Okra is a plant of the mallow family. This plant is well known for its green seed pods which are edible. Okra grows in tropical and subtropical regions.
The origin of the species Abelmoschus esculentus remains obscure, especially as it is not found in the wild. This vegetable probably comes from Northern India, Egypt, perhaps Ethiopia. Researchers do not know for sure, although several researchers are looking at the last place. It is known, however, the botanical genus Abelmoschus originates from Southeast Asia. For its part, the esculentus species was cultivated in Egypt several hundred years ago, even thousands of years ago. It is now widespread in most tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Another species, A. caillei, is found only in the humid regions of West and Central Africa, where its fruit is greatly appreciated.
In America, it’s believed the plant was introduced into Louisiana, the United States, in the early eighteenth century by the French settlers. But it would have been brought to Brazil a few decades ago by slaves.
Okra is widely consumed in Africa, India, Thailand, the Mediterranean countries, the Arab countries, the Philippines and Brazil. In Louisiana, there is still an essential ingredient in Cajun cuisine. In West Africa, okra is the second most cultivated vegetable, just after the tomato.
Still in Africa, people consume its young shoots as well as its leaves, and they are also given to cattle. In Turkey, roasted seeds serve as a substitute for coffee.
Okra is a typical vegetable of African food. It is also found in southern Europe, India, Middle East, West Indies and South America. Okra is eaten raw, cooked and sometimes in dehydrated form. Its special flavor and texture, as well as nutrient compounds it contains make it a vegetable which gains to be known.
Active ingredients and properties
According to several prospective and epidemiological studies, high consumption of fruits and vegetables would reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and other chronic diseases1. The presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could, in part, explain this protective effect.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. The latter would be involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases related to aging. An in vitro study, okra extracts showed some antioxidant potential. Okra contains small amounts of antioxidant compounds, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zéaxanthine, and a greater quantity of another of these compounds, quercetine. A portion of 100 g (about 250 ml) of fresh okra provides 11 mg quercetin. As a comparison, the onion, which is one of the main sources of quercetin in food, contains 13 mg to 20 mg per 100 g.
Dietary fibers. Food fibers are found only in plant products. They include a set of substances that are not digested by the body. They are classified into two main groups: soluble and insoluble fibers. Okra contains a high proportion of soluble fibers, or 40% of its total dietary fiber content. In general, soluble fibers are associated with more favorable levels of blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as a slowdown in intestinal transit. Dissolved in water, soluble fibers form viscous or jelly substances. A study conducted in late 1980s showed these substances, extracted from okra, reduced the blood sugar levels of mouses. Thanks to its properties, okra is part of the portfolio diet, a diet recognized for its beneficial effect on blood cholesterol levels.
Okra contains a mucilaginous gum, meaning it inflates in contact with water and produces a thick, viscous substance. This gum can be used as a thickener in various culinary preparations (soups, stews, etc.). In addition, it could be used as a substitute for fats in certain food preparations. Thus, two studies show it could replace a certain amount of fat in biscuits and frozen desserts based on milk. Before marketing it, more research will be needed, among other things to find out what effects it might have on health.
Although it is not grown in North America, okra is available year-round. It is offered fresh only at certain times of the year, but it is still offered frozen in supermarkets. Like all frozen vegetables, it should not be thawed before it is cooked. In fact, it would lose more vitamin C during the cooking. Choosing frozen okra is a great way to integrate it into your diet.
Choice, conservation and culinary uses
Okra is fresh in season. Large surfaces also offer frozen, canned or marinated okra.
Fresh okra must be both firm and tender not soft, with a bright green and free of bruises.
How to consume okra?
Some eat raw okra in salads, but most of the time it is advisable to cook it.
In India, it is cooked, after cutting lengthwise, with diced potatoes and thin slices of onions. Add turmeric, salt and a bit of strong chilli. Cooking should take about 20 minutes.
Remove mucilage I cannot tolerate!
