Gumbo file, also just known as ‘file powder’, is a herbal powder that is made from the ground leaves of the sassafras tree. This tree is native to Eastern North America and is also used in the production of root beer! Once upon a time, it was thought that humans shouldn’t consume the plant due to the active ingredient “safrole”, which has been shown to have a very mild carcinogenic effect. However, it has been shown subsequently that you would need to eat huge amounts in order for this to have any effect on the human body. That’s good news: after all, the flavouring is extremely versatile and very useful.
The history of file powder can be traced back to the Choctaw Indians in the Southern US, around the same time that the Cajuns arrived in Louisiana and brought their own range of spices! The spice was used not only as a flavouring at this time, but also as a thickener – often being used to thicken gumbos and stews. Hence the name! And hence why so many people keep the ingredient in their spice racks for just such a time as they need to use stock pots to make some flavoured stock.
Gumbo File Tips
The other part of the name ‘file’ actually comes from the French filer – which means to spin threads. That’s because it has a stringy appearance when added to sauce pans and other cooking implements.
Generally, the best time to use gumbo file powder is when you don’t have okra. It can be used when cooking stews and is also popular in Cajun cooking to make the likes of jambalaya – you’ll find it in many a Cajun cookbook. In fact, some people feel that gumbo file is so crucial in Cajun cooking, that they will actually add it to the table along with a little Tabasco – just like you might add salt and pepper grinder sets!
Another great way to use it is to add it to a soup, where it will not only lend its delicious flavor, but also help to thicken it up to provide a more soothing and warming consistency! Even pasta can benefit from a little!
Using Gumbo File in Cooking
For this one, we’re going to try making delicious vegetable jambalaya. You might normally associate jambalaya with rich meats, but it can also work great if you are vegetarian.
For this one, you’re going to use carrots, bell pepper, celery, okra, eggplant, mushroom, chile, and gumbo file. Add all of this to a slow cooker with some rice and then leave to cook. You can head to work and by the time you get home, this delicious and warming meal will be ready for you!
That’s the wonder of gumbo file – keep it to hand and it will come in handy often!
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