|Okra plant, with mature, and developing fruits in Hong Kong|
|Worldwide okra production|
Hibiscus esculentus L.
Okra (US // or UK //; Abelmoschus esculentus Moench), known in many English-speaking countries as lady's fingers, bhindi or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.
The name okra is most often used in the United States, with a variant pronunciation, English Caribbean okro. The word okra is of Nigerian origin and is cognate with ọkwurụ in the Igbo language spoken in Nigeria. Okra is often known as "lady's fingers" outside of Africa. In various Bantu languages, okra is called kingombo or a variant thereof, and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese (quiabo), Spanish (quimbombó or guigambó), Dutch and French, and also possibly of the name "gumbo", used in parts of the United States and English-speaking Caribbean for either the vegetable or a stew based on it. In India and Pakistan, and often in the United Kingdom, it is called by its Hindi/Urdu name, bhindi, bhendi, bendai or bhinda. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, India it is called dherosh. In Tamilnadu, India it is called vendai kai. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, India it is called benda kayi. In China, it is called qiu kui. In Middle East (Arabic speakers) it is called bamia or bamyeh.
Structure and physiology
The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. It is related to such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus. The leaves are 10–20 cm long and broad, palmately lobed with 5–7 lobes. The flowers are 4–8 cm in diameter, with five white to yellow petals, often with a red or purple spot at the base of each petal. The fruit is a capsule up to 18 cm long, containing numerous seeds.
Abelmoschus esculentus 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 and will tolerate soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture but frost can damage the pods.
In cultivation, the seeds are soaked overnight prior to planting to a depth of 1–2 cm. Germination occurs between six days (soaked seeds) and three weeks. Seedlings require ample water. The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody, and, to be edible, must be harvested within a week of the fruit having been pollinated. The fruits are harvested when immature and eaten as a vegetable.
Origin and distribution
Okra is an allopolyploid of uncertain parentage (proposed parents include Abelmoschus ficulneus, A. tuberculatus and a reported "diploid" form of okra). Truly wild (as opposed to naturalised) populations are not known with certainty and the species may be a cultigen.
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. Supporters of a West African origin point to the greater diversity of okra in that region.
The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya, suggesting it had come from the east. The plant may have entered southwest Asia across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara, or from India. One of the earliest accounts is by a Spanish Moor who visited Egypt in 1216, who described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.
From Arabia, the plant spread 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. In compound farms in the rainforest of southeastern Nigeria (Okafor and Fernandes, 1986), farmers have developed a multi-crop system that provides a diversified and continuous production of food, combining species with different maturity periods such as yams, cassava, cocoyams, bananas, plantain, maize, okra, pumpkin, melon, leafy vegetables and a variety of trees and shrubs, 60 of which provide food products. This ensures a balanced diet but also reduces the need for storage in an area where post-harvest losses are high. 
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 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.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||33 kcal (140 kJ)|
|- Sugars||1.48 g|
|- Dietary fiber||3.2 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||36 μg (5%)|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.2 mg (17%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.06 mg (5%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||1 mg (7%)|
|Vitamin C||23 mg (28%)|
|Vitamin E||0.27 mg (2%)|
|Vitamin K||31.3 μg (30%)|
|Calcium||82 mg (8%)|
|Iron||0.62 mg (5%)|
|Magnesium||57 mg (16%)|
|Potassium||299 mg (6%)|
|Zinc||0.58 mg (6%)|
|Percentages are roughly approximated
using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Greenish-yellow edible okra oil is pressed from okra seeds; it has a pleasant taste and odor, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid. The oil content of some varieties of the seed can be quite high, about 40%. Oil yields from okra crops are also high. 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.
The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains a usable form of soluble fiber. Some people cook okra this way, others prefer to minimize 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 help. Alternatively, the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time so the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. The cooked leaves can also be used as a powerful soup thickener. The immature pods may also be pickled. In the deep south of the United States Okra is a delicacy , especially deep fried in oil, after breading. Several cafe's and nationwide eating establishments including The Ole Cracker Barrell and the Corral, serve Deep fried okra usually with a side order of a sauce like buttermilk dressing.
In Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen, and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine, Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In Bosnia and most of West Asia, okra is known as bamia or bamya. West Asian cuisine usually uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole. In India, the harvesting is done at a later stage, when the pods and seeds are larger.
It is popular in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, where chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations such as bhindi ghosht and sambar. It is also simmered in coconut based curries or tossed with ground mustard seeds. In India, it is also used in curries. In curries, okra is used whole, trimmed only of excess stalk and keeping the hard conical top, which is discarded at the time of eating. In South India, Okra is cut into small circular pieces about 1/4 inch thick and stick fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make delicious curry. However, when used in sambar it is cut into pieces which are 1 inch thick to prevent it from dissolving when the sambar is let to simmer.
In Malaysia okra is commonly a part of yong tau foo cuisine, typically stuffed with processed fish paste (surimi) and boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, and served in a soup with noodles.
In the Caribbean islands, okra is eaten in soup. In Curaçao the soup is known as jambo which primarily is made out of the okra's mucilage. It is often prepared with fish and funchi, a dish made out of cornmeal and boiling water. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient.
In the Philippines, okra can be found among traditional dishes like pinakbet, dinengdeng, and sinigang. Because of its mild taste and ubiquity, okra can also be cooked adobo-style, or served steamed or boiled in a salad with tomatoes, onion and bagoong.
Okra forms part of several regional "signature" dishes. Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a Brazilian dish especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais, and it is the main ingredient of caruru, a bahian food with dende oil. Gumbo, a hearty stew whose key ingredient is okra, is found throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc. is widely eaten in the southern United States. Okra is also an ingredient expected in callaloo, a Caribbean dish and the national dish of Trinidad and Tobago. It is also a part of the national dish of Barbados coucou (turned cornmeal). Okra is also eaten in Nigeria, where draw soup is a popular dish, often eaten with garri or cassava. In Vietnam, okra is the important ingredient in the dish canh chua. Okra slices can also be added to ratatouille.
Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions. Since the entire plant is edible, 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 of fifty negroes with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio."
The most common disease afflicting the okra plant is verticillium wilt, often causing a yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Other diseases include powdery mildew in dry tropical regions, leaf spots, and root-knot nematodes.
Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring colourless organic acid found in many plants including okra. Okra contains 0.05g/100g of oxalic acid. The toxicity of oxalic acid is due to kidney failure, which arises because it causes precipitation of solid calcium oxalate, the main component of kidney stones. Oxalic acid can also cause joint pain due to the formation of similar precipitates in the joints.
- Abelmoschus caillei (West African okra)
- Luffa, also called "Chinese okra"
- Mulukhiyah, also called "bush okra"
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