File powder is a spicy herb coming from the region of North America which is made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree.
The scientific name for sassafras is sassafras albidium, and it belongs to the family of Lauraceae (laurel family). File powder is also known as gumbo file.
File powder, usually pronounced as Fee-lay have rich, cooling smell and is available in every season all the year around. File powder is a must needed ingredient while cooking authentic Creole or Cajun cuisine.
Sassafras leaves were used for cooking Creole or Cajun cuisine a long time ago before file powder came into use. File powder was firstly used by Choctaw Indians residing in the region of Gulf Coast. File powder when added to liquid acts as a thickener and binds up the liquid tighter.
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What Is Sassafras?
The scientific name for sassafras is Sassafras Album. The trees of sassafras grow to a good height of up to 20 to 30 feet. They may sometimes grow even longer when present in good condition. The leaves of sassafras differ from light to dark green color.
The leaves of sassafras tree can be found in various sizes consisting of 1, 2 or 3 lobes. Sassafras has a root-beer flavor. The root and bark of sassafras tree cannot be consumed since they contain a toxic material called safrole.
Hence, leaves of the sassafras tree are used for making a fine powder which can be consumed since leaves of the sassafras tree do not contain any toxic material. The leaves of the sassafras tree and first dried and then ground to make file powder out of them.
The roots of the sassafras tree have very bitter taste and smell like camphor. Though roots may smell a little unpleasant leaf of this tree have a pleasant scent.
Chemical Components In Sassafras
Sassafras contains various chemical components in various parts of it. Some oils are present in different part of the tree. Each part of the tree has its significance and holds various properties and uses due to the components present in them.
Each part of the tree has a different proportion of oil content.
- The roots of this tree have the major oil content of about 6-9% containing components like camphor, thujone, phellandrene, eugenol and α-pinene.
- About 2% of essential oil is present in the bark of the sassafras tree. The essential oil has a major content of safrole(90%) which is a toxic material and is prohibited to be used in any food product. Use of safrole may be dangerous and may even cause liver cancer.
- The leaves of the sassafras tree contain 2-3% of essential oil. The main components of essential oil present in the leaves are phellandrene, linalool, pinene, myrcene, citral, geraniol and safrole. Since safrole is restricted to be used in food products, it is removed from the leaves of sassafras tree and then the leaves are used for making file powder. Ones the leaves are free from the content of safrole then they are used for commercial purpose.
Health Benefits Of File Powder
Being a spicy herb, sassafras helps in healing several diseases besides being used as a spice. The roots of the sassafras are chewed to bring down the fever.
Many other diseases can be treated using sassafras like:
- It can be used to relieve arthritis.
- It is useful for relieving gout and eye inflammation.
- It helps to lower the blood pressure.
- It is very helpful to remove the kidney stones.
- It also works as a pain reliever.
- It can also be used to treat skin problems.
Sassafras possesses carcinogenic properties and can be used for various medicinal purposes.
Sassafras is very useful for blood purification. Arthritis and gout can be cured using sassafras. It can be used to treat insect bites, sprains, and urinary tract infections.
Although sassafras contains good medicinal properties and is used to treat many diseases and infections, it also possesses some side effects.
Other Names Of File Powder
Other names for file powder are:
- Gumbo file
- Cinnamon wood
- Ague Tree
Similarly, other names for sassafras tree in different regions are:
- Vietnamese call it as Cay de Vang
- In Arabic, it is called as Sasafras
- It is referred as Sassaforasu in Japanese
- Hebrew call it as Sasafras
- In Danish, it is known by the name Sassafras
- French call it by the name Sassafras
- Hungarians refer it as Szassza franz
- In Spanish it is called as Sasafras
- Sassafraso is the name for it in Italian
- Russian call it as Sassafras
- In German, it is called as Fenchelholzbaum
Culinary Uses Of Sassafras
- File powder made from the leaves of sassafras tree can be used for cooking Cajuns and Creoles. File powder contains other components as well such as allspice, coriander, and sage which can be used as spices for cooking purpose.
- File powder can be used as a flavor in meat and vegetables. It can also be used for cooking poultry, seafood, bisques and stews.
- One of the uses of file powder is to thicken liquids like soup. It is also used for thickening meat.
- You can use substitutes available for file powder to add flavors to your recipe or to thicken the liquid.
- Additional cooking of any food with using file powder gives the file powder a slippery and stringy texture.
- A traditional Louisiana dish known as gumbo is thickened with means of file powder and is made with seafood, sausage, okra, andouille, crawfish, black pepper and paprika.
- Chopped Sassafras leaves can also be used in salads.
