All About Gumbo

Traditional Gumbo

Gumbo is a stew that likely originated in southern Louisiana sometime around the 1700s, and is a great example of the wonderful food that is often created when cultures mix. In this case, ingredients and practices from French, Spanish, German, West African, and Choctaw come together to create this hearty stew.

The stew typically consists of a flavorful stock, meat or shellfish, a thickener, and vegetables, which often include celery, bell peppers, and onions. Gumbo dishes are often categorized by the type of thickener used: the African vegetable okra, Gumbo Filé Powder (dried and crushed sassafras leaves), or a roux (a French thickener made from flour and fat).

Gumbo Filé Powder

Modern gumbo dishes are often made with a roux in place of gumbo filé, saving the filé to flavor each bowl just as it’s served. Why? Well, the word filé comes from the French word filer, which means to spin (like spinning threads). And why on earth would they call it that? Turns out, when gumbo filé powder is added to a cooking pot of gumbo, it can become stringy, adding an unpleasant texture to the dish. Adding the powder to your Gumbo dish just as it is served imparts the traditional flavors of the ingredient without the stringy texture.

Don’t skip it, though. Gumbo filé powder adds an authentic, earthy flavor to gumbo, and many southern Louisianans won’t eat the dish without it. We recommend adding about a half teaspoon per bowl of gumbo just as it’s served for that authentic, Cajun flavor.

Find our recipe for traditional Gumbo in the AllSpice recipe library.

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