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Abelmoschus esculentus
Hong Kong Okra Aug 25 2012.JPG
Okra plant, with mature, and developing fruits in Hong Kong
Scientific classification
Species:A. esculentus
Binomial name
Abelmoschus esculentus
(L.) Moench
Map showing worldwide okra production
Worldwide okra production

Hibiscus esculentus L.

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Not to be confused with Okara (disambiguation).
For the plateau with this name, see Nanos (plateau).
Abelmoschus esculentus
Hong Kong Okra Aug 25 2012.JPG
Okra plant, with mature, and developing fruits in Hong Kong
Scientific classification
Species:A. esculentus
Binomial name
Abelmoschus esculentus
(L.) Moench
Map showing worldwide okra production
Worldwide okra production

Hibiscus esculentus L.

Okra (US /ˈkrə/ or UK /ˈɒkrə/; Abelmoschus esculentus Moench), known in many English-speaking countries as ladies' fingers, bhindi, bamia, or gumbo, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It is valued for its edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of Guatemalan, West African, Ethiopian, Indian and Bangladeshi origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.[1]

Vernacular names[edit]

Okra plant while flowering
Okra plants with leaves, fruits and a flower

The name okra is most often used in the United States, and Philippines with a variant pronunciation, English Caribbean okro. The word okra is of Nigerian origin and is cognate with ọkwurụ in the Igbo language spoken in Nigeria.[2] Okra is often known as "lady's fingers" outside of Africa.[3] In various Bantu languages, okra is called kingombo or a variant thereof,[citation needed] and this is the origin of its name in Portuguese (quiabo), Spanish (quimbombó or guigambó), Dutch[citation needed] and French (gombo), and also possibly of the name "gumbo", used in parts of the United States and English-speaking Caribbean for either the vegetable or a stew based on it.[4] In India and Pakistan, and often in the United Kingdom, it is called by its Hindi/Urdu name, bhindi, bhendi, bendai or bhinda. In Bangladesh and West Bengal, India it is called dherosh. In Tamil Nadu and Kerala, India it is called vendai kai. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, India it is called bende kayi. In Assam it is called Bhendi in Assamese language. In Odisha it is called "Bhendi" (ଭେଂଡି). In China, it is called qiu kui. In the Middle East (in Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew, Greek and Turkish), it is called bamia or bamyeh. In Bosnia and Herzegovina it is called bamija. In the Dominican Republic, it is called molondron.

Structure and physiology[edit]

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

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 and will tolerate soils with heavy clay and intermittent moisture but frost can damage the pods.

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. The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody, and, to be edible, must be harvested within a week of the fruit having been pollinated. The fruits are harvested when immature and eaten as a vegetable.[5]

Origin and distribution[edit]

Lady's fingers (Okra) in Chennai, India.
Okra sliced.

Okra is an allopolyploid of uncertain parentage (proposed parents include Abelmoschus ficulneus, A. tuberculatus and a reported "diploid" form of okra). Truly wild (as opposed to naturalised) populations are not known with certainty and the species may be a cultigen.

Whole plant

The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. Supporters of a South Asian origin point to the presence of its proposed parents in that region. Supporters of a West African origin point to the greater diversity of okra in that region.

The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya, suggesting it had come from the east. 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 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.[4]

From Arabia, the plant spread around the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and eastward. The plant was introduced to the Americas by ships plying the Atlantic slave trade[6] by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686. In compound farms in the rainforest of southeastern Nigeria (Okafor and Fernandes, 1986), farmers have developed a multi-crop system that provides a diversified and continuous production of food, combining species with different maturity periods such as yams, cassava, cocoyams, bananas, plantain, maize, okra, pumpkin, melon, leafy vegetables and a variety of trees and shrubs, 60 of which provide food products. This ensures a balanced diet but also reduces the need for storage in an area where post-harvest losses are high. [7]

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 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.[4]


