What Is Filé Powder and How Is It Used in Cooking?

This little-known culinary spice comes from America. Find out how to use it in different dishes.
What Is Filé Powder and How Is It Used in Cooking?
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Written and verified by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 12 March, 2023

Filé powder is a condiment used in a part of the southern United States to prepare a dish known as gumbo. It is also frequently used as an ingredient for other combinations of different spices, improving the organoleptic characteristics of different dishes.

It’s extracted from the sassafras tree, whose scientific name is Sassafras albidum (in the main article photo). Its leaves are light green in color, with a characteristic shape.

How is filé powder used?

First, the fresh leaves of the tree must be harvested to make the ingredient. Then, they are cleaned and hung to dry.

From here, they are crushed by hand and transformed into powder, by means of a blender or a mortar and pestle. A green spice is obtained as a final element, which can be kept in any airtight container for later use.

Including it in recipes is simple. It’s usually used at the end of cooking process. However, it is sometimes added as a thickener. Some care must be taken with this last effect, since it could vary the texture of certain broths or soups too much. For that reason, it should be used in moderation.

On the other hand, you need to prevent it from becoming rancid. Otherwise, it will lose potency and flavor. To do this, you need to ensure that the preservation method is good and to avoid contact with sunlight.

It should be stored in a cool, dry place.

Gumbo is the classic dish in which filé powder finds its real home. This dish is traditional in Louisiana (United States). Of course, being a coastal area of the Gulf of Mexico, it includes seafood.

Gumbo combines seafood, sausage, and sometimes rice and various seasonings. Among the latter, filé powder makes an appearance, along with black pepper and sweet paprika.

Some gumbo with filé powder.
Traditional gumbo dish, from the southeastern United States.


As a culinary spice, filé powder has several positive effects on our health. First of all, its anti-inflammatory potential should be highlighted. Thanks to it, it could help fight some of the pain present in pathologies such as arthritis.

According to a study published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry, the leaves of the sassafras tree have alkaloids in their interior. These could help modulate certain inflammatory processes that take place in the human body.

We’re also talking about a condiment with a high antioxidant capacity. This has proven to be key in preventing premature aging. The effect is achieved by blocking the accumulation of free radicals.

It has even been claimed that the consumption of this spice could protect against kidney stones. However, there is no solid evidence on this.

Filé powder side effects

As for side effects, it’s key to note that filé powder can interact with certain drugs. For this reason, it’s always necessary to consult with a specialist before including the spice in your diet.

It shouldn’t be used as an ingredient during pregnancy or breastfeeding, since the available data on its safety in these stages are insufficient.

In some people it could cause nausea and vomiting, and also hallucinations if ingested in excessive amounts.

Although there seems to be a limit at which the powder becomes toxic, the maximum value isn’t exactly defined. Therefore, caution should always be exercised.

Safrole is not permitted in food products in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it carcinogenic.

Why do we mention this? Because sassafras leaves contain this compound, so commercial products endorsed by law must incorporate a step to eliminate the substance in their manufacturing process. Then, they can pulverize the leaves and form the powder.

Some spices.
Condiments are valued for their nutritional content, but many of them should be evaluated in the context of the person who consumes them, to avoid significant adverse effects.

What about laurel wilt disease?

Finally, as anecdotal information, it’s worth mentioning that isolated cases of laurel wilt disease have been reported in sassafras species in the United States. This plant disease is of concern to growers and is caused by the fungus Raffaelea lauricola.

Fortunately, there’s no evidence that the fungus in question can cause pathologies in humans. So far, the only thing certified is its ability to affect certain plants and lead to their death.

Filé powder is a little-known traditional spice

The use of culinary spices is considered very positive for health. Most of these elements contain phytochemicals with high antioxidant capacity.

Filé powder is characteristic of the American continent and hasn’t yet spread throughout the world. It has certain beneficial properties for the body, as long as it’s consumed in moderate doses. However, it also brings some risks, especially when toxic limits are exceeded.

Most seasonings in the form of spices have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Controlling the mechanisms of both processes will help to reduce the incidence of chronic pathologies.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Conceição RS, Perez CJ, Branco A, Botura MB, Ifa DR. Identification of Sassafras albidum alkaloids by high-performance thin-layer chromatography tandem mass spectrometry and mapping by desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging. J Mass Spectrom. 2021;56(1):e4674. doi:10.1002/jms.4674
  • Loyd, A. L., et al. “First report of laurel wilt caused by Raffaelea lauricola on Sassafras albidum in Tennessee and Kentucky.” Plant Disease 104.2 (2020): 567-567.
  • Sadowska-Bartosz I, Bartosz G. Effect of antioxidants supplementation on aging and longevity. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:404680. doi:10.1155/2014/404680

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.