If you live in Louisiana, or you were born and raised there and now live somewhere else, you might have a craving for Louisiana-style gumbo, whether that be Louisiana Creole cuisine or something else.
However, if you live outside of Louisiana, you may find that getting ahold of any gumbo file powder is difficult. Often, you might not be able to find any at all at your local grocery store. If you can, lucky you!
Gumbo file powder is what gives the dish both its flavor and thickness. Fortunately, despite it being the key ingredient, there are several substitutes if you do not have any to hand.
So, with this in mind, let’s take a look at the 5 best amazing substitutes for gumbo file powder.
1. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot is the starch taken from the root of an arrowroot plant. It also makes an excellent gumbo file powder substitute. This is because it will help to thicken up the dish in the same way the gumbo file powder does.
However, while they both are similar when it comes to thickening, they have different flavors. Gumbo file powder has a distinct taste that benefits the gumbo dish, while arrowroot powder has a neutral flavor.
In fact, you could even say there is no taste at all. Even so, arrowroot powder is still a great option as it will help the texture of the dish despite not having the distinct flavor of the sassafras leaves.
Another option is cornstarch. It is a very fine powder that comes from corn kernels. In fact, it is the starch that you find within them.
You might already use cornstarch as a way to thicken up sauces and soups, so it is no wonder that you might use this anyway for recipes.
Once the cornstarch is added to water it becomes gel-like. This means that once added to gumbo it will make the texture thicker and much smoother, doing the same job as gumbo file powder.
Just like with arrowroot powder, cornstarch does not have a distinct flavor. This makes it a similar alternative to the above as well.
So, while it will not do anything to the flavor of a gumbo, it will thicken it up.
Roux can make quite the delicious substitute, however it does include making it first. Fortunately it is very simple to do, though it will add on cooking time when creating the gumbo.
Roux involves cooking both fat and flour together to create a paste that is super thick. While often used in stews and soups, it can be used in gumbo to add both thickness and a rich flavor.
In fact, it will give the gumbo a deep nut-like aroma and taste that is absolutely tasty.
Okra is actually something that is commonly used in gumbo already. Once it becomes cooked it has the consistency of fine powder.
To use it in a gumbo, you will need to add the okra while the gumbo simmers, and then remove the more solid pieces before serving.
The pieces of okra that have cooked down into a powder will help to thicken up the gumbo, but it will also flavor it too. Also, okra has a few health benefits too such as vitamins A and C, as well as much needed fiber.
This makes okra a really good option if you have some available to use, or can only find this in your local grocery store.
5. Nopal Leaves
Lastly, nopal leaves. While often used in Mexican cuisine, and it is actually a herb used in gumbo file powder, it may be a little tricky to find.
The nopal leaves are found on the cactus plant – though it is better to find these ‘readymade’ than to de-leaf a cactus yourself(!)
If you find some dried nopal leaves, ground them using a pestle and mortar. While they will help to thicken the gumbo, they will also add a unique flavor to the dish.
Also, nopal leaves include vitamins C and K, as well as fiber to keep your digestive system in check.
While nopal leaves may be tricky to find, they do make a great substitution for gumbo file powder.
What Actually Is Gumbo File Powder?
Gumbo file powder (otherwise known as file powder) is a seasoning that is often used in Louisiana Creole cuisine. It is used to give gumbo a thick texture that is both flavorful and slightly oily.
It is made from sassafras leaves which have been ground to a powder. Most of the time it is added right at the end when the cooking is nearly finished. This will add a lovely thickness and flavor to the overall dish.
Even though it has an association with gumbo, it is also used in other dishes and recipes too. However, it can be often difficult to find outside of Louisiana. Despite this, many more grocery stores are now stocking it alongside the spices.
If you are unsure as to what sassafras leaves taste like, then it is often described as being very similar in taste to that of root beer.
So, if you are hoping to add something delicious to your gumbo, add in some file powder.
While gumbo file powder is often a number one ingredient needed when cooking any Louisiana Creole recipes, it can be difficult to find if you are not from the area.
It is often used to thicken up and season the gumbo, and it will have a sweet yet wood-like flavor. This seasoning is also essential to creating the Louisiana gumbo dish.
If you do not have any to hand, there are substitutes available.
While they will not recreate the exact flavor and texture, they will be pretty close. From arrowroot powder and cornstarch, to okra and nopal leaves, there are lots of substitutes to choose from.
Have fun experimenting with different flavors of seasoning for your next Louisiana gumbo.