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All About Okra - Origin, Planting and Cooking with Okra

All About Okra

Okra is one of my favorite vegetables to plant in my garden each year. Not only is it tasty, it is easy to grow and drought tolerant. Okra has a long history and I have included information on its origin, as well as how to plant, harvest and cook with okra.

Okra Flower

Okra Flower

Description

Okra, (Abelmoschus esculentus), is a vegetable of the mallow family. It is related to cotton, cocoa, and the hibiscus. Okra can grow up to approximately 2 meters in height, although there is a dwarf variety that is somewhat shorter. The flowers of the okra plant have five white to yellow petals with a red or purple spot at the center. Okra “pods”, can grow up to 18 cm long and contain many small white round seeds. The immature seed pods are eaten as a vegetable in various countries and used to thicken soups and stews.

Okra Pod

Okra Pod

Origin

The origin of okra is somewhat disputed. Most believe that okra was introduced to the southeastern part of North America in the early 18th century. Thomas Jefferson talked about okra as early as 1781. Okra was common the southern parts of the United States as early as 1806. Okra may have been introduced to southeastern parts of North America as being brought over from Africa during the slave trade days. However, okra has been found growing wild along the banks of the Nile and it is believed that the Egyptians were the first cultivators in the 12th century B.C.

Varieties

There are three common types of okra:

  • Annie Oakley – Is a hybrid, compact plant, with extra tender pods.
  • Dwarf Green Long Pod – This variety has ribbed pods and grows shorter, more compact plants.
  • Clemson Spineless – This variety has less “spiny hairs” and is my favorite.



Rows of Okra

Rows of Okra

Planting

Okra is grown in tropical and warm temperate regions around the world. It is one of the most heat and drought tolerant vegetable you can grow. Okra grows best in warm soil and tolerates hot temperatures. You can plant okra in late spring after you have planted all your other vegetables. Some gardeners soak the seeds prior to planting. This allows the seed to germinate sooner. Sow the seeds approximately 1 inch deep and 12 to 24 inches apart to keep them from crowding. Once the plants begin growing, you can thin them out if necessary. Over crowding can keep your okra from producing to it’s full potential. Okra can tolerate hot, dry weather but needs to be watered as the soil dries out.


Pod of Okra

Pod of Okra

Harvesting

You want to cut the okra pods before they fully mature. The older they are, the tougher the pods will be. Let them get to approximately 2-3 inches then cut the pods from the stalk. The stem of the okra tends to be rather tough, so you will want to use some sharp garden shears. Okra grows quickly and will need to be picked, usually every other day. You may want to wear long sleeves and gloves when cutting your okra as the pods have short “hairs” that can be irritating to your skin.


Nutritional Value per 100g (3.5 oz.)

Energy 129 kJ (31 kcal)

Carbohydrates

7.03 g

Sugars

1.20 g

Dietary fiber

3.2 g

Fat

0.10 g

Protein

2.00 g

Calcium

81 mg (8%)

Nutritional Value

Okra contains lots of valuable nutrients, almost half of which is in the form of soluble fiber, which helps lower serum cholesterol. The second half is in the form of insoluble fiber, which helps improve the health of the intestinal tract and lower the risk of some cancers. One-half of a cup of okra contains about 10% of the recommended levels of B6 and folic acid. There are many healthy benefits of okra, try to add some to your recipes!

Two jars of my home-made pickled okra.

Two jars of my home-made pickled okra.

Quick and easy okra goulash.

Quick and easy okra goulash.

Delicious fried okra.

Delicious fried okra.

Cooking with Okra

Okra pods are what is called mucilaginous, referring to the slime that results when cooking okra. It is this mucilage that contains most of the good soluble fiber. To minimize the slime, you can keep the pods whole or slice them and minimizing cooking time, such as a stir-fry. Adding a few drops of vinegar or lemon juice will also help. Most cooks prefer to slice the okra and use it in soups or stews where the mucilage dissolves and acts as a thickener. Many people prefer fried okra. Once you cover the sliced okra with cornmeal, it keeps the “slime” inside and will fry up crispy. You can cook okra with tomatoes, which are slightly acidic and will help reduce the slime as well. One of my family’s favorite snacks, is pickled okra. You prepare it much the same, as you would make pickles. I have published my mother-in-law’s wonderful pickled okra recipe, you will have to check it out. Okra is also an easy vegetable to freeze to use during the fall and winter months.