In Japan, okra is prepared by removing the cap and then rolling the fruit into coarse salt to remove small hairs. Then they are tossed into boiling water and cooked until they are tender. They can then be chopped very finely in order to obtain a kind of puree that will be mixed with fish or raw egg yolks. The whole is seasoned with a sauce based on sake, soy sauce, mirin and wasabi.
In the Middle East, okra is peeled to remove the ribs that are harder. They are then cooked in a mutton stew (the sheep can be replaced by lamb). Cook the meat in water with cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon, cloves and pepper until it is tender and soft. Drain, reserve the broth. Fry the meat in a frying pan, add the okra (1 kilo for ½ kilo of meat), garlic, a little tomato purée and the reserved broth. Cook half an hour over medium heat.
Dried okra. In various countries, dried okra is commonly used as a preferential use. To dry it yourself, it is enough to first mix in a bowl 1 kg of okra with 1 or 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Leave to marinate for five minutes, then place the fruit on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put about one hour in an oven set at 95 °C (200 °F), leaving the door of the oven encased. Turn the fruit once in the process of drying.
In Africa, dried okra is often powdered and then used as a spice or thickening sauces.
Dried okra with Cretan. Take Vivanneau, grouper or another whole skinned fish. Cut in pieces of 8 cm or 10 cm (including head and tail), and place in a bowl. Add the juice of two lemons, salt, pepper, cover and let marinate for an hour. Fry onions in olive oil, add garlic and dried okra (about 100 g) and stir gently. Add eight pruned tomatoes and cut into four and 250 ml of dry white wine. Cover, lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until okra is tender (25-30 minutes). Set the oven to 220 °C (425 °F), put half of the okra preparation in a gratin dish, add the fish and its juices and then the other half of the preparation. Cover and Cook about 30 to 40 minutes. Discover, Cook five minutes, season with chopped parsley and serve.
Refrigerator. Wipe the okra thoroughly to remove the water. They will keep up to a week in a perforated plastic bag. If they turn black, all they have to do is throw them out.
Freezer. Blanch them for two minutes, cool them with icy water, drain them, leave them whole or cut into thin slices and put them in the freezer. They will remain there for about a year.
Sow okra within four to five weeks before the last planned freeze. Transplant to the vegetable garden, paying attention to the roots which are rather fragile.
Although it can adapt many soils, okra prefers sandy loams, rich in organic matter, a ph of 6 to 7 and a sunny exposure. Bury a good amount of composted manure or vegetable compost in the soil at the time of planting. Space the plants at 30 cm and the rows to a meter. Water them frequently.
Okra is sensible to the melting of seedlings and the decay of young fruits. To prevent the first disease, sow the seeds inside the trays on heating cables. To counter the second, plant in the garden in a sunny place and space the plants in order to ensure a good air circulation.
Aphids could cause some damage, but in the family garden, it is easy to get rid of them simply by a stream of water directed at the plant. Ditto for the corn borer, which attacks young fruits, but does little damage in small crops? To avoid the risk of damage caused by nematodes, ensure proper rotation. Avoid planting okra where creeping plants such as squash and sweet potatoes were grown the previous year.
The fruit is ready to be harvested from six to seven days after the flower is formed, when it reaches 5 cm to 7 cm in length. If you wait longer, it becomes hard and fibrous; then you have to dry it and reduce it to powder. Since the fruit does not all mature at the same time, the harvest must be carried out every day or two days. When you stop harvesting, the fruit matures and the plant stops producing. We can then harvest the fruit for the seeds, provided it is not a hybrid.
Avoid harvesting okra in wet or humid weather.
Caution: the plant and its fruit have fine hairs that cause skin reactions among some people. To avoid this problem, it is recommended to wear gloves and long sleeves during the harvest.
Ecology and environment
Plants with multiple uses are advantageous from an environmental point of view, as they use the soil more efficiently than single-use plants. That’s the case with okra. First, it feeds humans and animals from its leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. It also provides fibers which are useful for making paper and ropes, as well as good fuel. In India and Africa, they are used for medicinal purposes. It has also been found its seeds, in addition to providing edible oil, are rich in phospholipids, compounds with many applications.