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14 Tasty Gumbo File Powder Substitutes

Fille powder is a popular food seasoning used for hundreds of years by the Choctaw Indians of the United States.

This fine powder made from dried sassafras leaves with a distinct root beer flavor is an essential spice in the gumbo dish.

Besides adding flavor to this southern cuisine, file powder is critical in thickening and adding a unique texture to this dish.

Though an essential ingredient in gumbo, some people don’t like its taste or find it challenging to locate this product in their local stores.

Here are 14 tasty substitutes you can replace for gumbo file powder.

Nutritional Value Table

SubstituteCalories (Per 100 gm)
Tapioca Flour130
Cornstarch381
Roux509
Arrowroot Powder357
Okra33
Nopal Leaves16
Root Beer41
Eggplant25
Rice Flour366
Tomato Paste82
Vegetable Broth7
Potato Starch357
Cornmeal370
Coconut Milk230

Gumbo File Powder Substitutes

1. Tapioca Flour

Consider using the nutritious and readily available tapioca flour as a file flour substitute.

Tapioca flour is loved due to its balanced flavor and great texture.

This excellent file powder substitute made from cassava is a unique ingredient that adds a unique flavor to your gumbo dish without being too overpowering.

Depending on your liking, you can use fine or coarse textured tapioca in your gumbo.

Use tapioca flour in moderation since too much of it will turn the dish gritty and overpower the flavor of the other ingredients.

How To Make Tapioca Flour At Home

  • Peel and wash the cassava
  • Grate the cassava
  • Add water and blend the cassava grates until its smooth and even
  • Put the cassava mixture into a nut bag and squeeze evenly
  • Allow the cassava milk to rest for a few minutes
  • After the cassava starch forms at the bottom, drain the excess water
  • Dry, and blend the tapioca flour.

How To Substitute

Substitute file powder with tapioca flour on a 2:1 ratio, i.e., two tablespoons of file powder for one tablespoon of tapioca flour.

2. Cornstarch

One of the best file powder alternatives you can use when cooking gumbo is cornstarch.

Cornstarch is a famous gluten-free thickening agent widely used in numerous recipes due to its delicate texture and almost neutral taste.

Unlike other thickening agents with overpowering flavors, cornstarch is subtle and blends seamlessly into different dishes.

Cornstarch, made from the inner part of the maize seed, is easy to prepare, readily available, and affordable, just as you would expect in a file powder substitute.

To properly use cornstarch, mix two teaspoons with one teaspoon of water to form a smooth paste before using it in your dishes.

How To Make Cornstarch At Home

  • Soak clean corn kernels overnight
  • Add corn and water into a blend and grind until its smooth and even
  • Pour the corn mixture into a cheese cloth or sieve and strain
  • Allow the corn mixture to rest for some time
  • Pour out the excess water leaving the cornstarch at the bottom of the bowl
  • Dry and blend the cornstarch.

How To Substitute

Since it doesn’t have an overpowering flavor, substitute file powder with cornstarch on a 1:1 ratio, i.e., one teaspoon of cornstarch paste for every teaspoon of file powder.

3. Roux

Roux is one of the most popular file powder substitutes in the market today, highly valued for its delectable flavor and smooth texture.

This popular kitchen ingredient, made by cooking wheat flour in either butter, bacon fat, or vegetable oil, gives a pot of gumbo a thick, creamy texture and finger-licking nutty flavor.

Cooking a good roux takes practice since it’s a flavor-rich ingredient that will directly affect the taste and texture of your gumbo.

For best results, cook the roux until it’s deep brown and not too dark since the color of the roux directly affects the gumbo.

To prepare a good roux, mix equal parts of wheat flour with butter and cook it to an even consistency.

How To Substitute

Since file powder is flour and roux is a paste, the substitution ratio isn’t precise. For best results, use 3 ounces of roux for a quart of gumbo.

4. Arrowroot Powder

Another excellent file powder alternative that you can consider for a gumbo dish is the nutritious arrowroot powder.

The gluten, nut, and protein-free arrowroot powder made by grinding and straining arrowroot flake is an excellent thickening agent with a subtle, neutral taste that blends perfectly with the other ingredients.

It’s important to note that the two main arrowroot powder varieties (red and white) have distinct flavor profiles. 

White arrowroot powder is subtle with an almost neutral flavor, while red arrowroot powder is more flavorful.

To use arrowroot powder, mix an equal part of the powder with water and whisk it to a consistent paste before applying it to your gumbo dish.

How To Make Arrowroot Powder At Home

  • Remove the outer layer and clean arrowroots thoroughly
  • Trim the ends and remove black spots
  • Grate or cut into small pieces
  • Add water and grind the arrowroots
  • Strain the arrowroot mixture in a sieve or nut bag
  • Decant the strained liquid for 10 minutes and pour out the top layer
  • Add fresh water and decant again(do this severally)
  • Scrape out the arrowroot powder and dry in the sun
  • Grind to form a fine textured powder.

