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All about “Okra”

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Health profile

Okra is a typical vegetable of the African diet. It is also found in southern Europe, India, the Middle East, the West Indies and South America. Okra, also called okra, is eaten raw, cooked and sometimes in dehydrated form. Its special flavor and texture, as well as the nutritive compounds it contains, make it a vegetable that deserves to be known.

Active ingredients and properties

According to several prospective and epidemiological studies , a high consumption of fruits and vegetables would decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other chronic diseases , 2 . The presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could, in part, explain this protective effect.

Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the cells of the body from damage caused by free radicals . The latter are said to be involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other diseases linked to aging 3 . In an in vitro study, okra extracts demonstrated some antioxidant potential 4 . Okra contains small amounts of antioxidant compounds, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin 5 , and a larger amount of another of these compounds, quercetin , 7. A 100 g (approximately 250 ml) serving of fresh okra provides 11 mg of quercetin. For comparison, onion, which is one of the main sources of quercetin in the diet , 8 , contains 13 mg to 20 mg per 100 g.

Dietary fiber . Dietary fiber is only found in plant products. They include a set of substances that are not digested by the body 9 . They are classified into two main groups: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber . Okra contains a high proportion of soluble fiber, 40% of its total dietary fiber content. Soluble fiber is generally associated with healthier blood sugar and cholesterol levels, as well as slowing intestinal transit 10,11. Dissolved in water, the soluble fibers form viscous or gelled substances. A study carried out at the end of the 1980s demonstrated that these substances, extracted from okra, made it possible to reduce the blood sugar level of mice 12 . Thanks to its properties, okra is part of the Portfolio diet, a diet recognized for its beneficial effect on blood cholesterol concentrations 13 .

Most important nutrients

See the meaning of the nutrient source classification symbols

 Manganese . Raw okra is an excellent source of manganese for women and a good source for men (manganese needs are greater than those of women). Boiled okra is a source of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor for several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also participates in the prevention of damage caused by free radicals .

 Vitamin K . Boiled okra is an excellent source of vitamin K. Raw okra is an excellent source for women and a good source for men ( man’s needs for vitamin K are greater than those of women). Vitamin K is necessary for the production of proteins which participate in the coagulation of the blood (both its stimulation and its inhibition). It also plays a role in bone formation. In addition to being found in several foods, vitamin K is manufactured by bacteria present in the intestine. Vitamin K deficiencies are therefore rare.

Calcium . Boiled okra is a source of calcium. Calcium is by far the most abundant mineral in the body. It is mainly stored in the bones, of which it is an integral part. It contributes to the formation of bones and teeth, as well as to the maintenance of their health. Calcium also plays an essential role in blood clotting, maintenance of blood pressure and contraction of muscles, including the heart.

Magnesium . Raw okra and boiled okra are sources of magnesium. Magnesium participates in bone development, the construction of proteins, the actions of enzymes , the contraction of muscles, the health of teeth and the functioning of the immune system. It also plays a role in energy metabolism and in the transmission of nerve impulses.

Iron . Boiled okra is a source of iron for men only (the iron needs of women are greater than those of men). Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters . It should be noted that the iron contained in plant foods (such as okra) is less absorbed by the body than the iron contained in animal foods. However, the absorption of iron from plants is favored by the consumption of certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.

 Vitamin B2 . Raw okra and boiled okra are sources of vitamin B2. Vitamin B2 is also known as riboflavin . Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it contributes to tissue growth and repair, hormone production and the formation of red blood cells.

 Vitamin B3 . Raw okra is a source of vitamin B3 for women only (man’s needs for vitamin B3 are greater than those of women). Also called niacin , vitamin B3 participates in many metabolic reactions and contributes particularly to the production of energy from the carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and alcohol that we ingest. It also collaborates in the DNA formation process , allowing normal growth and development.

