From Academic Kids

Gumbo may also refer to a particularly sticky form of clay till, or to the mascot dog of the New Orleans Saints.
Missing image
A bowl of shrimp gumbo

Gumbo (from a Central Bantu word meaning okra) is a spicy, hearty stew or soup, found typically in the states on the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, and very common in the southern part of Louisiana. It is eaten year round, but is usually found during the colder months. This is due to the extended cooking time required, as a large pot full of simmering liquid will heat up the surrounding area.

The dish named gumbo usually consists of two components, rice and broth, and is usually made in large batches. Left-over broth is frozen for later use. Rice is made fresh daily. The rice is prepared separately from the broth, and are mixed only in the serving bowl.

The gumbo broth can contain seafood (typically crab and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico), fowl (usually duck, quail, chicken), and other meats, used as seasoning (smoked or fresh sausage, tasso (Cajun smoked pork), andouille sausage (Cajun smoked sausage), and other smoked or preserved meats). A traditional lenten variety called gumbo z'herbes (from the French gumbo aux herbes), essentially a gumbo of smothered greens thickened with roux, also exists.

The defining characteristics of gumbo are the type of stock used and the thickening agent used.

A second characteristic, though not necessary, is that the ingredients (base, roux, stock, meat, etc.) are cooked separately, then added together and allowed to simmer.

The stock is always as rich as possible made with whatever compliments the type of gumbo (seafood stock for seafood gumbo, chicken stock for chicken gumbo, etc.)

The classic thickening agents are one of okra or filé powder. Roux may be added to either, and it is quite common for roux to be the sole thickening agent itself. Okra is the most popular, especially in restaurant kitchens. Mixing okra and filé is considered a cardinal sin in Louisianan cuisine (filé was originally an okra substitute, when okra was not in season).



Gumbo has been called the greatest contribution of Louisiana kitchens to American cuisine. When the first French settlers came to Louisiana, they brought their love for bouillabaisse, a highly seasoned fish stew. Having none of the usual ingredients necessary to make a typical French bouillabaisse, they substituted local ingredients.

After about a century, with the Spanish, Africans, and Natives of the region offering their contributions of food, the stew was no longer recognizable as bouillabaisse and became gumbo.


The original gumbo was made with okra. In southeast Louisiana, many consider okra the one essential ingredient in gumbo, and anything made without okra cannot be called gumbo. Okra gumbo typically has a more mellow flavor than roux based gumbo.

Okra serves as a flavor base. The okra is cleaned, then cut into small pieces. Added to the pot with lighter meats, such as chicken or shrimp, the okra and meat simmer together with the typical seasonings of onion, celery, and bell pepper ("the trinity") for a number of hours. Other typical ingredients are parsley, hot peppers, and occasionally other vegetables, such as tomato. Sausage and other processed meats can be added as well, but this is not common.


A roux begins by mixing oil and flour in a pot. The roux is always made from oil or sometimes lard, not butter, since a much darker color can be achieved with the high flashpoint of oil (butter based roux is typically very light colored). This mixture is stirred constantly until the desired color is reached. That color can range from a light yellow-brown, to very nearly black. The exact color of roux for a perfect gumbo is a point of contention. If roux is the sole thickening agent, it should be almost black, but not burnt. If okra is used, a lighter color may be desired, as the flavor of a dark roux is quite overpowering. Every family has its own taste. A roux based gumbo will also use "the trinity" of onion, celery, and bell pepper — sometimes cooked in the hot roux itself before added to the stock. The roux based gumbo will use nearly any type of fowl, shellfish, or processed meat.


Filé is dried and ground sassafras leaves, generally made into filé powder, and may be sprinkled (very sparingly) over the rice and gumbo by the individual in the serving bowl, never in the pot. Originally filé was used as a substitute when okra was not in season, and its use is not particularly common anymore. Filé is sold already dried and ground in grocery stores. (Not all recipes use sassafras leaves, for health reasons: see the filé powder article for details). Filé is sometimes still added to a roux based gumbo at the table.

Typical combinations

  • Seafood gumbo, with shrimp, oysters, and crabmeat
  • Chicken gumbo with Andouille Sausage
  • Duck and Oyster (or Shrimp) Gumbo
  • Rabbit Gumbo


The rice is nearly always plain white rice or parboiled rice, steamed or boiled with only salt, and sometimes a trace amount of white vinegar or other flavorings added.

The ratio of broth to rice is also a point of contention. Some prefer "damp rice" and some only add a minimal amount of rice to a bowl of broth. This is strictly personal taste.

Traditional side dishes include potato salad, fresh bread, or baked sweet potatoes.

In some Cajun areas, it is traditional to put potato salad in the gumbo, with or without rice.

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