How To Substitute

Since it’s a strong thickening agent, use arrowroot powder in moderation. To substitute, use 1 part of arrowroot powder for each part of file powder.

5. Okra

Okra is undoubtedly one of the best file powder substitutes you can use in a pot of gumbo.

The word gumbo is a corruption of the west African term for okra, an essential ingredient when preparing this dish.

Okra has an excellent flavor profile, numerous nutritional benefits, and great texture.

Please note that file powder and okra flavor profiles are markedly different.

While file powder has a sharp, biting taste, okra has a sweet, grassy flavor and should be added at the tail end of the cooking process.

Only use okra when you intend to alter the gumbo’s texture and not the whole dish’s flavor.

How To Substitute

Since okra isn’t as concentrated as file powder, you’ll need more okra to replace the file powder. Substitute two medium cups of chopped okra slices for every tablespoon of filé powder.

6. Nopal Leaves

Another solid file powder alternative to consider is the nopal leaf.

Nopal leaves are tart-tasting leaves from the cactus family widely used in numerous Mexican recipes.

Just like okra, nopal leaves have the innate ability to thicken and add depth to a pot of gumbo.

Nopal leaves are widely available in their natural state as leaves or as bottled or canned products.

It’s vital to understand how to use nopal leaves in their different state, as each type of nopal displays a different taste profile.

When working with natural nopal leaves, chop and add them at the tail end of your cooking process before simmering them down for some time.

Use the bottled or canned nopal leave extract earlier in the recipe to allow it to blend perfectly with the other gumbo stew ingredients.

How To Substitute

The amount of nopales leaves to add depends on your flavor preferences. Try substituting one teaspoon of file powder with 1 to 3 cups of chopped nopales.

7. Root Beer

In terms of flavor, rootbeer is the best file powder alternative since it has a faint sassafras flavor.

Root Beer is a carbonated soft drink typically made of various herbs and roots, including the sassafras root, similar to file powder.

Although root beer flavor is slightly similar to file powder, its watery consistency poses a problem when substituting it in a pot of gumbo.

Unlike the other file powder alternatives in our list, root beer will dilute your gumbo stew, which isn’t good.

Mixing root beer with cornstarch or other thickeners is a better way of achieving the perfect file powder consistency and flavor.

For best results, mix one tablespoon of root beer with a tablespoon of arrowroot or cassava flour and whisk it to an even paste before using.

Ensure that the root beer you use contains sassafras, as most commercial brands lack this critical ingredient.

How To Substitute

Since root beer is quite watery, mix it with a thickener before use. Substitute one teaspoon of root beer and cassava flour paste with a teaspoon of file flour.

8. Eggplant

Eggplant is a solid file powder substitute that boasts a heady, natural flavor with a slimy texture, just like okra which is perfect for adding flavor and body to the gumbo stew.

Besides its excellent flavor and texture, eggplant is affordable, readily available, and quite nutritious, which makes it perfect as a file powder substitute.

It’s important to note that just like okra, the pear-shaped eggplant if cooked in its natural form, must simmer in the gumbo stew for some time to break down its gelatinous fibers.

Although the flavor profile of the eggplant is slightly different from file powder, once cooked, its flavor becomes more subtle with the added advantage of infusing a rich, creamy texture.

For best results, slightly roast your eggplants with a dash of bacon fat before passing it through a blender to form a thick, creamy, and flavorful eggplant puree.

How To Substitute

Substitute one tablespoon of eggplant puree for every teaspoon of file powder and adjust the quantities as you go along.

9. Rice Flour

Rice flour is another file flour substitute to use when cooking gumbo.

Though not the best file flour alternative, rice flour can help thicken your gumbo stew if you’re out of options.

The best part about using rice flour for your gumbo recipe is that it has a neutral flavor and will allow the flavors of other ingredients to shine.

Besides being almost flavor-neutral, rice flour is also gluten-free, which is excellent for people with gluten intolerance.

If you can, it’s advisable to use other file flour alternatives, but if in a pinch, you can go ahead and use rice flour to thicken your gumbo stew.

How To Substitute

Rice flour shares similar textures but different flavor profiles. Substitute these two ingredients on a 1:1 ratio, i.e., one scoop of rice flour for one scoop of file flour.

10. Tomato Paste

Another creative ingredient that can serve well in the place of file powder is tomato paste.

Whether commercial or homemade, tomato paste is an excellent file flour substitute that adds incredible flavors and thickens your gumbo stew without being too overbearing.

The best thing about tomato paste is its readily available, incredibly flavorful, and nutritious.

To get the flavors going, consider using homemade tomato paste, made by recooking tomatoes several times to create a flavor-rich, creamy paste.

