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Abelmoschus esculentus
Okra flower bud and immature seed pod
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Abelmoschus
Species: A. esculentus
Binomial name
Abelmoschus esculentus
(L.) Moench

Okra (pronounced US: /ˈoʊkrə/, UK: /ˈɒkrə/), known by many other names, is a flowering plant in the mallow family (along with such species as cotton, cocoa, and hibiscus), valued for its edible green fruits. Okra's scientific name is Abelmoschus esculentus; it is occasionally referred to as Hibiscus esculentus L.

The species is an annual or perennial, growing to 2 m tall. The leaves are 10–20 cm long and broad, palmately lobed with 5–7 lobes. The flowers are 4–8 cm 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.

Contents

Etymology

The name "okra" most often used in the United States is of West African origin and is cognate with "ọ́kụ̀rụ̀" in Igbo, a language spoken in Nigeria.[1] In various Bantu languages, okra is called "kingombo" or a variant thereof, and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and French. The Arabic "bāmyah" is the basis of the names in the Middle East and neighboring areas.

Okra is often known as lady's fingers outside of the United States[2]. Either the vegetable, or a stew based on it, are called gumbo in parts of the United States and English-speaking Caribbean, based on a corruption of the Portuguese word "quingombo," which is in turn a corruption of the word "quillobo," the word for the plant in some parts of eastern Africa.[3]

Origin and distribution

Okra seed pod

Okra is native to the Old World tropics (West Africa) and has become established in the wild in some New World tropical areas. It is believed that okra first reached the New World during the days of slave trafficking. Okra is a popular and important food worldwide.

The species apparently originated in the Ethiopian Highlands, though the manner of distribution from there is undocumented. The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arab word for the plant, suggesting that it had come from the east. The plant may thus have been taken across the Red Sea or the Bab-el-Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula, rather than north across the Sahara. 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.[3]

From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The lack of a word for okra in the ancient languages of India suggests that it arrived there in the Common Era. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade[4] 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 in the early 18th century. It was being grown as far north as Philadelphia by 1748. Thomas Jefferson noted that 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.[3]

Cultivation

Okra flowers range from white to yellow

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—but severe frost can damage the pods[citation needed]—and will tolerate poor soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture.

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.[citation needed] The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody and must be harvested within a week of the fruit being pollinated to be edible.[3]

The fruits are harvested when immature and eaten as a vegetable.

Culinary use

Pentagonal cross-section of the fruit

Okra is eaten as a food. A traditional food plant in Africa, this vegetable has potential to improve nutrition, boost food security, foster rural development and support sustainable landcare.[5]

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. While many people enjoy okra cooked this way, others prefer to minimise sliminess; keeping the pods intact and cooking quickly help to achieve this. In order to avoid sliminess okra pods are often briefly stir-fried, or cooked with acidic ingredients such as citrus, tomatoes, or vinegar. Alternatively the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time, so that the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. The cooked leaves can also be used as a powerful soup thickener.[citation needed] The immature pods may also be pickled.

In Syria, Egypt, Greece, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen,[6] and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Cyprus, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. It is one of the most popular vegetables among Middle Eastern Jews[7]. In most of the Middle East okra is known as bamia. It is called bhindi in Hindi; it is popular in North India and Pakistan, where it is sautéed or added to gravy-based preparations. In western parts of India okra is popular, and is often stir-fried with spices and some sugar. Okra is also used in Kadhi. In Caribbean islands okra is eaten as soup, often with fish. In Haiti it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. It became a popular vegetable in Japanese cuisine toward the end of the 20th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi, or as tempura.

Breaded, deep-fried okra slices

Okra forms part of several regional "signature" dishes. Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a Brazilian dish that is especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais. 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. Breaded, deep fried okra is eaten in the southern United States. Okra is also an ingredient expected in callaloo, a Caribbean dish and the national dish of Trinidad & Tobago. 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 leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions.[8] The leaves are also eaten raw in salads.[citation needed] Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeinate-free substitute for coffee.[3] When importation of coffee was disrupted by the American Civil War in 1861, the Austin State Gazette noted, "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."[9]

Okra oil is a pressed seed oil, extracted from the seeds of the okra. The greenish yellow edible oil has a pleasant taste and odor, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid.[10] The oil content of the seed is quite high at 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.[11]

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Medicinal properties

Unspecified parts of the plant reportedly possess diuretic properties.[12][13]

Okra is also reported to contain the male contraceptive gossypol[14].

See also

  • Molokhiya, also called "bush okra"
  • Luffa, also called "Chinese okra"

References

  1. ^ 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. http://books.google.com/books?id=czFufZI4Zx4C&pg=PA77. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  2. ^ "Alternative Cold Remedies: Lady's Fingers Plant", curing-colds.com (accessed 3 June 2009)
  3. ^ a b c d e "Okra, or 'Gumbo,' from Africa, tamu.edu
  4. ^ " Okra gumbo and rice" by Sheila S. Walker, The News Courier, unknown date
  5. ^ 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. http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11763&page=287. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  6. ^ Julia Devlin and Peter Yee. Trade Logistics in Developing Countries: The Case of the Middle East and North Africa. p. 445
  7. ^ The Book of Jewish Food, Claudia Roden, Viking Press, 1997, p441
  8. ^ Okra Greens and Corn Saute, recipe copyrighted to "c.1996, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger", hosted by foodnetwork.com
  9. ^ Austin State Gazette [TEX.], November 9, 1861, p. 4, c. 2, copied in Confederate Coffee Substitutes: Articles from Civil War Newspapers, University of Texas at Tyler
  10. ^ Franklin W. Martin (1982). "Okra, Potential Multiple-Purpose Crop for the Temperate Zones and Tropics". Economic Botany 36: 340–345. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Felter, Harvey Wickes & Lloyd, John Uri. "Hibiscus Esculentus.—Okra.", King's American Dispensatory, 1898, retrieved March 23, 2007.
  13. ^ "Abelmoschus esculentus - (L.)Moench.", Plants for a Future, June 2004, retrieved March 23, 2007.
  14. ^ Duke's Phytochemistry Syllabus

External links


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