What is Gumbo?

Diana Bocco
Diana Bocco
A hearty bowl of gumbo.
A hearty bowl of gumbo.

Gumbo is a type of spicy stew typical of Louisiana and South Carolina cuisines, but also consumed frequently on the Gulf of Mexico. The hearty dish consists basically of two ingredients: broth and rice. While this may sound boring and limited, gumbo is actually a dish with an extremely large variety of flavors and consistencies, depending on how the broth is made.

Traditionally, okra provides the flavor base.
Traditionally, okra provides the flavor base.

The main varieties of gumbo broth include seafood, chicken, red meats (including sausages), and pork. A vegetarian variety also exists, and it was created for consumption primarily during Lent. Instead of meat, vegetarian gumbo is made using mashed greens that have been thickened with a roux, a mixture of butter and wheat flour.

The name is a reference to the African word kigombo, meaning okra. This refers to the old tradition of using okra to provide a flavor base. The rice used in gumbo is not cooked on the broth but separately, and only added to the dish at the time of serving. Once the broth is made, cooks can then add whatever type of meat and vegetables they feel will complement the dish. For example, tasso, a type of Cajun smoked pork can be added, or shrimp, crabmeat, and oysters. Gumbo is consumed primarily during winter months because its hearty consistence makes it a great choice during cold days. Also, the dish requires a long cooking time, as the broth must be left to simmer for hours to achieve the appropriate thickness.

Oysters may be featured in gumbo.
Oysters may be featured in gumbo.

Creole Gumbo, which is eaten primarily in Southern US States, is a mix of Spanish, French, and African cuisine. More vegetables are used than in traditional versions, including green peppers, onions, tomatoes, and herbs. Spices are lightly used, as this dish is supposed to have a subtle flavor rather than a strong one. People who prefer a hot variation often ask for hot sauce on the side. Gumbo is the traditional dish of Mardi Gras celebrations in Lousiana, where it is often served by masked horse riders, who first collect the ingredients by stopping door to door and then come back with a warm plate of the ready-to-eat stew.

Discussion Comments


My favorite gumbo seasoning includes cumin, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. I don't like it too spicy, so I leave out the cayenne pepper that most people include. I think that the paprika provides just enough spiciness, and the cumin adds a wonderful deep flavor to it.

One good thing about gumbo is that it tastes even better the next day. All the ingredients have had time to come together in the refrigerator.


My friend makes this wonderful gumbo with okra, shrimp, and sausage. You wouldn't think that those two meats would go together, but they taste awesome mixed in with all the other ingredients.

The whole thing has a thick texture that I love. It's just so full of flavor, and I have yet to identify all the ingredients, because there are so many different things floating around in there!

I don't generally like boiled okra, but when it is part of a pot of gumbo, I do. Rice is another thing I don't generally eat, but I really love the part it plays in the gumbo.


@wavy58 – Different gumbo recipes call for various seasonings, but the spicy ingredient in most of them is cayenne pepper. Most people use ground cayenne pepper, and you can adjust the heat of the gumbo by adding more or less.

Like you, I don't think I've ever tasted a mild gumbo. I have tried several types of gumbo in the frozen food section of my grocery store, and all of it was rather spicy.


What makes Cajun gumbo so spicy? I have had this type of gumbo at several different restaurants, and it is always packed with heat. I can't put my finger on what the hot ingredient is, though.


Gumbo soup relies on the "holy trinity" of Cajun seasoning vegetables which are bell peppers, celery and onion.


All gumbo uses roux, not just Lenten gumbo. And by the way, Lenten gumbo is gumbo that uses crab meat and crawfish or shrimp instead of chicken and sausage.

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    • A hearty bowl of gumbo.
      By: cobraphoto
      A hearty bowl of gumbo.
    • Traditionally, okra provides the flavor base.
      By: s4sanchita
      Traditionally, okra provides the flavor base.
    • Oysters may be featured in gumbo.
      By: Mat Hayward
      Oysters may be featured in gumbo.
    • Gumbo is the traditional dish of Mardi Gras celebrations in Lousiana.
      By: WideAwake
      Gumbo is the traditional dish of Mardi Gras celebrations in Lousiana.