For best results, consider pairing the tomato paste with another thickening agent to achieve the right texture for your gumbo stew.

How To Substitute

The amount of tomato paste to include in your gumbo depends on your preferences. Consider adding two tablespoons of tomato paste for every teaspoon of file powder.

11. Vegetable Broth

Though not a common file powder substitute, a vegetable soup base will still get the job done.

A vegetable broth is an excellent thickening agent that will add flavor and texture to your gumbo.

Make a vegetable broth by adding celery, olive oils, different roots, and herbs and boil them for some time.

Alternatively, strain out some of the vegetables in your gumbo, puree and add them back to the gumbo pot.

The advantage of using vegetable broth to thicken the gumbo stew is that the dish’s flavor profile doesn’t change much.

How To Substitute

There is no fixed ratio of substituting vegetable broth for file powder. For a start, substitute one teaspoon of file powder for a cup of vegetable broth.

12. Potato Starch

Another excellent file powder substitute to use in your gumbo is potato starch.

Potato starch is made by grating and straining potatoes in warm water to produce a light, white flour. 

Due to its almost neutral taste and excellent thickening abilities, potato starch seamlessly meshes with the other gumbo ingredients without being too overpowering.

Besides its neutral taste, potato starch is affordable, readily available, gluten-free, and easy to make.

Since heat denatures potato starch, ensure that you don’t use high heat when cooking with starch.

Instead of boiling, simmer your gumbo to ensure that the potato starch retains its thickening abilities.

When using potato starch, it’s critical to start with small amounts before scaling up.

How To Substitute

For best results, mix five tablespoons of potato starch with water to form a light, creamy slurry before using it in the gumbo. Substitute one teaspoon of potato starch for every two teaspoons of file powder.

13. Cornmeal

One southern creation that can effectively thicken your gumbo stew while adding a nutty, natural flavor and great texture is cornmeal.

Cornmeal is made by grinding either yellow or white corn until it attains a fine or rough texture, depending on your liking.

Cornmeal is a famous thickening agent used in different stews, and gumbo stew is no exception.

Since these two ingredients have markedly different flavor profiles, cornmeal is only suitable for thickening the gumbo.

When using cornmeal, mix it with water before using it to reduce the chances of clamping.

Always start with small amounts of cornmeal and progressively increase the quantity depending on your desired gumbo texture.

How To Substitute

Cornmeal is quite effective in thickening and should be used in moderation. Substitute one teaspoon of file powder for a teaspoon of cornmeal.

14. Coconut Milk

For a creative pot of gumbo, use coconut milk instead of file powder.

Like file powder, coconut milk is an excellent thickening agent that will give a pot of dumbo a thick, creamy texture with unique flavors.

The coconut milk made from straining coconut pulp is tasty, affordable, widely available, and healthy.

It’s important to note that coconut milk is a great file powder in terms of consistency since the tastes of these two ingredients are markedly different.

Use coconut milk during any stage of your cooking process.

But avoid cooking coconut milk for too long at high temperatures, as it will curdle.

How To Substitute

The coconut milk substitution ratio depends on how thick you need your gumbo stew. Slowly add the coconut milk until you achieve the desired gumbo stew consistency.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Make Gumbo File Powder At Home?

To make file powder, collect, wash and dry sassafras leaves. Next, crush the dry leaves using your hands before grinding them in a coffee grinder.

Can You Prepare Gumbo Without File Powder?

You can prepare gumbo with excellent file powder substitutes like corn starch, okra, tapioca flour, arrowroot flour, root beer, eggplants, nopal leaves, and roux.

What Are The Uses Of File Powder In Gumbo?

File powder is used to thicken and season gumbo. For seasoning, apply file powder in the final stages of cooking, while for thickening, apply file powder in the early stages of cooking.

How Many Types Of Gumbo Exist?

The two main types of gumbo are the creole and cajun varieties which share numerous similarities. The main difference is that creole gumbo contains tomatoes while cajun gumbo doesn’t.

14 Tasty Gumbo File Powder Substitutes

5 from 2 votes
Prep Time

5

minutes
Cooking Time

4

hours 
Total Time

4

hours 

5

minutes

Gumbo File is a seasoning powder substitute that mimics the flavor and texture of the classic New Orleans dish, gumbo. Check out our list of alternatives.

Ingredients

  • Tapioca Flour

  • Cornstarch

  • Roux

  • Arrowroot Powder

  • Okra

  • Nopal Leaves

  • Root Beer

  • Eggplant

  • Rice Flour

  • Tomato Paste

  • Vegetable Broth

  • Potato Starch

  • Cornmeal

  • Coconut Milk

Directions

  • Pick any substitute you prefer from the lists above.
  • Follow the recipe instructions for your preferred substitute and use the proper ratio required while cooking.

Recipe Video

Jess Smith