Okra is a flowering plant thought to be of African origin, and brought to the United States from Africa three centuries ago by enslaved people. The word “okra” is derived from the West African nkruma. Grown in tropical and warm temperate climates, it is a perennial in the same plant family as hibiscus and cotton. It is cultivated as an annual.
Okra is sometimes referred to as “lady’s finger”. Okra comes in two colors, red and green. Both varieties taste the same, and the red one turns green when cooked. It is biologically classified as a fruit, okra is generally utilized like a vegetable in cooking.
One cup of raw okra contains:
- Calories: 33
- Carbs: 7 grams
- Protein: 2 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Magnesium: 14% of the Daily Value (DV)
- Folate: 15% of the DV
- Vitamin A: 14% of the DV
- Vitamin C: 26% of the DV
- Vitamin K: 26% of the DV
- Vitamin B6: 14% of the DV
Okra is an excellent source of vitamins C and K1. Vitamin C is a water-soluble nutrient that contributes to your overall immune function, while vitamin K1 is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s known for its role in blood clotting. Eating okra may help pregnant women meet their daily folate needs. Folate is important for preventing neural tube defects.
Okra is low in calories and carbs and contains some protein and fiber. Okra contains a protein called lectin, which is being studied for its role in cancer prevention and treatment.
Okra contains a thick gel-like substance called mucilage, which can bind to cholesterol during digestion, causing it to be excreted with stools rather than absorbed into your body. One 8-week study randomly divided mice into 3 groups and fed them a high-fat diet containing 1% or 2% okra powder or a high-fat diet without okra powder. The mice on the okra diet eliminated more cholesterol in their stools and had lower total blood cholesterol levels than the control group.
Okra is rich in antioxidants. Most notably, polyphenols that may contribute to heart and brain health. One 4-year study in 1,100 people showed that those who ate a diet rich in polyphenols had lower inflammatory markers associated with heart disease..
Researchers suggested that the okra decreased sugar absorption in the digestive tract, leading to a more stable blood sugar response.
Because okra may interfere with metformin, a common diabetes medication, avoid eating okra if you are on metformin.
How to Buy
Okra is usually available fresh year-round in the South, and from May to October in many other areas. You can also find okra frozen, pickled, and canned, and in some regions, you might find frozen breaded okra for deep frying.
Look for brightly colored pods. Pods should be no more than 4 inches long. Avoid dull, bruised, soft, or blemished pods. If okra is too ripe, it will have a very sticky texture.
How to Store
- Place fresh okra in a paper bag, or wrap it in a paper towel and place in the fridge.
- Okra can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
- For longer storage, okra may be frozen. Trim the stem ends (do not cut into the pod when you trim), and then blanch for 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the pods. Cool the pods quickly in ice water. Freeze the whole pods or slice the pods crosswise and arrange them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Freeze and then transfer the slices to silicone bags.
How to Cook
- Okra is excellent stewed, sautéed, stir-fried, and deep-fried. It makes excellent pickles as well.
- Okra goes well with tomatoes, onions, peppers, corn, and eggplants.
- The viscous liquid cut okra gives off will thicken any liquid it’s cooked in, making it a wonderful addition to stews.
- Gumbo likely got its name from the okra pod. Though gumbo may be thickened with okra, file powder, or roux, many feel okra is an essential ingredient in any good gumbo.
- Battering and frying okra eliminates the sliminess.
- When preparing the downy variety of okra, gently scrub the surface with a paper towel.
- Before cooking whole okra, slice off the tips and stem ends.
- Some complementary ingredients and sauces include basil, garlic, butter, lemon, parsley, tomatoes, and vinaigrette.
To avoid slimy okra, follow these simple cooking techniques:
- Cook okra at high heat.
- Avoid crowding your pan or skillet, as this will reduce the heat and cause sliminess.
- Pickling okra may reduce the slime factor.
- Cooking it in an acid-like tomato sauce reduces the gumminess.
- Slice and roast okra in your oven.
- Grill it until it’s slightly charred.