Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I had a go at making a gumbo last week, and it went really well. The only problem was that the okra proved to be fairly difficult to source (after several supermarkets and groceries, we managed to find a tin of the stuff in a specialist food shop).

Given that the okra is used as a thickening agent, via the mucilage that sweats out when cooking, is there any other vegetable based alternative that would help keep the flavour of the gumbo, and thicken up the soup?

I'm specifically trying to avoid cornstarch or cornflour, since that would likely affect the flavour considerably. I was thinking potato, which is also starch, but that would also probably affect the flavour a fair bit. I realise that any alternative would have some effect, but would like to minimise it.

share|improve this question
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Strictly speaking most gumbo recipes I am familiar with rely on the use of a roux as the primary thickening agent. Sure the okra contributes somewhat but in my experience using a darkened roux is what is called for.

Please keep in mind that the more you cook the roux the less thickening power it has so you need to use a little more.

share|improve this answer
I'm pretty sure the darkness comes from maillard reactions with the flour in the butter, not from browning the butter first. – baka Jun 19 '12 at 19:39
This is pretty much how I cooked my most recent batch, and it came out pretty darn good. – HorusKol Apr 22 '13 at 3:36

File would be style-appropriate.

Fresh okra is only just now coming into season in the American south. I'm in Tennessee and most supermarkets carry fresh okra for most of the year (though it often looks quite sickly), and frozen year-round.

If it's something you enjoy, you might look into growing your own, as it tastes excellent when it's fresh picked and handled appropriately.

share|improve this answer
Good answer. Okra loves warm weather. The warmer the better. – Sobachatina Jun 19 '12 at 2:22
I'm in Australia - okra is apparently available in India/Asia, but as I said, I had trouble sourcing it. I'm not sure that file would be any easier, unfortunately. – HorusKol Jun 19 '12 at 2:31
Did you try for frozen okra? That's how we get it year-round in the States. Anyway, second the recommendation for file powder. – FuzzyChef Jun 19 '12 at 3:13
@HorusKol: File powder is dry and shelf stable at room temperature, so you could at least mail order it and not have to worry about it losing anything in shipping. – baka Jun 19 '12 at 11:40
Frozen okra is perfectly acceptable for a gumbo or stew. It's very unlikely anyone will be able to tell the difference, and yea, even in the south, fresh okra's not that great year round. – Satanicpuppy Jun 22 '12 at 11:40

I use minute tapioca ~ 1 tablespoon/quart of mix. Taste variation is minimal.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.