Vitamin B6 . Raw okra and boiled okra are sources of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine , is part of coenzymes that participate in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids as well as in the manufacture of neurotransmitters . It also collaborates in the production of red blood cells and allows them to transport more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and it helps the good functioning of the immune system. Finally, this vitamin plays a role in the formation of certain components of nerve cells.

 Vitamin B9 . Raw okra and boiled okra are sources of vitamin B9 (folate). This vitamin is involved in the production of all cells in the body, including red blood cells. It plays an essential role in the production of genetic material ( DNA , RNA), in the functioning of the nervous system and the immune system, as well as in the healing of wounds and wounds. As it is necessary for the production of new cells, adequate consumption is essential during periods of growth and for the development of the fetus.

Vitamin C . Raw okra and boiled okra are sources of vitamin C. The role that vitamin C plays in the body goes beyond its antioxidant properties. It also contributes to the health of bones, cartilage, teeth and gums. In addition, it protects against infections, promotes the absorption of iron from plants and accelerates healing.

What is a “portion” of okra worth?
Volume / weight Raw okra, 125 ml / 53 g Boiled okra, drained, 125 ml / 85 g
Calories 16 19
Protein 1.1 g 1.6g
Carbohydrates 3.7g 3.9 g
Fat 0.1g 0.1g
Dietary fiber 1.7g 2.1g

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2007 version.

Okra gum
Okra contains a mucilaginous gum, which means that it swells on contact with water and produces a thick, viscous substance. This gum can be used as a thickener in various culinary preparations (soups, stews, etc.). In addition, it could serve as a fat substitute in certain food preparations 14 , 15 . Two studies show that it could replace a certain amount of fat in cookies and frozen desserts made from milk 14 , 15 . Before the market, more research is needed, including for effects it could have on health 15 .

Frozen okra
Although it is not grown in North America, okra is available year-round. It is only offered fresh at certain times of the year, but it is always offered frozen in supermarkets. Like all frozen vegetables, it should not be thawed before being cooked. In fact, it would then lose more vitamin C during cooking 16 . Choosing frozen okra is a great way to add it to your diet!

Okra over time

“Okra” appeared in French in 1764. It comes from the American gumbo which is a distortion of a word borrowed from an African language. It designates both the plant and its fruits, as well as the various stews of which it constitutes an essential ingredient. It is also known by the names of “edible hibiscus”, “hibiscus-okra” and is sometimes written “gombaud”.
“Okra” is also a distortion of a word belonging to an African language. The word is common in English, but is much less used in the French-speaking world, at least in Europe.Note. The Chinese designate under the name of “okra” a plant which has nothing to do with okra. It is a species of cucurbit whose fruit is edible in the green state and which, when ripe, gives the vegetable sponge.

Comforting or off-putting?
For those who have always known it, okra is the comfort food par excellence. On the other hand, when we discover it late, it can be disconcerting, even put off. Indeed, the mucilaginous gum which it contains makes it gooey. In addition, gardeners who do not know it tend to harvest it too late. It then becomes fibrous and hard, in addition to remaining sticky, which in no way helps its reputation.

The origin of the species Abelmoschus esculentus remains obscure, especially since it is no longer found in the wild. North India, Egypt, Ethiopia? It is not known for sure, although several researchers are leaning towards the last place. We know, however, that the botanical genus Abelmoschus is native to southeast Asia. For its part, the esculentus species was cultivated in Egypt several hundred years ago, even thousands of years ago. It is now widespread in most tropical and sub-tropical regions of the planet. Another species, A. caillei , is found only in the humid regions of West and Central Africa, where its fruit is greatly appreciated.

In America, it is believed that the plant was introduced in Louisiana, USA, in the early eighteenth th  century by French settlers. But it would have been brought to Brazil a few decades earlier by black slaves.

Okra is widely consumed in Africa, India, Thailand, the Mediterranean countries, Arab countries, the Philippines and Brazil. In Louisiana, it remains an essential ingredient of Cajun cuisine. Okra is the second most widely grown vegetable in West Africa, just after the tomato.

