Sassafras or Filé

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Sassafras leaves come from a North American tree, Sassafras albidum. The Choctaw Indians introduced them to French settlers in Louisiana, and they are still most commonly encountered as the dry filé powder used to thicken and flavor Louisiana gumbos. They carry woody, floral, and green notes, and contain little or no safrole, a compound that’s prominent in the tree’s roots and bark, and that used to give root beer its characteristic flavor until it was found to be a likely carcinogen (see hoja santa below).