Okra or okro, known in many English-speaking countries as ladies’ fingers, ochro or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family and is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.
The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic “goo” or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains soluble fibre. Some people prefer to minimize the 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 also help. Alternatively, the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time so the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. Pods are also being pickled, eaten raw, or included in salads.
Leaves and Seeds
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 with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio.”
Greenish-yellow edible okra oil is pressed from okra seeds; it has a pleasant taste and odour, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid. The oil content of some varieties of the seed is about 40%. 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.
As a thickener replacement per 2 cups okra in recipe:
- use 1 tablespoon filé powder
- or 2 teaspoons cornflour mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
- or use 2 teaspoons arrowroot mixed with 2 teaspoons water
As a vegetable to vary the flavour and texture, per 2 cups okra in recipe:
- 2 cups asparagus
- or 2 cups broccoli florets