Okra, also known as “lady’s finger,” or “bamia pod” is one of the favorite nutritious vegetables of North-East African origin. The pods usually gathered while they are green, tender, and at the immature stage. The plant cultivated throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions around the world for their phytonutrients rich pods. It grows best in a well-drained and manure rich soil.
Botanically, okra is a perennial flowering plant in the Malvaceae (mallows) family and named scientifically as Abelmoschus esculentus.
The okra plant bears numerous dark green colored pods measuring about 5-15 cm in length. It takes about 45-60 days to get ready-to-harvest fruits. Internally, the pods feature small, round, mucilaginous white colored seeds arranged in vertical rows. The pods handpicked while just short of reaching maturity and eaten as a vegetable.
Health Benefits of Okra
The okra pods are among the very low-calorie vegetables. They provide just 30 calories per 100 g besides containing no saturated fats or cholesterol. Nonetheless, they are rich sources of dietary fiber, minerals, and vitamins; often recommended by nutritionists in cholesterol controlling and weight reduction programs.
The pods are one of the rich sources of mucilage substance that help in smooth peristalsis of digested food through the gut and ease constipation condition.
The pods compose healthy amounts of vitamin-A, and flavonoid anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene, xanthin, and lutein. It is one of the vegetables with highest levels of these antioxidants. Vitamin-A is essential for for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Fresh pods are the good source of folates; provide about 22% of RDA per 100 g. Consumption of foods rich in folates, especially during the pre-conception period helps decrease the incidence of neural tube defects in the newborn.
The gumbo pods are also an excellent source of antioxidant vitamin, vitamin-C, providing about 36% of daily recommended levels. Research suggests that consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the human body develop immunity to combat infectious agents, reduce episodes of cold and cough and protect it from harmful free radicals.
They are rich in the B-complex group of vitamins like niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin and pantothenic acid. The pods also contain good amounts of vitamin-K. Vitamin-K is a co-factor for blood clotting enzymes and is required for strengthening of bones.
The pods are also a good source of many essential minerals such as iron, calcium, manganese, and magnesium.
Selection and storage
Fresh, immature okra pods can be readily available in the stores year round. The pods feature attractively rich green color and have a neutral flavor. In the markets, look for crispy, immature pods and avoid those with over-ripen, sunken, discolored, spots, cuts, and mushy.
Once at home, eat them while they are fresh to obtain full benefits of vitamins and antioxidants. They may also stay well for 1-2 days when placed in the refrigerator.
Preparation and serving methods
Some hybrid varieties of okra may have subjected to insecticide/pesticide sprays. Therefore, wash the pods thoroughly in the cold water in order to remove dirt, soil and any residual insecticides.
Trim the top stem end using a paring knife. Although not required, some may prefer trimming tip ends as well. Then, cut/slice the pod as desired in the cooking.
Here are some serving tips:
Okra pods are one of the widely used vegetables in tropical countries. Chopped, or sliced, they can be stewed or fried (fritters) under low heat oil to soften their mucilaginous texture. They then can be mixed with other vegetables, rice, or meat.
In the Caribbean islands, okra is cooked and enjoyed in soup, often with fish.
The pods can be pickled and preserved like in other vegetables.
Tender okra leaves may be cooked in a similar manner as the greens of beets or dandelions. The leaves are also be eaten raw in salads.
Thick stew of lamb or beef and okra (bamiya) is a popular dish in Egypt and other middle eastern regions.