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7 Best Substitute For Gumbo File Powder To Make Soups And Stews

Gumbo file powder is made from ground leaves of the sassafras tree, which originates in North America, and it tastes very similar to root beer. File powder is a must-have for African cooking.

This powder is a thickening agent, and a common ingredient in the famous Gumbo soup, a signature dish in Louisiana filled with all kinds of strong flavors(meat or seafood, a strongly flavored stock, and all kinds of veggies).
The problem with gumbo file powder is that it is not very easy to find in the local grocery stores or the local health food stores. So, with that being said, here are some substitutes.

Substitutes for gumbo file powder are

  • Okra
  • Roux
  • Corn starch
  • Arrowroot powder
  • Root beer
  • Eggplant
  • Potato starch

Keep on reading our article to find out how to use these file powder alternatives.

Substitutes For Gumbo File Powder



Okra is the best alternative for file powder and it is used as a base in many West-African soups and stews. Okra is also one of the most common vegetables to go into Gumbo, it gives a thick texture and an earthy flavor.

Okra has a dark green color and it has thickening properties and can make any soup or stew much thicker. To substitute gumbo file powder with okra, use two cups of okra for every tablespoon of file powder.



Roux is one of the most famous thickening agents in the World, especially in France. This is a creamy mixture of wheat flour, loads of butter or bacon fat.

Roux plays a role in many sauces, like the most famous bechamel sauce, a white milky and creamy sauce that is also a great thickening agent and a base for many soups and stews.

The bacon fat makes the roux much darker(almost like a reddish color) that’s why it’s called a brown roux/dark roux.

If you don’t like the texture of okra then this is the right way to go. I usually go for roux every time I need something with thickening properties. To make your life easier, there is an instant roux mix for sale if you aren’t sure about making It yourself.

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A Simple, Classic Recipe For Roux


  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter/bacon fat (I prefer butter because it gives the roux a nutty flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons of flour

Preparation/Cooking Process

  • Melt the butter on medium heat.
  • Add the flour in butter and immediately start stirring.
  • Stir until the flour starts bubbling.

Corn Starch

Corn Starch 

Corn starch or sometimes referred cornflour is the starch derived from corn kernels. This is a white/yellow powdery substance that is used in the culinary world for baking, cooking, and thickening sauces, soups, and gravies.

Even though it’s made from corn, this flour has a neutral flavor and fits in every dish, and doesn’t alter the flavor, no matter if you’re making sweet or savory dishes.

If you want to use corn starch as an alternative to file powder, simply just mix one tablespoon of water with one tablespoon of cornstarch.

Arrowroot Powder

This is by far the most convincing substitute for file powder. Arrowroot powder or arrowroot flour is basically a white powdery substance that looks a lot like wheat flour.

It has no distinctive flavor and it’s great for thickening soups and stews. If you want to use arrowroot powder as an alternative for file powder use one tablespoon of arrowroot powder, mixed with one tablespoon of water for every cup of the soup/stew.

Root Beer

Root Beer

Root beer is not the best file powder substitute because it has no thickening properties but, it actually does mimic that root-beer-like flavor that file powder has.

If you absolutely have to mimic the file powder taste for Gumbo recipes you can put some root beer alongside cornstarch or arrowroot powder.



Eggplant is an unusual substitute for file powder but it can come in handy when you have absolutely nothing else from the list of thickening agents.

Cut one eggplant into cubes, drizzle it with olive oil, and put it to bake for 15 minutes until it turns golden brown. When it’s done, put the eggplant cubes in a blender or a potato masher and blend it until you get a smooth texture.

You can put this thickening substitute in all of your favorite soups and stews, let it simmer for a couple of minutes. Roasted eggplant has a smoky flavor that enhances the flavors of the veggies and meats even more.

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Potato Starch

Potato starch is flour made from the starch of potatoes. Potato starch, like cornstarch, is a great thickening agent in sauces, gravies, pie fillings, and other various recipes.

This flour has other various purposes. It is used for coating before frying french fries, chicken wings, baking muffins or quick breads, etc…

Make Your Own Gumbo File Powder

Like it or not, Gumbo recipes aren’t as successful as the ones made with file powder. File powder is a spice that is a game-changer for Gumbo, and now you can actually improvise and try to make it yourself. Let’s get on to the recipe.

  1. Find a sassafras tree (best if you can find it in fall before the leaves start changing color) and pick a couple of leaves. Make sure to wear gloves for safety.
  2. Wash the leaves and hang them in a dark and dry place to extract all the moisture.
  3. Leave the leaves to dry, however long it takes.
  4. When they’re dry and crunchy, crush the leaves by hand and grind them in a coffee grinder until you get a green powder.
  5. You can add seasonings like paprika, a little bit of salt, or garlic powder to your file powder but it’s not necessary.
  6. Sift your powder and store it in an air-tight container. Keep it in the fridge.

Related Questions And Other FAQ’s

Is File Powder Necessary For Gumbo

It is not necessary to use file powder for your Gumbo recipes but it certainly is the best to use it if you have it. It gives the dish its original and distinct flavor.

Is Gumbo File Safe To Eat

Gumbo file is safe to eat. It used to be frowned upon for human consumption because the plant contains a carcinogen called safrole. But while the sassafras root and bark have this carcinogen property, the leaves do not.

How Do You Thicken A Gumbo File

File powder should work fine all by itself but if you want to thicken your Gumbo even more, just add a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch.

What Spices Are In Gumbo File

File powder is made from the powdered leaves of the sassafras aromatic tree but it also may contain seasonings like garlic powder, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.

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