Gumbo File Powder: The Choctaw Spice

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True gumbo file powder is made entirely from ground leaves of the sassafras tree. Note that there are gumbo file seasonings that may include sassafras along with other spices. Sassafras is considered by many to be the only truly North American spice. The use of sassafras began with native Americans. In particular, the Choctaw people were known to grind the leaves and add them to their soups and stews. use of the leaves was later on adopted by settlers from Europe and would eventually become associated mainly with the Acadians.

In the early 17th century, sassafras was considered a wonder drug and was used as a remedy for a host of diseases. Its popularity was such that it would become the second most popular American export after tobacco. The popularity of sassafras as a herbal remedy lasted all the way up to the early 20th century.

Its popularity would diminish in the 1960s when it was discovered that the safrole in the root bark of sassafras trees was carcinogenic.

Gumbo file flavor profile

The flavor profile of gumbo file powder can be likened to a blend of thyme and savory. Other comparisons include the flavor of root beer and that of eucalyptus. Its flavor works particularly well in stews, sauces, and similar savory dishes that are braised for a long time.

Health benefits of gumbo file

Gumbo file powder is not a good source of any major nutrients, but the sassafras leaves used to make it have between 2 and 3 percent essential oil and that oil may contain a few beneficial compounds. Among those compounds are:

  • Myrcene: This terpene is known to be anti-inflammatory as well as a mild analgesic and a sedative.
  • Linalool: Linalool is another terpene found in a variety of spices. Like myrcene, it fights inflammation while also being a mild sedative.

Along with those compounds, gumbo file powder will also provide you with a small amount of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber helps to promote the movement of food through your gastrointestinal system.

The constituents of gumbo file powder enable it to be beneficial if you want to treat or prevent certain health conditions. Those health conditions include:

  • Kidney stones: The sassafras leaves used to make gumbo file powder is widely thought to be beneficial for preventing the formation of kidney stones. This may be related to its purported diuretic effects, which may help to flush out the kidneys. This is one of the many ways in which it was used after its discovery by Europeans.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure plays a major role in a number of major health conditions ranging from heart failure to kidney disease and sexual dysfunction. It can even play a role in diabetes. Sassafras leaves have long been considered a remedy for high blood pressure.
  • Inflammatory conditions: Both arthritis and gout are thought to be eased by the consumption of sassafras.

Common uses of gumbo file powder

While sassafras leaves have historically had a number of applications such as for making root beer, gumbo file powder is used primarily as a thickening agent and flavoring. The dishes for which it is most popular are all Cajun in origin and include gumbo and some etouffee recipes. Note that it is best to stir it in at the end of cooking. Overcooking gumbo file powder can give dishes a slimy texture.