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For other uses, see Okra (disambiguation).
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Abelmoschus esculentus
Hong Kong Okra Aug 25 2012.JPG
Okra plant, with mature, and developing fruits in Hong Kong
Ladies' Finger BNC.jpg
Ladies' Finger cross section
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Abelmoschus
Species: A. esculentus
Binomial name
Abelmoschus esculentus
(L.) Moench
Map showing worldwide okra production
Worldwide okra production
  • Abelmoschus bammia Webb
  • Abelmoschus longifolius (Willd.) Kostel.
  • Abelmoschus officinalis (DC.) Endl.
  • Abelmoschus praecox Sickenb.
  • Abelmoschus tuberculatus Pal & Singh
  • Hibiscus esculentus L.
  • Hibiscus hispidissimus A.Chev. nom. illeg.
  • Hibiscus longifolius Willd.
  • Hibiscus praecox Forssk.

Okra or okro (US /ˈkrə/ or UK /ˈɒkrə/), known in many English-speaking countries as ladies' fingers, ochro 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 West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.[2]

Vernacular names in English-speaking nations[edit]

The name okra is most often used in the UK, United States and the Philippines, with a variant pronunciation in Caribbean English and Nigeria of okro. The word okra is from the Igbo ọ́kụ̀rụ̀.[3][4] The plant and its seed pods are also known as "lady's fingers".[5] In various Bantu languages, okra is called (ki)ngombo or a variant,[6] and this is possibly the origin of the name "gumbo", used in parts of the United States and the English-speaking Caribbean (via Spanish/Portuguese "quingombo").[7]

Structure and physiology[edit]

Okra plant while flowering

The species is a perennial, often cultivated as an annual in temperate climates, and often grows to around 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 with pentagonal cross-section, 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.[8] Okra is available in two varieties, green and red. Red okra carries the same flavor as the more popular green okra and differs only in color. When cooked, the red okra pods turn green.[9]

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.[10]

Origin and distribution[edit]

Whole plant

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 into Egypt from Arabia, but earlier it was probably taken from Ethiopia to Arabia. 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 and described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.[7]

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[11] 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 from Africa in the early 18th century. By 1748, it was being grown as far north as Philadelphia. 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.[7]

As food[edit]

Okra, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 138 kJ (33 kcal)
7.45 g
Sugars 1.48 g
Dietary fiber 3.1 g
0.19 g
2.00 g
Vitamin A equiv.
36 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.2 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.06 mg
Niacin (B3)
1 mg
Vitamin C
23 mg
Vitamin E
0.27 mg
Vitamin K
31.3 μg
82 mg
0.61 mg
57 mg
299 mg
0.58 mg
Other constituents
Water 90.17 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Raw okra slices

The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains soluble fiber. 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. The immature pods may be pickled.

Okra is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants. Okra is also a good source of calcium and potassium.[12]

Stir fried okra with diced chili peppers

Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions.[13] The leaves are also eaten raw in salads. Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.[7] 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."[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] A 1920 study found that a sample contained 15% oil.[17] A 2009 study found okra oil suitable for use as a biofuel.[18]

Regional preparations[edit]


  • Malawi: Okra is preferred cooked and stirred with sodium bicarbonate to make it more slimy. It is then commonly eaten with nshima (pap) made from raw maize flour or maize husks flour.
  • Nigeria: draw soup is a popular dish, often eaten with garri or cassava.
  • Zimbabwe: Okra (idelele, in Northern Ndebele derere, in Shona) is often sliced thinly and mixed with onion tomato and bicarbonate of soda and boiled to form a thick paste, served with isitshwala in Ndebele or sadza in Shona (a thick paste made from mielie-meal).
  • Sierra Leone: Okra (okro) is commonly prepared with palm oil and served with fufu.
  • Egypt: Okra (bam-ya) is prepared in several ways, either cooked as stew with ground beef, onions and tomato, or made in the oven.
  • Tanzania: Okra (bamia) is typically prepared by cutting into small pieces and mix with finely chopped young pumpkin leaves. The mix is boiled with added sodium bicarbonate and table salt until well cooked to make a delicacy known as mlenda. Mlenda is then served with ugali and eaten with bare hands rather than spoons.


