Friday, June 14, 2013

All About Okra

Names for Okra

Its scientific name is “Abelmoschus esculentus” and also “Hibiscus esculentus”. In various parts of the world, it is known as Okra, Ochro, Okoro, Quimgombo, Quingumbo, Ladies Fingers, Gombo, Kopi Arab, Kacang Bendi, Bhindi (S. Asia), Bendi (Malaysia), Bamia, Bamya or Bamieh (middle east) or Gumbo (Southern USA). 

Apparently Gumbo is Swahili for okra. In Portugal and Angola, okra is known as Quiabo and in Cuba, as “quimbombo”. In Japan it is known as okura. Patrick Taylor adds: “Okra has found its way to Taiwan, where it’s called “qiu kui” (pronounced cheeoh kway). That’s the Mandarin Chinese word for it in Taiwan.”

Mr. Jaakko Rahola writes from Finland:

Most plants have several scientific names because different scientists have named the plants based on their own ideas of the family relations of the plants. The first part ot the Latin name (always capitalized) is the family name, and the second part (always in lower case) is the species name - in this case “esculentus”, meaning ‘edible’ in Latin. Abelmoschus is derived from the Arabic “abu-l-mosk” (meaning ‘father of musk’), referring to the musk-scented seeds. Hibiscus again is the Greek name for mallow.

Someone thought that okra belongs to the Hibiscus family (mallow plants), and named it accordingly. Later, some other scientists found so many differences from the Hibiscus, that they thought that the plant must get a family name of its own. This renaming of plants in different countries and by different scientists will continue until a final, modern DNA analysis is made on all plants and their real relations will be revealed which will take years, if not hundreds of years. 

History of Okra

“Okra is found in it’s wild state on the alluvial banks of the Nile and the Egyptians. It was first cultivated in the basin of the Nile (12’th century BC). It was propagated then through North Africa to the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. It arrived in the Americas at Brazil (1658), Dutch Guinea and at New Orleans before extending in the United States and going up to Philadelphia in 1781.”

In the 1800’s slaves from Africa used ground okra as part of their diet. This apparently led to the use of ground okra seeds as a coffee substitute by other southerners during the American Civil War blockades of the 1860’s. Even today, ground okra is used in West Africa to make a “...local soup made from dried and ground okra, baobab leaves or rosselle. Fish may be added into it ...” 


Start okra from seed. The seed should be planted directly in the ground. 

Plant seed directly to the soil at a distance of about two feet between plants and between rows. Plant one seed per hill at 3 inches or less deep. Replant missing hills. Water the plant when needed.  

Most varieties will start yielding about 60 days after planting. The flowers are large, pale yellow and fairly ornamental. Each flower blooms for only one day and eventually forms one okra pod. Pick the pods when they are about 3 inches in length. Fruits mature quickly, so harvest the fruits every day early in the morning. The plants can eventually grow up to 5 feet tall of higher. 


Okra is a rich source of many nutrients, including fiber, vitamin B6 and folic acid. According to the University of Illinois Extension, Okra has the following nutrient:

Calories = 25
Dietary Fiber = 2 grams
Protein = 1.5 grams
Carbohydrates = 5.8 grams
Vitamin A = 460 IU
Vitamin C = 13 mg
Folic acid = 36.5 micrograms
Calcium = 50 mg
Iron = 0.4 mg
Potassium = 256 mg
Magnesium = 46 mg

Sylvia W. Zook, (Ph.D. nutritionist) has provided the following thought-provoking comments on the many benefits of this versatile vegetable. The superior fiber found in okra helps to stabilize blood sugar as it curbs the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract.

Okra’s mucilage not only binds cholesterol but bile acid carrying toxins dumped into it by the filtering liver. 

Many alternative health practitioners believe all disease begins in the colon. The okra fiber, absorbing water and ensuring bulk in stools, helps prevent and improve constipation. Fiber in general is helpful for this but okra is one of the best, along with ground flax seed and psyllium. Okra’s mucilage soothes, and okra facilitates elimination more comfortably by its slippery characteristic many people abhor. This incredibly valuable vegetable not only binds excess cholesterol and toxins (in bile acids) which cause numerous health problems if not evacuated, but then assures easy passage out of the body of same. Unlike some prescription and over-the-counter drugs for this, the veggie is completely non-toxic, non-habit forming  has no adverse side effects, is full of nutrients, and is economically within reach of most.

Further contribution to the health of the intestinal tract, okra fiber (as well as flax and psyllium) has no equal among fibers for feeding the good bacteria (probiotics).

To retain most of okra’s nutrients and self-digesting enzymes, it should be cooked as little as possible with low heat or lightly steamed. Some eat it raw. However, if one is going to fry it, only extra virgin olive oil, or UNREFINED coconut butter is recommended.

Okra Recipes

For best cooking results, okra should be fresh. The pods should be small three inches or so long, or it becomes tough and stringy. If forced to use frozen okra, remove as much of the moisture as possible before cooking by spreading on a paper towel, or patting it dry after it thaws. “Avoid cooking okra in pans made of iron, copper or brass for their chemical properties turns the fruit black.” /MP

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