Filé powder, also called gumbo filé, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree (Sassafras albidum), native to eastern North America. It is used in the making of some types of gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew often served over rice; other versions of gumbo use okra or roux as a thickener instead. Sprinkled sparingly over gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, it adds a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture. Filé can provide thickening when okra is not in season. Filé translates to “string”, suggestive of the powder’s thickening ability.

Wikipedia contributors, “Filé powder,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed December 28, 2011).
  • 6 slices bacon
  • 3 large onion, chopped fine
  • 2 large cans tomatoes
  • 1 cup diced ham
  • 2 cups okra
  • 2 T filé powder
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 can whole kernel corn
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1/2 lb. shrimp
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 small hot red peppers
  • salt to taste

Fry bacon until golden and crumble. Put in chopped onions and brown lightly. Add tomatoes and diced ham. In another pan heat a spoonful of lard. Add okra; add flour and stir until brown.

Combine the two mixtures in a large kettle, add corn, rice and shrimp. Add water until the pot is 2/3 full. Add salt and cloves and peppers tied in a bag. Simmer for at least 1 hour.

Remove spice bag. Thicken soup with a little flour and water. Turn off heat, let gumbo sit for 5 minutes, then add filé. Serve immediately with extra rice on the side. 10-12 servings