Filé powder

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Z'herbes, including hot sauce and Filé

Filé powder, also called gumbo filé, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the North American sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum).[1]

Culinary use

Filé powder is used in Louisiana Creole cuisine in the making of some types of gumbo, a thick Creole soup or stew often served over rice.[1] Several different varieties exist. In New Orleans, what is known as Creole gumbo generally varies from house to house though still retaining its African and Native American origins. The Creoles of Cane River make a gumbo focused much more on filé. Filé can provide thickening when okra is not in season, in types of gumbo that use okra or a roux as a thickener for gumbo instead of filé.[2] Sprinkled sparingly over gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, filé powder adds a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture.[3]

Filé powder is made by harvesting the young leaves and stems of the sassafras tree and grinding them.[4] Filé powder is generally not added until after the vegetables and meats and/or seafood are finished cooking and removed from the heat source.[5]


Choctaw Indians of the American South (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana) were the first to use dried, ground sassafras leaves as a seasoning.[citation needed] Gumbo may have derived its name from the Choctaw word for filé (kombo).[6][7][8] Some culinary experts in the early 20th century, including Celestine Eustis, maintained gumbo including filé powder was an early special-occasion dish for native tribes.[9] This is further implied by a late 18th-century Creole practice. At that time, rice was a luxury for many Creoles. They served gumbo over corn grits, a pairing common in the stews of native tribes. The use of corn and filé powder may imply the dish was derived from native cuisine.[10]

The French word filé is the past participle of the verb filer, meaning (among other things) "to turn into threads", "to become ropy".[11][12]

Health concerns

Unlike sassafras roots and bark, the tree's leaves (from which filé is produced), do not contain a detectable amount of safrole.[13] This is significant because in 1960, the FDA banned the use of sassafras oil and safrole in commercially mass-produced foods (such as root beer) and drugs based on the animal studies and human case reports suggesting safrole is a carcinogen.[14]

Cultural references

"Filé gumbo" is famously mentioned in the classic country song by Hank Williams Sr., Jambalaya (On the Bayou), which held the number one position on the U.S. country music charts for fourteen non-consecutive weeks.[15]


  1. ^ a b Zatarain's. "Gumbo". Zatarain's. Retrieved 22 July 2011. 
  2. ^ Howard Mitcham (1978), Creole Gumbo and All That Jazz, ISBN 978-0882898704, as quoted in How to make Homemade File Powder at Nola Cuisine
  3. ^ Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer; Becker, Ethan (1997). Joy of Cooking. New York: Scribner/Simon & Schuster. p. 45. ISBN 0-684-81870-1. 
  4. ^ Southeastern Wildlife Cookbook. University of South Carolina Press. 1989. p. 176. ISBN 0-87249-659-7. 
  5. ^ Small, Ernest (September 23, 2013). North American Cornucopia: Top 100 Indigenous Food Plants. CRC Press. p. 606. ISBN 978-1466585928. 
  6. ^ Nobles, Cynthia Lejeune (2009), "Gumbo", in Tucker, Susan; Starr, S. Frederick, New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, University Press of Mississippi, p. 98, ISBN 978-1-60473-127-9 
  7. ^ *Babcock Gove, Philip, ed. (1986), "gumbo", Webster's Third New International Dictionary, 2, Merriam-Webster, p. 1011, ISBN 0-85229-503-0 
  8. ^ Usner, Daniel H. Jr. (2000), "The Facility Offered by the Country: The Creolization of Agriculture in the Lower Mississippi Valley", in Buisseret, David; Reinhardt, Steven G., Creolization in the Americas, Walter Prescott Webb Memorial Lectures, Texas A&M University Press, p. 46, ISBN 978-1-58544-101-3 
  9. ^ Nobles, Cynthia Lejeune (2009), "Gumbo", in Tucker, Susan; Starr, S. Frederick, New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, University Press of Mississippi, p. 99, ISBN 978-1-60473-127-9 
  10. ^ Nobles, Cynthia Lejeune (2009), "Gumbo", in Tucker, Susan; Starr, S. Frederick, New Orleans Cuisine: Fourteen Signature Dishes and Their Histories, University Press of Mississippi, p. 110, ISBN 978-1-60473-127-9 
  11. ^ "Filé—Okra—Gumbo". The National Druggist. 24: 75. 1894. 
  12. ^ Robert Hendrickson (2013). "gumbo filé". Talking Turkey: A Food Lover's Guide to the Origins of Culinary Words and Phrases. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-62873-910-7. 
  13. ^ Carlson, M; Thompson, Rd (Sep 1997). "Liquid chromatographic determination of safrole in sassafras-derived herbal products" (Free full text). Journal of AOAC International. 80 (5): 1023–8. ISSN 1060-3271. PMID 9325580. 
  14. ^ Dietz, B; Bolton, Jl (Apr 2007). "Botanical dietary supplements gone bad". Chemical research in toxicology. 20 (4): 586–90. doi:10.1021/tx7000527. ISSN 0893-228X. PMC 2504026Freely accessible. PMID 17362034. 
  15. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 387. 
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