File powder, also called gumbo file, is a powder made from dried and ground sassafras leaves. It is a spicy herb that offers a kick of flavor to anything you add it to and is usually used as a thickening agent in recipes.
File powder is a fantastic multipurpose cooking ingredient for your gumbo, soups, or sauces. The only downside is that you may have a hard time finding this spice, which is why having a list of file powder substitutes can be very helpful. This list of alternatives to file powder offers some great options if you can’t get your hands on the real thing.
Okra is a very popular ingredient in foods like gumbo and has a mild grassy flavor that takes on the flavor of the food you add it to. It becomes very gelatinous and creamy when it is cooked, making it perfect for gumbo and all kinds of soups and chowders.
Though okra lacks the traditionally spicy flavor of file powder, this is the most common file powder substitute. Like file powder, okra works as a good thickening agent and will help pull your ingredients together, especially in something like gumbo and soup. Because it has such a mild flavor of its own, it can be used without overpowering your other ingredients.
Roux is a term used to describe flour and fat that has been cooked down together. Traditionally, roux is made with wheat flour and butter and is used to thicken soups and sauces that need a denser consistency. You can cook your roux for different periods of time to achieve a milder or stronger flavor.
Roux is a good file powder substitute as it is often used as a thickening agent in cooking. This is another common ingredient in gumbo and will add thickness without altering the flavor too much. You won’t get the spiciness that file powder has, but you can make up for it in other ways.
Cornstarch is a fine powder made from the endosperm of corn kernels. This starchy powder is used as a thickening agent in many kinds of recipes as it quickly thickens when cooked. And since it has no flavor of its own, it is the perfect ingredient to thicken soups, sauces, and chowders without creating overlapping flavors.
Cornstarch is a fantastic file powder substitute as it helps to thicken your recipe to prevent it from being watery or loose. As it does not add any flavors, it allows the other ingredients to really shine through. You can easily add more or less cornstarch to get the perfect balance of thickness in your recipe.
4. Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder, also known as arrowroot flour, is another fine powder that is starchy and used as a thickening agent. This powder has little to no flavor of its own and quickly becomes gelatinous when added to a liquid and cooked. Arrowroot powder is made from arrowroot tubers and is easy to find in most grocery stores.
If you don’t have any file powder on hand, arrowroot powder is a great option for thickening your soups and gumbo. While it won’t add file powder’s spicy punch, it will help to thicken everything up.
Eggplant is a species of plant in the nightshade family that is classified as a fruit though it is used in savory recipes. Its flesh is spongy and highly absorbent, making it perfect for soaking up other flavors. It has a unique flavor that is fresh, slightly sweet, and tangy, with a touch of spiciness.
Eggplant is a less common substitute for file powder, though it is a great option if you need something to add to your gumbo. Eggplant has the ability to act as a thickener when it is cooked down, creating a creamy consistency. It will help to thicken your gumbo but it will also add its own unique flavor to the recipe.
6. Root Beer
Root beer is a beverage traditionally made from a concoction of the roots of the sassafras tree, which gives it its distinct flavor. Root beer is usually non-alcoholic and is carbonated to make it into bubbly soda. It is very sweet and has a strong sassafras flavor, though real sassafras root is no longer used to make modern root beer.
While root beer isn’t going to help thicken up your recipes, it will help to replace the distinct flavor of file powder as it is made from sassafras, the same as file powder. However, you will have to balance out the sweetness and add another thickening agent.