Okra, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy33 kcal (140 kJ)
7.45 g
Sugars1.48 g
Dietary fiber3.2 g
0.19 g
2.00 g
Vitamin A equiv.
36 μg
Thiamine (B1)
0.2 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.06 mg
Niacin (B3)
1 mg
Vitamin C
23 mg
Vitamin E
0.27 mg
Vitamin K
31.3 μg
Trace metals
82 mg
0.62 mg
57 mg
299 mg
0.58 mg
Other constituents
Water90.17 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Okra is a popular health food due to its high fiber, vitamin C, and folate content. Okra is also known for being high in antioxidants. Okra is also a good source of calcium and potassium.[8]

Okra seed oil[edit]

Greenish-yellow edible okra oil is pressed from okra seeds; it has a pleasant taste and odor, and is high in unsaturated fats such as oleic acid and linoleic acid.[9] The oil content of some varieties of the seed can be quite high, 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.[10] A 1920 study found that a sample contained 15% oil.[11] A 2009 study found okra oil suitable for use as a biofuel.[12]

Culinary uses[edit]


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. Some people cook okra this way, others prefer to minimize sliminess; keeping the pods intact, and brief cooking, for example stir-frying, help to achieve this. Cooking with acidic ingredients such as a few drops of lemon juice, tomatoes, or vinegar may help. Alternatively, the pods can be sliced thinly and cooked for a long time so the mucilage dissolves, as in gumbo. The immature pods may also be pickled. Okra is considered a delicacy in the American Deep South, particularly when breaded and deep fried. Several cafes and nationwide eating establishments serve deep fried okra, typically alongside a side order of a sauce such as buttermilk dressing.

In Syria, Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and Yemen,[13] and other parts of the eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine, Cyprus and Israel, okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In Bosnia and most of West Asia, okra is known as bamia or bamya. West Asian cuisine usually uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole. In India, the harvesting is done at a later stage, when the pods and seeds are larger.

It is popular in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, where chopped pieces are stir-fried with spices, pickled, salted or added to gravy-based preparations such as bhindi ghosht and sambar. It is also simmered in coconut based curries or tossed with ground mustard seeds. In India, it is also used in curries. In curries, okra is used whole, trimmed only of excess stalk and keeping the hard conical top, which is discarded at the time of eating. In South India, Okra is cut into small circular pieces about 1/4 inch thick and stick fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make delicious curry. However, when used in sambar it is cut into pieces which are 1 inch thick to prevent it from dissolving when the sambar is let to simmer.

In Malaysia okra is commonly a part of yong tau foo cuisine, typically stuffed with processed fish paste (surimi) and boiled with a selection of vegetables and tofu, and served in a soup with noodles.

In Malawi it is preferred cooked and stirred with sodium bicarbonate to make it more slimy. It is then commonly eaten with nsima (pap) made from raw maize flour or maize husks flour.

Okra seed pod
Okra (roasted with margarine)

In the Caribbean islands, okra is eaten in soup. In Curaçao the soup is known as jambo which primarily is made out of the okra's mucilage. It is often prepared with fish and funchi, a dish made out of cornmeal and boiling water. In Haiti, it is cooked with rice and maize, and also used as a sauce for meat. In Cuba, it is called quimbombó, along with a stew using okra as its primary ingredient. In Dominican Republic is eaten as if in salad and also cooked with rice.

It became a popular vegetable in Japanese cuisine toward the end of the 19th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi, or as tempura.

In the Philippines, okra can be found among traditional dishes like pinakbet, dinengdeng, and sinigang. Because of its mild taste and ubiquity, okra can also be cooked adobo-style, or served steamed or boiled in a salad with tomatoes, onion and bagoong.

Okra forms part of several regional "signature" dishes. Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is a Brazilian dish especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais, and it is the main ingredient of caruru, a bahian food with dende oil. 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. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc. is widely eaten in the southern United States.[14] Okra is also an ingredient expected in callaloo, a Caribbean dish and the national dish of Trinidad and Tobago. It is also a part of the national dish of Barbados coucou (turned cornmeal). 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 slices can also be added to ratatouille.

