Ark of Taste
Handmade Filé, which is also known as Gumbo Filé and Filé Powder, is a powder made from the leaves of the Sassafras Tree. The Choctaw Indians of Louisiana are believed to be the first users of sassafras, a type of laurel tree native to North America. The tender leaves of the Sassafras were dried and pounded into a fine powder, which was used as a flavoring and thickening agent. When ingested, the powder causes the body to perspire, and so it was used medicinally to break fevers. The Choctaw originally sold this powerful herb to the Creoles of New Orleans in the earliest days of the French Market.
Handmade Filé powder is extremely rare and currently only a few producers still follow the time-honored fashion of hand harvesting, drying and curing the sassafras leaves before pounding them with a pestle in a traditional cypress mortar. Filé produced in this manner is fresher, evident in it’s bright green color and has a more vibrant flavor.
Lionel Key, of Uncle Bill’s Spices, currently produces Filé using the same recipe as well as the same mortar and pestle that his blind Uncle Bill used when he began making the powder in 1904. The spice is currently offered for sale from Uncle Bill’s Spices at the Crescent City Farmer’s Market in New Orleans and at the Red Stick Market in Baton Rouge. A handful of small producers in tiny communities in the Cajun country of Southwestern Louisiana also continue to make the traditional Filé .