whether it's authentic or not? Be glad you've got both and enjoy your food.
                                      If it'll make you slap your momma, that's important. (This is from the French phrase, "Celà est pour Maman" and to an English speaker SOUNDS like "Slap yo'Momma" but means that you could serve it to your mother and she would approve.
                                      Otherwise, don't worry about what others who aren't eating your food think!