Still in Africa, we consume its young shoots as well as its leaves, and we also give them to cattle. In Turkey, roasted seeds are used as a substitute for coffee.

Culinary uses

Choose well

Okra is fresh in season. Large supermarkets also offer frozen, canned or marinated okra.

Fresh okra should be both firm and tender – not soft – of a nice bright green color and free from bruising.

Culinary dishes

Some eat raw okra in salads, but most of the time, we recommend cooking it.

A promising oil
Since the 1950s, various researchers have looked into the composition of the oil obtained from okra seeds. According to a study by African researchers and published in 2006 in the African Journal of Biotechnology 17 , this oil has a good lipid profile, better than that of corn, sunflower or grapeseed oil. However, according to the researchers, it will first be necessary to ensure its safety before offering it commercially as cooking oil.
  • Okra curry. Brown onions, hot pepper and Indian spices in oil (garam masala, cumin, turmeric). Put okra slices and brown for about fifteen minutes. Add a diced tomato, lime juice and continue cooking, stirring regularly. Garnish with fresh cilantro and serve.
  • Chicken okra. Fry the pieces of chicken seasoned with salt and paprika in oil until browned. Reserve. In the same pan, brown okra and onion rings and diced tomatoes. Cook 45 minutes over low heat, stirring frequently. Add the chicken and cover with broth or water. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve with rice.
  • Okra and sweet corn. Brown onions in olive oil. Add bay leaf, thyme, basil and, if desired, hot pepper powder. Add strips of green pepper, okra slices, diced tomatoes and broth or water (just enough so the bottom doesn’t stick). Simmer for about fifteen minutes then add grains of sweet corn (fresh or canned). Salt, pepper, cook for ten minutes then serve. Corn can be replaced with green or yellow beans.
  • Okra with succotash. This southern version of the famous Native American stew is simply prepared with lima beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, okra, all seasoned with butter, salt and pepper, and cooked in a pan for about 45 minutes (add the corn 15 minutes before the end of cooking).
  • Grilled okra. Thread okra on skewers, coat with olive oil and sprinkle with spices of your choice (paprika, cumin, etc.). Cook on the barbecue two or three minutes then turn the skewers and cook a few more minutes.

  • Fried okra. In the southern United States, okra is coated with cornmeal and cooked with deep frying. Preferably use virgin olive oil, unrefined coconut oil or clarified butter.
  • Okra salad. Cook the okra for 30 or 40 minutes, until they are tender. Cool them under water, dry them and put them to marinate in a vinaigrette made up of oil, vinegar or lemon juice, mustard, a little honey and chopped garlic. Serve this dish cold.

In India , it is cooked, after having cut it lengthwise, with diced potatoes and thin slices of onions. Add turmeric, salt and a little hot pepper. Cooking should take approximately 20 minutes.

Remove this mucilage that I cannot tolerate!
Okra owes its gooey texture to its richness in mucilage, a substance very useful for health, but which some people find difficult to tolerate. Over time, various techniques have been developed to reduce it. You can cook the whole okra without removing the peel (it releases all the more mucilage as it is finely chopped). In this case, do not stir the preparation during cooking, and serve the dish without bruising the fruit. It can also be soaked for 30 minutes in vinegar or lemon juice before cooking or blanching it in boiling water and then preparing it.

In Japan , okra is prepared by removing the hat and then rolling the fruit in coarse salt to remove small hairs. Then throw them into boiling water and cook them until they are tender. You can then chop them very finely so as to obtain a kind of mash which will be mixed with fish or raw egg yolks. We season everything with a sake sauce, soy sauce, mirin and wasabi.

In the Middle East , okra is peeled to remove harder ribs. They are then cooked in a mutton stew (you can replace the mutton with lamb). Cook the meat in water with cumin, coriander seed, cinnamon, cloves and pepper until it is tender. Drain, reserve the broth. Fry the meat in a pan, add the okra (1 kilo for ½ kilo of meat), garlic, a little tomato puree and the reserved broth. Cook for half an hour over medium heat.

