11 File Powder Substitutes to Thicken your Dishes and Add Flavor

The ground, dried leaves of the sassafras tree are known as a condiment called file powder. It has a unique root beer flavor and is used in soups, seafood stews, gumbo, gravies and sauces. 

The main function of file powder, however, is to thicken the dish. 

There are cases when you run out of spices and if the turn has come for file powder, you may need one of the below mentioned file powder substitutes.

The best file powder substitutes are as follows: root beer, okra, roux, cornstarch, nopales, arrowroot powder, eggplant, rice flour, xanthan gum, tomato paste and tapioca flour

1. Root Beer

Why do we offer root beer as the first substitute? Because both root beer and file powder are produced by sassafras trees and carry the same flavor. 

Using root beer in gumbo or other soups you make sure you get the desired taste of file powder. You can use it in sauces too. 

The difference, however, is the texture. In order to get the thick texture in the soup you may need to mix root beer with some cornstarch and then add to soups or sauces. Mix root beer and cornstarch in equal quantities for the best result. 

2. Okra

If you are looking for the most suitable thickening agent for your soups and stews then okra comes for help whenever you don’t have file powder. 

Although it tastes slightly sweet and comes with a grassy flavor, it can still be a great substitute for file powder in gumbo and other dishes where the texture matters.

In this case, okra provides the same texture when cooked. It becomes gooey inside and subtler outside, perfectly  playing the role of the thickening agent in soups. 

3. Roux

Roux, made of fried wheat flour, is the next good alternative to file powder. It has a similar flavor as well as the ability to thicken stews and soups. Roux is a popular ingredient in Cajun cooking and can be used to replace file powder in gumbo. 

Depending on its cooking duration, roux comes in light to dark brown color. Use medium brown roux for gumbo to provide it with the same color as in the case of file powder. 

4. Cornstarch

The easiest substitute for file powder is cornstarch. Compared to other alternatives it has a neutral flavor. As a thickening agent, it is widely used not only in cooking but also in baking. 

You can always refer to cornstarch whenever you run out of file powder for gumbo. Compared to roux, cornstarch is gluten-free and therefore more diet-friendly if you are in search of something like that. 

5. Nopales

Nopales are cactus leaves used as edible vegetables in Mexican cuisine. They have a tart taste with slightly citrucy hints. You can use sliced pieces of nopales instead of file powder in soups, and the result will amuse you. 

Just like okra, nopales tend to thicken soups. You will get a better result if you use medium to deep green leaves of nopales in your dish. 

If you have both nopales and root beer, you can add them to replace file powder and as a result you’ll get both the same texture and the same taste. 

6. Arrowroot Powder

Arrowroot powder is another thickening ingredient for soups, stews, sauces and puddings. It is a gluten-free and grain-free option to consider as a healthy substitute for file powder. It won’t add flavor to your dish as it has a neutral taste but it will help to bring out other flavors of your dish. 

Mix 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder with one tablespoon of water to substitute file powder for every cup of soup or gumbo.

7. Eggplant

As you see some vegetables are chosen as good thickening ingredients and flavor-adding agents in place of file powder, and eggplant has its special place in this list. 

Eggplant offers similar flavors to file powder and absorbs liquid from soups by thickening it a little bit without a gooey texture. 

This is an easy substitute and worth trying once in gumbo, especially in summer. It’s also organic, healthy and rich in vitamins. 

8. Rice Flour

Rice flour is widely used in Asian cuisines and is one of the best thickening ingredients for soups. You can use it in place of file powder for many soups but not for gumbo, as it will change the color and taste. 

However, rice flour is considered to have a neutral flavor but it’s still not recommended for gumbo. Overall, it’s made of rice. 

This is another gluten-free substitute for file powder. 

9. Tomato Paste

Maybe you are surprised to see tomato paste in this list but the fact is that it works instead of file powder in several recipes. 

If you choose it for gumbo or other soups that include tomatoes, then you can safely use it as a thickening agent without changing the taste. Just reduce the quantity of tomatoes to reach a well-balanced flavor. 

It’s an easy and quick substitute for file powder compared to some other options. 

10. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is used in cooking as a thickening agent, an ingredient that keeps other ingredients in place as well as an ingredient to keep textures in place. You can use it in soups, stews and sauces to substitute file powder. 

Add a mixture of half teaspoon of xanthan gum and 1 tablespoon of hot water to every cup of liquid. Mix it with the rest of ingredients until it’s smooth and creamy. 

11. Tapioca Flour

Made of cassava root, tapioca flour is basically used in baking and as a thickening ingredient for soups and pies. It has a neutral flavor like cornstarch and is used the same way as cornstarch instead of file powder.

Of course, this substitute won’t bring the unique flavor of file powder but will thicken your soup. 


What is file powder?

File powder is a seasoning made from dried, ground sassafras leaves. It has a slightly sweet taste and is often used to thicken and flavor gumbo. File powder is an essential ingredient in Cajun cuisine and can be found in many supermarkets. 

When used in cooking, file powder should be added near the end of the cooking process as it can become bitter if exposed to heat for too long.

Is file powder illegal?

While file powder is technically legal, it is not widely available commercially. This is because the FDA has classified sassafras as a “food additive that is generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

Where to buy file powder?

There are a few places you can buy file powder online, or you can find it in some specialty stores. Here are a few options:

-The Spice House: The Spice House has a variety of file powders to choose from, including Cajun and Creole blends.

-Amazon: Amazon carries a few different file powders, including ones from Louisiana and Mississippi.

-Walmart: Walmart sells Cajun file powder in their spices section.

-Local stores: Check your local spice shops or grocery stores. They may carry file powder if they have a good selection of spices.

Make Your Own Filé Powder

If you don’t want to get out of your house to buy any substitute above, then you can try to make your own filé powder. It is easy and fun. 

To your own filé powder, get some sassafras leaves, dehydrate them for 24 or 48 hours, then grind the dried sassafras leaves in a coffee grinder or blender, and you will get a fine powder – your own gumbo filé

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