Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), also known as ladies’ fingers or ochro in many English-speaking countries, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods. It is common to the Eastern Hemisphere’s tropics and is commonly cultivated or naturalized in the Western Hemisphere’s tropics and subtropics. Just the tender, unripe okra fruit is consumed. Okra can be cooked like asparagus, sauteed, or pickled, and it’s also a common ingredient in southern stews and gumbos. Its high mucilage content makes it an excellent thickener for broths and soups.
The seeds are used as a coffee alternative in some countries. The leaves and immature fruit have long been used in poultices to treat pain in the East. The species is a perennial that is often grown as an annual in temperate climates, reaching heights of about 2 metres (6.6 feet). It is similar to cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus a member of the Malvaceae family. The palmately lobed leaves are 10–20 centimetres (3.9–7.9 in) long and wide, with 5–7 lobes. The flowers have five white to yellow petals with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal and are 4–8 centimetres (1.6–3.1 in) in diameter. The pollens are circular, with a diameter of around 188 microns. The fruit is a pentagonal-sectioned capsule with a length of up to 18 centimetres (7.1 in) and multiple seeds.
The fibrous fruits or pods of Abelmoschus esculentus, which contain round, white seeds, are grown all over the world in tropical and warm temperate climates. It is one of the world’s most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable plants, tolerant of hard clay soils and intermittent rainfall, although frost will kill the pods. The seeds are soaked overnight before being planted to a depth of 1–2 centimetres (0.39–0.79 in) in cultivation. Germination takes about six days (soaked seeds) to three weeks at a soil temperature of at least 20 °C (68 °F). Water is important for seedlings. The seed pods quickly grow fibrous and woody, and must be harvested when young, normally within a week of pollination, to be edible as a vegetable. There are two types of okra: green and red. Red okra has the same taste as green okra and is only distinguished by its colour. The red okra pods turn green when cooked.
Species (Types) of Okra
There are several different kinds of okra to pick from. Since the taste is usually moderate, pod length varies. For the best flavor and tenderness, all cultivars should be picked when immature, at around three to four inches in length. The most common okra species are discussed below:
1. Baby Bubba Hybrid Okra
The small scale of the ‘Baby Bubba’ Hybrid okra plant makes it ideal for cultivation in containers and small garden plots. Plants can reach a height of 3-4 feet and have a diameter of up to 24 inches. This cultivar produces dark green fruits that can reach three inches in length and mature in around 53 days, making it ideal for colder climates with shorter growing seasons.
2. Blondy Okra
The okra plant specie known as ‘Blondy’ is open-pollinated. In about 50 days, dwarf plants attain a height of four feet and produce three-inch pale green, spineless pods. This is another excellent option for cool locales with short growing seasons, as well as patio pots and small spaces.
3. Burgundy Okra
Plants of the heirloom ‘Burgundy’ okra variety can grow up to five feet tall and 48 inches in diameter. Green leaves contrast with burgundy stems and six- to eight-inch fruit on this okra specie, making it an especially attractive ornamental option. It takes 49-60 days for the plant to reach full maturity. Pods can turn a pale color when cooked.
4. Cajun Delight Okra
This hybrid matures in 50-55 days, making it an ideal option for a shortened growing season in cooler climates. It will grow to a maximum of four feet in height. Dark green pods range in length from 3 to 5 inches and are somewhat curved.
5. Clemson Spineless Okra
The ‘Clemson Spineless’ okra plant is the industry standard and the most common variety on the market. It was an All-America Selections winner in 1939 and has remained a favorite ever since. This okra plants can grow up to four feet tall and stretch up to 48 inches across. In 55-60 days, this heirloom will be ready for harvest. Dark green pods that are nearly spineless and slightly curved can grow to be nine inches in length.
6. Cow Horn Okra
It takes 90 days for this heirloom to mature. It can reach a height of 14 feet and yield enormously, curved pods up to 14 inches long.
7. Emerald Okra
The heirloom okra variant ‘Emerald’ is open-pollinated. Campbell’s Soup Company developed this iconic variety in the 1950s, and plants can grow up to eight feet tall. Fruits are smooth, dark green, and remarkably straight, reaching a height of seven inches. It would take about 60 days for the plant to mature.
8. Go Big Okra
If you want a lot of edible fruit, a beautiful ornamental specimen, or both, this is a good option. Go Big Okra plants can grow up to seven feet tall and have a diameter of up to five feet. The pods are 7 inches long and dark green. In 60-65 days, you’ll be able to harvest your crop.
9. Hill Country Red Okra
Hill Country Red Okra is a popular heirloom from Texas Hill Country of South Texas. The plants reach a height of six feet, giving the garden structure. Up to six inches long, thick green fruits with a red tinge. It takes about 64 days for the plants to reach full maturity.
10. Louisiana Green Velvet Okra
Green velvet okra plants in Louisiana can grow up to eight feet tall and produce eight-inch dark green, spineless pods. This massive okra plant produces an abundance of fruit and provides a bold declaration in the landscape. In about 65 days, the plant will be ready to harvest.
11. Perkins Long Pod Okra
This heirloom variety is an early bloomer that can be grown in both northern and southern climates. It takes about 55 days to mature. This okra plant can reach a height of five feet and produces four-inch-long straight green pods.
12. Red Velvet Okra
The red velvet okra plant grows up to five feet tall and up to 48 inches in diameter, making it ideal for container or small-space planting. The scarlet red fruit is mildly ribbed and can reach a maximum length of six inches. In 55-60 days, the plant should be fully mature.
13. Silver Queen Okra
A southern belle known as the ‘Silver Queen’ enjoys the heat of summer and despises the cold. This okra cultivar matures in around 80 days, indicating that it is best suited to mild climates with a long growing season for edible gardening. It’s an heirloom variety with a huge habit that can grow to six feet tall and grows creamy-colored ivory-green pods up to seven inches long.
