File powder is a popular powder made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree.
Thus powder is usually used in gumbo and North American cooking, specifically to flavor and thicken soups and stews. The powder is a staple in Louisiana cooking and is known as one of the main ingredients that give gumbo its flavor.
File powder is a great ingredient to have in your pantry. But if you don’t have it at hand, there are many alternatives that you can use, most popularly Okra or roux.
Knowing how to make a roux is very useful as it is usually called for in many different recipes, so it’s always an advantage. You can also substitute this powder with corn starch, root beer, or some of the following substitutes.
If you want to know more about these substitutes, make sure to keep reading!
Best File Powder Substitutes
The next substitutes for file powder can save your dish and provide satisfying results. So, let’s check them out and learn how to use them properly.
This is a vegetable that can be used in place of file powder for flavor and thickener.
Gumbo is actually made with either file powder or okra. Therefore, okra is the perfect substitute if file powder cannot be found. This veggie has been used as a thickener in dishes for centuries, particularly in African and Indian cuisines, and it also helps add to the flavor of soups and stews.
Okra pods help thicken a dish due to a fiber called mucilage. It will also help thicken gumbo. It is typically available in the vegetable section of a supermarket or frozen.
A roux is a brilliant way to thicken a dish and is used in cuisines all over the world as a thickener. It is equal parts flour and fat, for example, butter or oil, mixed together. When applied to soups or stews, it helps thicken the dish to the right consistency.
Roux also contributes a good flavor to the dish. And you can toast it more to make a deeper brown color to add an even deeper flavor to your dish.
If you’re using roux as a thickener for gumbo, cooking it to a medium brown color is ideal as it will not overpower the flavor of the gumbo. But it will add something to the recipe as well as thickening it without needing file powder.
3. Corn starch
Corn starch is a very commonly used thickener. It is widely available and a pantry staple that can be used for a variety of other dishes and baked goods.
It also has a natural taste, so it will not affect the flavor of any dish.
Its thickening ability is even better than file powder.But if you use cornstarch you might want to add more spices to your dish so that you will not need to compromise flavor.
Corn starch can be used in place of file powder for any dish.
4. Root beer and corn starch
This may sound a bit strange, but did you know that root beer is produced from the roots of the sassafras tree? File powder, on the other hand, is made from the dried leaves of the sassafras tree.
Therefore, the two have the same taste because they were produced from the same plant. Thus, if you don’t have file powder, root beer can be used as a replacement for the flavor.
You will also need to add cornstarch as a thickening agent as the beer doesn’t provide any thickening properties. This combo works exceptionally well in gumbo for flavoring. Thus, if you don’t have file powder, they will suffice.
5. Arrowroot powder
Also known as arrowroot starch, this powder is made from the dried cassava plant. And it is used as a thickening agent in many different cuisines.
Arrowroot flavor can also be used as a thickening agent in place of file powder for soups, stews, or gumbo. It not only has excellent thickening abilities but will not alter the flavor of the dish as well.
One thing to note about cassava powder is that it is gluten-free. So, is a great alternative if you’re looking to make gumbo gluten-free.
This is another ingredient that can be used in place of file powder.
Eggplant is used in many other cuisines and is a super versatile ingredient, and can also be used in gumbo and stews. It can also be used as a thickening agent, like okra, and can add a good flavor to your dish.
The best way to use eggplant in gumbo is to cut it into pieces, drizzle with olive oil and spices, and roast it. Once roasted, you can blend up the eggplant and add it to the gumbo, simmering for a few minutes.
7. Rice flour
Rice flour is another gluten-free thickening agent that is mainly used in Japanese cuisine. But if you’re really in a pinch, you can use it for soups to thicken.
The advantage of using rice flour is that it doesn’t add any flavor and it is gluten-free but is not traditionally used to thicken stews and gumbo. It is not suggested to use rice flour instead of file powder for gumbo. However, you can use it for soups if needed.
8. Tapioca flour
Tapioca, like arrowroot powder, is made from dried and ground cassava root. It is used in a lot of African and Indian cuisine as flour as a thickener.
This is another gluten-free option. It is a brilliant thickener for sauces, soups, and gravies, and can be used in place of cornstarch and file powder.
It is also not advised to use it in place of file powder in gumbo but can be used for soups, stews, and sauces as a great thickener that will not ruin the flavor.
9. Gluten-free flour
There are many varieties of gluten-free flour that you can find in your local supermarket, depending on what you’re looking for. You can also use it as a thickener in gumbo and soups.
The best way to use gluten-free flour as a thickener is to make it into a roux and then add it to your gumbo or your stew.
Depending on how long you cook the flour, it can also add a depth of flavor to your dish. It is a good replacement for file powder, especially if you’re looking for a gluten-free substitute.
10. Tomato paste
Gumbo has tomatoes in it, so you can use tomato paste as a thickener for gumbo, soups, and stews if needed.
Tomato paste is thick, easily accessible, and can add a lot of flavor to your dishes. So, if you were looking for an easy substitute thickener, tomato paste is the one.
However, you may need to use another thickener as well, or cook it down for longer to get your desired consistency.
What is file powder?
File powder, pronounced fil-ay powder, is a powder made from the ground up and dried leaves of the sassafras tree, native to northern America. The powder is used as flavoring and thickening especially in Louisiana cuisine, most popularly gumbo, and is said to add a distinctive flavor to the gumbo, as well as thickening it to the right consistency.
It has also been used to flavor other dishes and you can find it in the spice aisle of supermarkets or specialty food stores. File Powder can also be bought online.
What can I use if I don’t have a gumbo file?
If you cannot find file powder to prepare gumbo, there are other things that you can use to make it. Most commonly, okra is used to replace files as it adds flavor to gumbo and is also used as a thickening agent.
You can also make a roux which is equal parts fat and flour. Or use cornstarch. You can look at other substitutes for file powder above.
Is file powder necessary for gumbo?
Although many have claimed that file powder gives gumbo a unique taste, gumbo can be made without file powder. You can use alternative ingredients to make a good gumbo.
File powder works as a flavoring and thickening agent for gumbo. So if you use a substitute make sure to add more spices so that the gumbo will still have its incredible flavor.
How do I make a file powder?
File powder can be made at home if you can find a sassafras tree, which is native to North America. You will need a few branches with 5 to 10 leaves, and bundle them together with rope or rubber bands.
Hang them in a warm place to dry, away from direct heat or light, preferably indoors. They will take about a week to dry. Once they are dry, remove them from the branch and add them to the food processor. Pulse until blended into a fine powder.
You can also place them through a sieve to remove any bigger pieces. Finally, store in a tightly sealed jar in the cupboard and use when needed.
What does file powder taste like?
File powder has been described to taste like root beer. It is said to have a sweet, mildly fruity smell to it. However, once added to a dish, tastes like root beer and has a taste of thyme as well. It is said to be a savory spice.