- The essential oil obtained from the leaves of sassafras tree can be used for flavoring beverages. But the essential oil present in the leaves contain a toxic material called safrole, and hence, it is first removed from the leaves and then used for flavoring purpose.
Where To Find File Powder?
File powder is not a seasonal herb and can be found or bought easily throughout the year. File powder can be bought from well-stocked grocery shops. For getting the best taste and flavor of the file powder, use it within six months.
If file powder is not available in your nearby shops, then you can use other spices available as a substitute for file powder.
Is There Any Substitute For File Powder?
Though file powder can be found all the year round if you run short of it and want to use it in your recipe, then you can use a substitute for file powder.
It is one of the substitutes of file powder. When you want to add file powder to a liquid for the thickening purpose, and you run short of it, then you may use okra for the same purpose. It is usually included in gumbo.
Cornstarch does the same thing as that of file powder excluding the root-beer flavor that file powder possesses. Cornstarch is an easy option to choose when you run out of file powder.
Before learning more about file powder, let us take a look at Sassafras tree through which file powder is made. Let us learn the properties, benefits and side effects which sassafras possesses.
How To Make File Powder At Home?
Though you can find file powder throughout the year, you may sometime run short of it. Or getting aware that no toxic material is present in the file powder, you can take a step and make you won file powder at your home.
The process to make file powder is not at all tough and can be carried out easily at home. Go through the following steps to learn the process of making file powder at home:
- The best time for making file powder at home is during the fall season of the year. The most suitable time to harvest the leaves of the sassafras tree is during a full moon.
- This is because, after the full moon of the fall season, the leaves of the sassafras tree tend to change color. It should be harvested before it starts changing color.
- On the full moon day in the fall season, cut the small limbs of the sassafras tree.
- Do not separate leaves from their stem.
- As the leaves of the tree may contain dust particles, they must be cleaned with water before getting them into use.
- After washing the leaves, place them to dry completely. It may take time of 6-7 days long. Do not keep them in direct sunlight, for they may change color if placed in direct contact with the sunlight. Place them where you are present for most of the time, say at your home or may be at your workplace.
- Ones they are completely dried, you can now remove the leaves from their stem. If you are provided with enough time, you can try removing the petioles (stalk of the leaf) from the leaves.
- You are now left with the dried leaves of sassafras. Now crush these dried leaves. Use your hands for this purpose.
- After crushing the leaves, grind the leaves till you get a fine powder. Don’t use a lot of leaves at a time. Try for going with grinding small batches of leaves at a time. You can use a blender for this purpose.
- Ones you are done with grinding all the leaves and making a fine powder out of them, remove the pieces of petioles and veins from the powder.
- After removing the larger pieces, go for another round of grinding. This time, you can go for a large batch of grinding. Wiley mill can be used for this purpose. Wiley mill is widely used in laboratories for grinding plant tissues and putting them for analysis.
- Wiley mill is a better option against a blender because you can grind the powder as fine as you want with the Wiley mill.
- Ones you are done with the grinding process, you now need to store the file powder hence prepared. The file powder you prepared should be stored in a sealed air-tight It can be stored for as long as you want to be provided that it should be kept dried and away from the contact of moisture.
File powder is recommended not to be kept in storage for more than six months, but some people store it as long as it lasts. It is recommended so because as the time passes, it becomes to lose its taste and flavor and its freshness as well.
To keep the powder fresh, it could be kept in a refrigerator. Try making a fresh batch of the file powder every six months or a year.
Side Effects Of File Powder
Though sassafras is best known for the medicinal properties, it possesses, but there are some side effects which can be observed when you consume inadequate sassafras amount. Sassafras is suggested to be consumed in an extremely small quantity.
This is because sassafras contains some toxic material and can be dangerous when consumed in a large amount. Taking sassafras in large amount could be fatal and cause serious destructions resulting into death.
The use of sassafras oil has been prohibited by the Food and Drug Administration, U.S.A because of the toxic material it contains which may even cause cancer.
Though sassafras helps in curing various diseases you should not consume sassafras until your doctor refers it to you. Sassafras is not that safe to be consumed without consulting a doctor or a physician.
Some of the side effects that can be caused by sassafras are:
- Sassafras can cause tumors.
- Though sassafras helps in lowering blood pressure sometimes it has an adverse effect and results in high blood pressure.
- Sassafras oil when applied directly to the skin may cause skin rashes.
- It may also cause vomiting and hallucinations.
- Sweating and hot flashes are the results which can be seen on consuming sassafras.
- Many other severe side effects can be caused by sassafras.
Sassafras is seriously recommended by the herbalists not to use if you are not knowledgeable about herbs.