7 Best Substitutes for File Powder (The Ultimate Guide)

Marria Beklavac By Marria Beklavac

Not everyone is always ready with file powder at home, so knowing the best substitutes for file powder can really save your day – and your cooking. 

Of course, it’s always convenient to use the file bought from the store, but if you are making Cajun or Creole dishes, you need to be creative. So, what are the best and possible substitutes?

The best substitutes for file powder are okra, cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and eggplant. Okra and eggplant provide a similar thickening effect and earthy flavor, while cornstarch and arrowroot powder are excellent thickeners that can mimic file powder’s consistency. But which one should you choose for your specific recipe? Let’s check out each option in detail to find the perfect file powder substitute for your needs.

File Powder and Its Function

Also known as gumbo powder, file powder is basically a seasoning from sassafras trees’ leaves that have been ground. Farmers will have to pluck the leaves and dry them, before grounding them to fine powdery form. 

The final powdery form has this unique and earthy flavor and green-brown color. The flavor has a nice (and balanced) taste that is a bit sweet and also spicy at the same time. 

As stated before, this powder is often included in Cajun cuisine and Creole dishes. 

The powder acts as a thickening agent for sauces, stews, and soups, but its earthy and somewhat herbal taste is what makes it different. So, what are the best substitutes for file powder?

1. Okra

West African people have been using okra for their stews and soups. They also have their own traditional gumbo version with okra as the natural thickener. 

Some areas, such as regions in Louisiana, have replaced the original okra with file powder when they are cooking up the West African stew. 

Okra is considered one of the best substitutes for file powder, especially if you want to return to the roots of West African dish. However, you need to be extra careful when you use the okra. 

Make sure that you have included the veggies and the proteins, and then slice some okra up so you can add them to your cooking. 

You want to simmer your dish correctly, but just add several minutes. You will see the okra doing its magic by thickening the stew. If you add the okra just too early, your stew may be disastrous. 

Not only you will have to stir your stew non-stop, but your stew will be thicker than you have intended. You don’t want to end up with gelatinous stew, seriously.

You can substitute a tablespoon of the powder with a cup of (sliced) okra. But then again, you need to adjust how much okra you want to add to your dish based on the desired flavor and thickness. 

2. Corn Starch

For some people, corn starch is one of the best substitutes for file powder – as well as the easiest. 

You won’t have to worry that it will overpower any flavor because it has neutral taste. Not to mention that it can thicken any dish and meal that you want. 

However, some people say that corn starch has a bit sweetness in it. Not to mention that it works well with other spices, such as black or red pepper. 

But when compared to the file powder, it’s not as spicy, so it won’t cause spiciness to your cooking. 

Nevertheless, you want to be extra careful when adding the corn starch. Although it doesn’t have any unique taste, it will create starchy flavor when you have too much of it. 

The correct way to use it is to do it slowly. A tablespoon of the corn starch can be used to substitute a tablespoon of the powder. You should mix that one tablespoon with also a tablespoon of water. 

If you want to add the extra thickness, then you need to add more. A word of advice: If you use corn starch, it won’t replace the unique earthy flavor that you may like. 

3. Arrowroot Powder

Before you use arrowroot powder as the best substitutes for file powder, you should know that you can find two types of them at the grocery store: the red and white. 

The white powder has somewhat mellow taste when compared to the stronger red one. You can use both of them to replace the powder, and they have almost the same texture to corn starch. 

When compared to corn starch, using arrowroot powder would be a bit costlier, but it’s also healthier because of the gluten-free nature. 

That’s why arrowroot powder is often incorporated in various vegan dishes. The best thing about this powder is the fact that it adds a light sensation to the meal, and yet, it works just well with other herbs and spices. 

You can replace a tablespoon (of the file powder) with also a tablespoon of the arrowroot powder. Depending on the required thickness that you want, you need to adjust it. 

Moreover, even when you have to freeze up your dish, the arrowroot powder will make it remain thick – not runny or whatsoever. Plus, you can still enjoy the earthy taste that you like from the file powder. 

4. Eggplant

This one can deliver nice thickening result without making it too thick or creamy. You can drizzle bacon fat for your eggplant and then roast it. 

Blender it and then add it to your dishes, when it’s about close to your cooking’s timing end. Let it simmer for a while, and you can have your desired result. 

5. Nopales (Cactus Pads)

Nopales (or Nopal leaves) are coming from cactus, but the edible type. They are mostly used in Mexican cooking, with a slight tart taste. It shares similar thickening result, just like the okra. 

When you want to add this cactus pad into your cooking, you simply cut off the leaves and then add them in your cooking. 

You should do it with similar treatment as the okra. The leaves are now available in canned or bottled form, so you won’t have to prepare them from a scratch. 

Buying one is quite easy if you find it at American Southwest or Mexican grocery stores. If you want to use raw nopales, you can eat them just like them. 

But nopales are commonly used for stews, salads, and different kinds of soups. Make sure that you include the nopales not too early into your dishes, or you will end up with too thick (and glutinous) dish. 

6. Roux

When you make the roux, you will have to cook up wheat flour within butter. But for completely traditional Southern dish, you can substitute butter with melted bacon fat. The roux should reach a consistency of a thick paste. 

Roux may not be the most favorable option, but it’s worth the extra efforts. It adds a unique nutty and rich taste to the cooking. Make sure that you make equal parts of the fat and flour. 

7. Root Beer

Quite surprisingly, another best substitutes for file powder is actually the root beer. Although root beer is more known as this sweet carbonated drink, it’s actually similar to file powder. 

Do you know that root beer is made from sassafras tree’s roots? Yes, it does! That’s why root beer is considered the best replacement for file powder due to similar taste. 

However, root beer alone can’t be used to thicken the dish. It should be used together with corn starch, and you can get the desired texture, smell, and taste. 

All in all, you have more than one alternative option when you are running out of file powder. All of these great and best substitutes for file powder, you can create amazing dishes without compromising flavor or quality. 

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By Marria Beklavac Owner
Hey there! I'm Marria Beklavac, a barista by trade and a cook by heart. My culinary journey started at 12, inspired by my grandpa, who first introduced me to the wonders of cooking. His passion sparked mine, leading me to a life where each meal is an adventure. In Terra's Kitchen, I blend my love for coffee with my zeal for cooking to share my culinary exploits with you. This blog is my space to share the joys, discoveries, and lessons from my kitchen to yours. Welcome aboard – let's cook up some magic together!