Historical Background of Okra Cultivation
Okra is an allopolyploid of unknown origins. Abelmoschus ficulneus, Abelmoschus tuberculatus, and a reported “diploid” type of okra have all been suggested as possible parents. The existence of truly wild (as opposed to naturalized) populations is unknown, and the species may be cultigen. Okra’s origins are debated, with proponents claiming South Asian, Ethiopian, and West African origins. The Arabic term for the plant, bamya, was used by Egyptians and Moors in the 12th and 13th centuries, implying that it had come into Egypt from Arabia. However, it was most likely brought from Ethiopia to Arabia earlier.
It’s possible that the plant crossed the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb straight to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than crossing the Sahara or coming from India. A Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216 and mentioned the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal is one of the earliest accounts. The plant spread eastward from Arabia, along the Mediterranean Sea’s coasts. By 1658, when it was discovered in Brazil, the plant had been imported to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade. In 1686, it was also known in Suriname.
Okra is said to have arrived in southeastern North America from Africa in the early 1800s. It was grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. It was well known in Virginia by 1781, according to Thomas Jefferson. By 1800, it had become widespread in the Southern United States, with the first mention of distinct cultivars occurring in 1806.
Nutritional Value (Composition) of Okra
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Nutrient Database, one cup of raw okra, weighing 100 grams (g) contains, 33 calories, 1.9 g of protein, 0.2 g of fat, 7.5 g of carbohydrates, 3.2 g of fiber, 1.5 g of sugar, 31.3 milligrams (mg) of vitamin K, 299 mg of potassium, 7 mg of sodium, 23 mg of vitamin C, 0.2 mg of thiamin, 57 mg of magnesium, 82 mg of calcium, 0.215 mg of vitamin B6, 60 micrograms (mcg) of folate and 36 mcg of vitamin A.
Iron, niacin, phosphorus, and copper are all contained in okra. Age, sex, level of activity, and caloric consumption both influence nutritional requirements. The USDA offers an interactive platform to help people figure out how much of a nutrient they need. Antioxidants can also be used in okra. Okra contains a host of antioxidant compounds, including phenolic compounds and flavonoid derivatives including catechins and quercetin, in its pods and seeds.
Culinary Uses of Okra
As a result of okra being a household name all over the world, different people has schemed out different ways to enjoy okra. Below are some of the delicious ways people consume okra worldwide:
- Gumbo:This Louisiana recipe is most likely responsible for okra’s slimy reputation: the vegetable is diced and simmered until much of the goo has leached out. If you believe it or not, the goo serves a purpose: it thickens the stew and transforms it into something magical.
- Quick Vegetable Stew: In quick vegetable stew, the okra is thickly sliced and cooked briefly with tomatoes so that it is tender but not too slimy.
- Stuffed Peppers: Make a succotash of okra and stuff it into poblanos. The hot peppers will take your mind off some okra texture problems.
- Pickled: Pickled okra has a small slime component, but it’s so flavorful that you won’t even notice.
- Dipped: Blanch okra and then double dip it for a nice twist on crudités: Mayo first, then sesame seeds and diced chile for “sprinkles.”
- Sautéed: Keep the okra whole and sauté it in oil for a few minutes. For spice, add garlic and lime zest, as well as cashews for crunch.
- Grilled: Toss entire okra with a tasty dressing after grilling until charred. Roasting them whole for a low-slime result is one way to do this.
- Double Fried: Fry thickly sliced okra in oil until tender, then add a flavored sauce and stir-fry.
- Crispy Fried: Fry okra after coating it in egg and cornmeal. The crisp coating will save you from seeing any slime.
- Halved and Pan-roasted: Okra can be halved lengthwise and charred in a boiling hot cast-iron skillet to make them almost slime-free.
- Julienned and Fried: Slice the pods thinly lengthwise and fry the wispy threads. For a completely slime-free okra experience, even the seeds become crisp.
Health Benefits of Okra
Okra’s mucilage is thought to aid in the removal of toxins from the body. The nutrients in okra can help to prevent a variety of health problems. Below are some of the most notable health benefits of okra:
Lectin is a type of protein found in okra, beans, peanuts, and grains. Okra’s lectin aids in the treatment of human breast cancer cells. They slow the growth of cancer cells and destroy human cancer cells. Okra is high in folate, which has been shown to reduce the risk of breast cancer. A lack of folate can also raise a person’s chance of having cancers such as cervical, pancreatic, lung, and breast cancer.
Helpful during Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Folate is also essential in order to avoid fetal abnormalities during pregnancy. Low folate levels can cause pregnancy loss as well as complications for the fetus, such as spina bifida. Adults should consume 400 micrograms of folate per day, according to the 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. During pregnancy and breastfeeding, doctors normally urge women to take more folate.
Management of Cardiovascular Diseases
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that consuming diets rich in fiber will help lower bad cholesterol levels in the blood. Heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes are all reduced by eating high-fiber diets which okra is one of them. In people who already have heart failure, fiber will help to slow it down.
Vitamin K aids in the development of bones and the clotting of blood. Vitamin K-rich foods can aid in the strengthening of bones and the prevention of fractures. Vitamin K and calcium are abundant in okra, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach.
Dietary fiber aids in the prevention of constipation and the maintenance of a balanced digestive system. The more fiber a human consumes, the lower their risk of colorectal cancer. Fiber in the diet also helps in weight management by reducing ones appetite. Okra extract is used in Asian medicine to guard against inflammation and inflammatory gastric diseases. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties can aid in the prevention of gastrointestinal issues.