sPOTLIGHT iNGREDIENT: oKRA
Okra, Abelmoschus esculentus, known in many English-speaking countries as ladies' fingers or ochro, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It has edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian origins. Cultivated in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions around the world, okra is used in the cuisines of many countries.
Okra is an allopolyploid of uncertain parentage. However, proposed parents include Abelmoschus ficulneus, A. tuberculatus and a reported "diploid" form of okra. Truly wild (as opposed to naturalized) populations are not known with certainty, and the West African variety has been described as a cultigen.
The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of Southeast Asian, South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. 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 European 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. From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward.
Plants about one week after sprouting in an Oklahoma garden
The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade 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.
In the United States much of the supply is grown in Florida, especially around Dade in southern Florida. Okra is grown throughout the state to some degree however and so okra is available ten months of the year here. Yields range from less than 18,000 pounds per acre to over 30,000 pounds per acre. Wholesale prices can go as high as $18/bushel which is $0.60 per pound. The Regional IPM Centers provide integrated pest management plans for use in the state.
The pods of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains soluble fiber. One possible way to de-slime okra is to cook it with an acidic food, such as tomatoes, to minimize the mucilage. Pods are cooked, pickled, eaten raw, or included in salads. Okra may be used in developing countries to mitigate malnutrition and alleviate food insecurity.
- Danielle Lasit