Okra is also known as lady’s finger or gumbo in many English speaking countries. It is a flowering plant in the mallow family and valued for its edible green seed pods. Originated from Africa, the plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.
The name “okra”, most often used in the United States and the Philippines, is of West African origin and is cognate with “ọ́kụ̀rụ̀” in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria. Okra is known by many different names as lady’s finger (outside United States), Kingombo (Bantu languages), gumbo (many parts of United States) and often called as Bhindi (Hindi) in India and United Kingdom. In South and South East Europe it is known as bamya (bamija).
The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long, containing numerous seeds. Abelmoschus esculentus (Okra) is cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions of the world for its fibrous fruits or pods containing round, white seeds. It is among the most heat- and drought-tolerant vegetable species in the world—but severe frost can damage the pods and will tolerate poor soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture.
The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. Supporters of a South Asian origin point to the presence of its proposed parents in that region. Opposed to this is the lack of a word for okra in the ancient languages of India, suggesting that it arrived there in the Common Era. Supporters of a West African origin point to the greater diversity of okra in that region; however confusion between Okra and Abelmoschus caillei (West African okra) casts doubt on those analyses.
The plant spread from Arabia around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686. Okra may have been introduced to southeastern North America in the early 18th century. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. Thomas Jefferson noted that it was well established in Virginia by 1781. It was commonplace throughout the Southern United States by 1800 and the first mention of different cultivars was in 1806.
Okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. It is one of the most popular vegetables among West Asians, North Indians and Pakistanis alike. In most of West Asia, okra is known as bamia or bamya or Bharvan bhindi. West Asian cuisine usually uses young okra pods and they are usually cooked whole. In India, the harvesting is done at a later stage, when the pods and seeds are larger.
It is popular in India and Pakistan, where chopped pieces are stir fried with spices known as the okra fry, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations like Bhindi Ghosht or sambar. In western parts of India (Gujarat, Maharashtra), okra is often stir-fried with some sugar. Okra is also used in Kadhi. The ladies finger is used to make sambar in Udupi cuisine. In southern India, the okra is cooked in a spicy and tangy tamarind sauce called Vendakai Okra Kozhambu.
It’s important to get several servings of vegetables in our diet each day. There are so many types of vegetables available that it can be hard to keep track of them all. There are some vegetables that we rarely think about. People usually go for the more common vegetables like green beans, broccoli, carrots, and potatoes. But there are so many more options. One popular vegetable in Cajun cooking is okra. Okra is not only used in Cajun cooking, it can be used in every day meals, such as salads and soups. Okra health benefits include aspects such as being low in calories, being a great vegetable for people trying to lose weight, and being good for the digestive system.
Okra is very low in calories. One half cup of okra has just 25 calories; making is great for people who are looking to lose weight. Okra contains no cholesterol or saturated fat, which are two components that should be avoided when losing weight. The fiber content in okra is high. You can get nine percent of your daily recommended amount of fiber in one half cup of okra. Fiber helps to maintain the digestive system by allowing food to pass through the intestines easier. Along with containing high amounts of fiber, okra also contains high amounts of vitamins A, C, and B6. Large amounts of calcium, zinc, riboflavin, folic acid, and iron are also present in this vegetable. Women who are pregnant are urged to incorporate okra into their diets due to the high content of folic acid. Folic acid is essential for the healthy growth of a fetus especially during the fourth week through the twelfth week of pregnancy.
This vegetable is great at being able to reabsorb water. By being able to absorb so much water, okra can trap excess cholesterol, excess bile, and certain toxins. By trapping these substances, it makes it easier to eliminate them from the body through the stool. Because okra absorbs so much water, eating this vegetable can prevent constipation, bloating, and gas. Okra contains healthy bacteria known as probiotics that helps the natural production of the vitamin B complex. Okra has soluble fiber to lower serum cholesterol. When this type of cholesterol is lowered, the risk of heart disease is lowered.
Okra has many health benefits that help prevent diabetes and is good for asthma. This vegetable is a good laxative and can help irritable bowel syndrome and soothes the gastrointestinal track. It’s great to eat during the heat of summer as it helps to treat sun stroke.
The nutritional value per 100 gms of Okra are:
Energy: 129 kJ (31 kcal)
Carbohydrates: 7.03 g
Dietary fiber: 3.2 g
Fat: 0.10 g
Protein: 2.00 g
Water: 90.17 g