Okra pickles
  • Brazil: Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais, and it is the main ingredient of caruru, a Bahian food with dende oil.
  • Caribbean: Okra is commonly 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 called "callooloo" and 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 Dominican Republic okra is known as "molondrón". It is eaten in salad and also cooked with rice. In Trinidad and Tobago okra is used as one of the main ingredients in the thick soup-like melting-pot dish called callaloo. In Trinidad and Tobago and other West Indian territories such as Barbados it is also used as a main ingredient in the cornmeal-based meal called cou-cou that is similar to polenta.
  • United States: Gumbo, a hearty stew whose key ingredient is often okra, is found throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Reflecting the region's African and French heritage, gumbo is often cooked in cast iron pots and served over rice. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc., is widely eaten in the southern United States.[19] A modern preparation of Okra is breaded with corn meal, deep fried and served with ranch dressing. Several cafe and nationwide restaurant chains serve deep fried okra, typically with a side order of a sauce such as buttermilk (or ranch) dressing. Okra pickles are also popular, normally made during the summer when it is readily available at produce markets and vegetable stands. Traditional Southern American preparation is sliced okra with a light coating of self rising cornmeal and spices, and shallow fried in a skillet with no dipping sauces.


Sushi with okra slices
  • Japan: Okra increased in popularity toward the end of the 19th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi as tempura, steamed with ponzu and more recently as a nigiri sushi topping.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • India,Pakistan, Bangladesh and afghanistan, 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 an ingredient in curries, in which it is used whole after trimming only the 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 stir-fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make curry. However, when used in sambar, it is cut into pieces which are one inch thick to prevent it from dissolving when the sambar is let to simmer.
  • Vietnam, okra is an important ingredient in the dish canh chua.

Middle East and Europe[edit]

In Syria, Tunisia, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Cyprus and Israel,[20] fresh or dried okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. Bamya, a turkish meze dish is made with okra, olive oil and a sprinkling of lemon juice. West Asian cuisine uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole.

As fibre[edit]

Bast fibre from the stem of the plant has industrial uses.[21]


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  2. ^ National Research Council (2006-10-27). "Okra". Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables. Lost Crops of Africa. 2. National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-10333-6. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "okra". Online Etymology Dictionary. 
  4. ^ McWhorter, John H. (2000). The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages. University of California Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-520-21999-6. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  5. ^ "Alternative Cold Remedies: Lady's Fingers Plant", curing-colds.com (accessed 3 June 2009) Archived May 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  6. ^ "gumbo". Oxford English Dictionary (1st ed.). Oxford University Press. 1933. 
  7. ^ a b c d "Okra, or 'Gumbo,' from Africa, tamu.edu
  8. ^ "Okra Seed" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  9. ^ "Red Okra Information, Recipes and Facts". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  10. ^ "Growing okra". Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland. 19 September 2007. Archived from the original on June 11, 2012. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  11. ^ " Okra gumbo and rice" by Sheila S. Walker, The News Courier, unknown date
  12. ^ Duvauchelle, Joshua (26 May 2011). "Okra Nutrition Information". LiveStrong.com. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  13. ^ network.com: Okra Greens and Corn Saute, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, 1996
  14. ^ Austin State Gazette [TEX.], November 9, 1861, p. 4, c. 2, copied in Confederate Coffee Substitutes: Articles from Civil War Newspapers Archived September 28, 2007, at the Wayback Machine., University of Texas at Tyler
  15. ^ Martin, Franklin W. (1982). "Okra, Potential Multiple-Purpose Crop for the Temperate Zones and Tropics". Economic Botany. 36 (3): 340–345. doi:10.1007/BF02858558. 
  16. ^ Mays, D.A., W. Buchanan, B.N. Bradford, and P.M. Giordano (1990). "Fuel production potential of several agricultural crops". Advances in new crops: 260–263. 
  17. ^ Jamieson, George S.; Baughman, Walter F. (1920). "Okra Seed Oil.1". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 42: 166. doi:10.1021/ja01446a023. 
  18. ^ Farooq, Anwar; Umer Rashid; Muhammad Ashraf; Muhammad Nadeem (March 2010). "Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) seed oil for biodiesel production". Applied Energy. 87 (3): 779–785. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2009.09.020. 
  19. ^ Madison, Deborah (2008). Renewing America's Food Traditions. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 1933392894. 
  20. ^ Devlin, Julia; Yee, Peter (March 2005). "Trade Logistics in Developing Countries: The Case of the Middle East and North Africa". The World Economy. 28 (3): 435–456 (445). 
  21. ^ De Rosa, I.M.; Kenny, J.M.; Puglia, D.; Santulli, C.; Sarasini, F. (2010). "Morphological, thermal and mechanical characterization of okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) fibres as potential reinforcement in polymer composites". Composites Science and Technology. 70 (1): 116–122. doi:10.1016/j.compscitech.2009.09.013. 

External links[edit]