Sassafras

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Sassafras

Postby Joe T » Mon Mar 24, 2014 3:53 pm

I want to make authentic creole gumbo, but can't find any sassafras. Does somebody know of a good substitute for this Louisiana staple?
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jo Ann Henderson » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:20 pm

The product you are looking for is traditionally sold as filé (ground leaves of the sassafras tree) and can be found on most supermarket spice shelves.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jenise » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:21 pm

Bingo!
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Joe T » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:32 pm

Jo Ann, thanks for the clarification. I guess its a little harder to find in Canada. I'll be sure to pick some up my next trip down south.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Frank Deis » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:35 pm

You guys are correct of course -- I think filé has more to do with texture than flavor, and okra can fill that bill.

But I wanted to say that we lived surrounded by sassafras trees of all sizes when I was growing up in coastal Virginia, and my mother was very fond of sassafras tea. In fact I really liked it too. This was made from the roots of the sassafras tree, pencil diameter and smaller. When you steeped them in boiling water you got a pink liquid with a sweet aroma a little like root beer, hmm, that may be where root beer got its name, haven't looked that up. Sweetened it was quite a treat. My mom was really disappointed when she made some as a special treat when the Women's Club met at her house and nobody would even taste it!

I think I remember that safrole (?) is in fact a mild carcinogen so the ladies may have been in the right not to ingest it. But I drank a fair amount of sassafras tea as a child and don't know that it hurt me.

[EDIT] Joe T., Penzeys Spices has it in 5 different sizes, I deal with them mainly by mail. Just search for "file" or "gumbo" http://www.penzeys.com/
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jenise » Mon Mar 24, 2014 5:32 pm

Frank, you're right so far as I know re the origins of "root" in root beer.

And good plug for Penzey's--best herb and spice source ever. However, Joe's in Canada and may not be able to get such things shipped to him direct.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Frank Deis » Mon Mar 24, 2014 5:35 pm

Jenise wrote:Frank, you're right so far as I know re the origins of "root" in root beer.

And good plug for Penzey's--best herb and spice source ever. However, Joe's in Canada and may not be able to get such things shipped to him direct.


Canadians buy and sell spices too

http://www.silkroadspices.ca/products/gumbo-fil
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Hoke » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:23 pm

Originally, yes, sassafras was the key ingredient in most root beers. You can use the roots and also the ground up bark of the tree to make sassafras tea.

Root beer was called root beer because it usually had small amounts of alcohol---so it was like what used to be called "small beer" in the old days, a a regular daily drink, even for kids. But when it became a modern carbonated beverage they started using artificial sassafras flavoring, so it's not the same.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Bill Buitenhuys » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:45 pm

although use of sassafras root is banned by the FDA (unless it's safrole free extract).
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Wed Mar 26, 2014 2:32 am

Hoke wrote:Originally, yes, sassafras was the key ingredient in most root beers. You can use the roots and also the ground up bark of the tree to make sassafras tea.

Root beer was called root beer because it usually had small amounts of alcohol---so it was like what used to be called "small beer" in the old days, a a regular daily drink, even for kids. But when it became a modern carbonated beverage they started using artificial sassafras flavoring, so it's not the same.


Does birch beer have real or artificial birch in it?
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Hoke » Wed Mar 26, 2014 1:11 pm

Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:
Hoke wrote:Originally, yes, sassafras was the key ingredient in most root beers. You can use the roots and also the ground up bark of the tree to make sassafras tea.

Root beer was called root beer because it usually had small amounts of alcohol---so it was like what used to be called "small beer" in the old days, a a regular daily drink, even for kids. But when it became a modern carbonated beverage they started using artificial sassafras flavoring, so it's not the same.


Does birch beer have real or artificial birch in it?


Believe it or not, I asked this. Of a micro-brewer up in the Pacific Northwest, many years ago.

The answer is essentially yes, "real". In that it's made from the oil extract of birch bark. And "other herbal extracts", so the formula varies. And oddly enough, to me anyway, sometimes people added oak bark extract as well. (?)

I don't think anyone actually goes to the trouble of making their own birch oil distillate, preferring to use the easier extracts openly available in the market...but then again, who knows.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jay Mazzoni » Wed Mar 26, 2014 10:41 pm

Joe T wrote:Jo Ann, thanks for the clarification. I guess its a little harder to find in Canada. I'll be sure to pick some up my next trip down south.

Hi Joe,

I'm on a long term work assignment here in New Orleans - with some of your countrymen, I might add. A colleague is a huge Maple Leafs fan.

If you want to private message me an address, I'd be happy to send you some gumbo file.

I just had a discussion this evening with a native New Orleanian about one of the finer points of gumbo cooking, namely the roux preparation - a long, slow process carried out in a well-seasoned cast iron pan. He also explained the intricacies of a good crawfish boil and had my mouth watering. Southeast Louisiana has a rich and unique food culture, and I'm enjoying learning and experiencing it.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jeff Grossman/NYC » Thu Mar 27, 2014 1:53 am

Hoke wrote:
Jeff Grossman/NYC wrote:Does birch beer have real or artificial birch in it?


Believe it or not, I asked this. Of a micro-brewer up in the Pacific Northwest, many years ago.

The answer is essentially yes, "real". In that it's made from the oil extract of birch bark. And "other herbal extracts", so the formula varies.

Thanks, Hoke. Had a good local soda tonight, Hosmer Mountain. Cool, almost-wintergreen, snappy, not too sweet.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Paul Winalski » Tue Apr 08, 2014 3:34 pm

Hoke wrote:Root beer was called root beer because it usually had small amounts of alcohol---so it was like what used to be called "small beer" in the old days, a a regular daily drink, even for kids. But when it became a modern carbonated beverage they started using artificial sassafras flavoring, so it's not the same.


When I was in high school, the Biology teacher, when teaching about the biochemsitry of fermentation, had the class make root beer from scratch by the traditional method, which involves carbonation using yeast. It's the same as making real beer except you leave the vessel open to the atmosphere instead of closed. The yeasts still produce CO2, but mainly via respiration rather then fermentation, so there is fizz but only a tiny amount of alcohol. It was far and away the best root beer I've ever tasted.

-Paul W.
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jenise » Tue Apr 08, 2014 3:44 pm

Paul, that's interesting. Probably explains why Thomas Kemper, known nationwide for his artisan root beer, also has a beer brewery. (Here in my town, matter of fact.)
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Hoke » Tue Apr 08, 2014 4:22 pm

Jenise wrote:Paul, that's interesting. Probably explains why Thomas Kemper, known nationwide for his artisan root beer, also has a beer brewery. (Here in my town, matter of fact.)


Kemper started the micro-brewery, then figured he'd make some better soda-pop for his kids (and yeah, for himself too), with honey instead of corn syrup, natural old-style ingredients, etc. So he did. The sodas were so popular, and so easy to distribute since they went to many of the same accounts, and less onerous because of no alcohol, that the natural sodas took off and often eclipsed the beer side of things.

So what started out as a very small bottling run on the side turned into a major business venture that turned out very profitably. (Plus, the sodas were good. In the early days, you'd have to shake them up to get the honey to meld back into the liquid, but that was a "craft" selling point to Pacific Norwesters.)
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Re: Sassafras

Postby Jenise » Tue Apr 08, 2014 4:42 pm

Hoke, had no idea--didn't know the story. Love his beer, though!
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