Dried okra. In various countries, dried okra is commonly used, preferably fresh. To dry it yourself, first mix in a bowl 1 kg okra with 1 or 2 tsp. red wine vinegar. Leave to marinate for five minutes, then arrange the fruit on a cookie sheet in a single layer and put for about an hour in an oven set to 95 ° C (200 ° F), leaving the oven door ajar. Turn the fruit once it is drying.

In Africa , dried okra is often reduced to powder and then used as a spice or to thicken sauces.

Cretan dried okra.Take snapper, grouper or other whole fish with lean flesh. Cut it into 8 cm or 10 cm pieces (including the head and tail), and put them in a bowl. Add the juice of two lemons, salt, pepper, cover and let marinate for an hour. Brown onions in olive oil, add garlic and dried okra (about 100 g) and stir gently. Add eight peeled and quartered tomatoes and 250 ml of dry white wine. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the okra is tender (25 to 30 minutes). Set the oven to 220 ° C (425 ° F), put half of the okra preparation in a gratin dish, add the fish and its juices, then the other half of the preparation. Cover and cook for about 30 to 40 minutes. Uncover, cook for five minutes,


Fridge. Wipe the okra well to remove the water. They will keep for a maximum of one week in a perforated plastic bag. If they turn black, all that remains is to throw them away.

Freezer. Blanch them for two minutes, cool them in ice water, drain them, leave them whole or cut them into thin slices and put them in the freezer. They will keep there for about a year.

Organic gardening

Sow okra indoors four to five weeks before the last scheduled frost (end of May in southern Quebec). Transplant to the vegetable garden, paying attention to the rather fragile roots.

Although it can adapt to many soils, okra prefers sandy loams, rich in organic matter, a pH of 6 to 7 and a sunny exposure. Bury a good amount of composted manure or vegetable compost in the soil at the time of planting. Space the plants 30 cm apart and the rows one meter apart. Water frequently.

Okra is sensitive to damping-off and rotting of young fruits. To prevent the first disease, sow the seeds indoors in pots placed on heating cables. To counter the second, plant in the garden in a sunny place and space the plants to ensure good air circulation.

Aphids could cause some damage, but in the family vegetable garden it is easy to get rid of them simply by a jet of water directed at the plant. Ditto for the European corn borer, which attacks young fruits, but does little damage in small crops. To avoid the risk of damage caused by nematodes, ensure good rotation. In particular, avoid planting okra where creeping plants such as squash and sweet potatoes were grown the previous year.

The fruit is ready to be harvested six to seven days after flowering, when it reaches 5 cm to 7 cm in length. If we wait longer, it becomes hard and fibrous; it must then be dried and reduced to powder. Since the fruits do not all mature at the same time, harvesting should be done every day or every two days. When you stop harvesting, the fruits mature and the plant stops producing. Fruit can then be harvested for seeds, provided that it is not a hybrid.

Avoid harvesting okra in rainy or humid weather.

Warning: the plant and its fruit have fine hairs that cause skin reactions in some people. To avoid this problem, it is recommended to wear gloves and long sleeves during harvest.

Ecology and environment

Lower, please.
The okra plant can reach up to four meters! But seeds of a hybrid dwarf variety, ‘Lite Lucy’, are available. This red pod variety is part of the trend of edible ornamental gardens. It is also more suitable for northern climates.

Multipurpose plants are environmentally beneficial because they use the soil more efficiently than single-use plants. This is the case with okra. First, it feeds humans and animals with its leaves, stems, flowers and fruits. In addition, it provides fibers that are useful for making paper and ropes, as well as good fuel. In India and Africa it is used for medicinal purposes. It has also been found that its seeds, in addition to providing an edible oil, are rich in phospholipids, compounds with many applications.

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