Okra known in many English-speaking countries as lady’s fingers or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.
The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. It is related to such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus. The leaves are 10–20 cm long and broad, palmately lobed with 5–7 lobes. The flowers are 4–8 cm in diameter, with five white to yellow petals, often with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long, containing numerous seeds.
Okra is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants and is also often eaten as part of a weight loss diet since it is both fat-free and cholesterol-free.Okra is also a good source of calcium and potassium.
Greenish-yellow edible okra oil is pressed from okra seeds; it has a pleasant taste and odor, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid.The oil content of some varieties of the seed can be quite high, about 40%. Oil yields from okra crops are also high. At 794 kg/ha, the yield was exceeded only by that of sunflower oil in one trial. A 1920 study found that a sample contained 15% oil.A 2009 study found okra oil suitable for use as a biofuel.
The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic “goo” or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains a usable form of soluble fiber. Some people cook okra this way, others prefer to minimize sliminess; keeping the pods intact, and brief cooking, for example stir-frying, help to achieve this. Cooking with acidic ingredients such as a few drops of lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar may help. Alternatively, the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time so the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. The cooked leaves can also be used as a powerful soup thickener.The immature pods may also be pickled.
In Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen, and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In most of West Asia, okra is known as bamia or bamya. West Asian cuisine usually uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole. In India, the harvesting is done at a later stage, when the pods and seeds are larger.
It is popular in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, where chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations such as bhindi ghosht and sambar.
In Malaysia okra is commonly a part of yong tau foo cuisine, typically stuffed with processed fish paste (surimi) and boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, and served in a soup with noodles.
In Thailand cuisine boiled okra is eaten with a selection of vegetables and chili paste. Two Thai dishes also feature okra as a ingredient, gang naw mai and gang om, both are a vegetable soup.
Okra seed pod
In the Caribbean islands, okra is eaten in soup, often with fish. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient.
It became a popular vegetable in Japanese cuisine toward the end of the 20th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi, or as tempura.
Okra forms part of several regional “signature” dishes. Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a Brazilian dish especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais. Gumbo, a hearty stew whose key ingredient is okra, is found throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc. is widely eaten in the southern United States.Okra is also an ingredient expected in callaloo, a Caribbean dish and the national dish of Trinidad and Tobago. It is also a part of the national dish of Barbados coucou (turned cornmeal). Okra is also eaten in Nigeria, where draw soup is a popular dish, often eaten with garri or cassava. In Vietnam, okra is the important ingredient in the dish canh chua. Okra slices can also be added to ratatouille.
A variety of okra pods with a dark red pigmentation
Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions. The leaves are also eaten raw in salads. Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeine-free substitute for coffee. When importation of coffee was disrupted by the American Civil War in 1861, the Austin State Gazette said “An acre of okra will produce seed enough to furnish a plantation of fifty negroes with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio.
Unspecified parts of the plant were reported in 1898 to possess diuretic properties;this is referenced in numerous sources associated with herbal and traditional medicine.
Okra (and rhubarb, beets, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, tea, chocolate and soy products) are rich in oxalates; Mayo Clinic recommends that people who tend to form calcium oxalate kidney stones may benefit from restricting such foods.