A variety of okra pods with a dark red pigmentation

Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions.[15] Since the entire plant is edible, the leaves are also eaten raw in salads. Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeine-free substitute for coffee.[4] When importation of coffee was disrupted by the American Civil War in 1861, the Austin State Gazette said "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."[16]

Alternative Medicinal properties[edit]

Naturopathic medicines include okra for intestinal and irritable bowel dysfunction due to its mucilaginous properties. Utilizing the whole pod during cooking maintains the potency and the effectiveness of the pod contents. These are still present when chopped, but to a lesser degree. The consistency of the mucilaginous seeds are a good binder in the recipe in which they are cooked too, giving dishes a nice glossy appearance. In complementary medicine it is believed that the gut and intestines are the main/dominant organs of the body and that all foods which facilitate the digestive process and binary systems are beneficial to the body as a whole, for this reason, providing a natural lining to the intestinal mucosa, prevents leakages from ailments such as ulcerations, bacterial imbalances and general dyspepsia. Thus okra's fibrous and mucilaginous properties are likely to have excellent results in lowering inflammation, increasing active transportation of nutritional conversion (take up) and reduce fluid retention and subsequent secondary complications associated with the latter.

Unspecified parts of the plant were reported in 1898 to possess diuretic properties;[17][18] this is referenced in numerous sources associated with herbal and traditional medicine.

Some studies are being developed targeting okra extract as remedy to manage diabetes.[19]

Recent research has revealed that a lecithin found in okra displays possible anti-tumor effects in breast cancer cells. More research is needed to determine okra's potential therapeutic properties in cancer.

Common diseases[edit]

The most common disease afflicting the okra plant is verticillium wilt, often causing a yellowing and wilting of the leaves. Other diseases include powdery mildew in dry tropical regions, leaf spots, and root-knot nematodes.[20]

Oxalic acid[edit]

Oxalic acid is a naturally occurring colourless organic acid found in many plants including okra. Okra contains 0.05g/100g of oxalic acid.[21] The toxicity of oxalic acid is due to kidney failure, which arises because it causes precipitation of solid calcium oxalate, the main component of kidney stones. Oxalic acid can also cause joint pain due to the formation of similar precipitates in the joints.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. Retrieved 2008-07-15. 
  2. ^ 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. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  3. ^ "Alternative Cold Remedies: Lady's Fingers Plant", curing-colds.com (accessed 3 June 2009)
  4. ^ a b c d "Okra, or 'Gumbo,' from Africa, tamu.edu
  5. ^ "Okra Seed". Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  6. ^ " Okra gumbo and rice" by Sheila S. Walker, The News Courier, unknown date
  7. ^ "Non-wood Forest Products and Nutrition". Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  8. ^ Duvauchelle, Joshua (26 May 2011). "Okra Nutrition Information". LiveStrong.com. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  9. ^ Franklin W. Martin (1982). "Okra, Potential Multiple-Purpose Crop for the Temperate Zones and Tropics". Economic Botany 36 (3): 340–345. doi:10.1007/BF02858558. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ J. Am. Chem. Soc., 1920, 42 (1), pp 166–170 "Okra Seed Oil"
  12. ^ Farooq, Anwar; Umer Rashid, Muhammad Ashraf, Muhammad Nadeem (March 2010). "Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) seed oil for biodiesel production". Applied Energy 87 (3): 779–785. doi:10.1016/j.apenergy.2009.09.020. 
  13. ^ Julia Devlin and Peter Yee. Trade Logistics in Developing Countries: The Case of the Middle East and North Africa. p. 445
  14. ^ Madison, Deborah (15 May 2008). Renewing America's Food Traditions. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 167. 
  15. ^ network.com: Okra Greens and Corn Saute, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, 1996
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Felter, Harvey Wickes & Lloyd, John Uri, King's American Dispensatory, 1898. Retrieved 27 November 2011.
  18. ^ "Abelmoschus esculentus - (L.)Moench.", Plants for a Future, June 2004, retrieved 27 November 2011. Reference as diuretic cited there from Chopra. R. N., Nayar. S. L. and Chopra. I. C. Glossary of Indian Medicinal Plants (Including the Supplement), Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, 1956.
  19. ^ Amin, Indah Mohd. "Nutritional Properties of Abelmoschus Esculentus as Remedy to Manage Diabetes Mellitus: A Literature Review". Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Malaysia. Retrieved 9 January 2014. 
  20. ^ "Growing okra". Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland. 19 September 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  21. ^ Oxalic Acid Content of Selected Vegetables Originally published in Agriculture Handbook No. 8-11, Vegetables and Vegetable Products, 1984.

External links[edit]