You May Also Enjoy:

  • Pickled Okra Recipe - Hot or Not
    Pickled okra is one of my family’s favorite snacks! Adding a little jalapeno to this recipe gives it some extra flavor. It’s not hot, just has a little snap. Not only is it tasty, but it is very good for you too. Okra is high in both types of fibers
  • Quick and Easy Okra Goulash
    Here in the south, we tend to like our macaroni and okra, so I have combined these ingredients to make my
  • 5 Best Vegetables to Grow in Your Garden
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Comments

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on January 31, 2013:

Ha, don't think for a minute I hadn't thought about cookin' it tonight, Sheila! The trouble is, I would have to drive about a mile to go get the okra out of our other freezer over at the farm. Still though.........

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on January 31, 2013:

Hi Randy! Hey, it doesn't take much time to fry up a big pan of okra. You can sit and eat it like popcorn! Why do I think you will be frying up some okra tomorrow? Thanks for stopping in! :)

Randy Godwin from Southern Georgia on January 31, 2013:

Why did I have to see this hub now? Of all the times to be craving something different and I see the feed with you talking about fried okra. Curse you Sheila! lol! Great hub!

--RG

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on January 31, 2013:

Hello Au fait! I'm glad to hear that you tried some okra in your vegetable soup. Fresh okra would have tasted even better! My favorite way to cook okra is fried. It may not be the healthiest, but it sure is good! I'm glad you enjoyed my hub and thank you for your positive comment, votes and sharing! You know it is always much appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

C E Clark from North Texas on January 31, 2013:

I like fried okra. Recently I bought a can of okra and put it in some vegetable soup. I thought the soup came out great. I had never had okra other than fried before that. This is a very informative and useful hub. I hope everyone will read it and learn about okra and then try some if they haven't already. Voted up, useful, and interesting. Will share!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on November 21, 2012:

Hello Thelma! I love okra too. My mom used to fry most of the time, although sometimes she would boil it with onions and butter. I don't care for it too much that way, but I love it fried! My hubby and I make pickled okra every year. I have a recipe hub on it, if you haven't already seen it, you might like this. Thank you for stopping in, commenting, voting and more:-) I always enjoy hearing from you!

Thelma Alberts from Germany and Philippines on November 21, 2012:

My mother had okra plants in our garden before and it was always fun harvesting them fresh before they were cooked. Okra is one of my favorite vegetables. Thanks for reminding me of those years at home. Voted up and more;-)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on September 20, 2012:

Hello Audrey! I guess it is a "southern thing". You either love it or you hate it. I just had some pickled okra at a cook out tonight. Yum, yum. Thank you for stopping in and commenting. Have a great day!

Audrey Howitt from California on September 20, 2012:

Oh--I have wondered about okra--this is just a great article about it--thank you!!

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hi moonlake. I understand the lack of growing time where you live. Okra does take it's time to grow. Thank you for reading, commenting and voting, it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hello Levertis. Okra is one of my favorites too! We love it fried, but like to pickle it too. Check out one of my hubs on jalapeno pickled okra if you get the chance. Everyone in my family loves it! Thank you for reading and commenting on my hub, it is always appreciated. Have a great day! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hello pstraubie48! We are definitely going to try tapping the okra this year! I'm glad I don't have neighbors nearby to laugh at the site! Thank you for your kind comment, it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day and enjoy your okra! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hello MickieS. Yes, it is slimey when you have to cut it up, but keep a sink full of warm soapy water and just run your dish rag across it every now and then. If you haven't checked out my recipe hub on Pickled Okra, I think you may like it. Thank you for stopping in, reading and commenting on my hub, it is always appreciated. Have a great day! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hello Lucky Cats. the pickled okra is sooo good! We are out now and I can't wait to make more. My okra is just now starting to produce. Fried okra is one of my favorites! Thank you for reading and commenting, it is always appreciated. Have a wonderful day! :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on May 30, 2012:

Hi Peggy! I laughed out loud when you said your nothern neighbors were not very impressed with your okra! That was too funny! I love my okra! Sorry you can't grow it there but I totally understand. Thank you for reading, commenting, voting and sharing! You know it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

moonlake from America on May 30, 2012:

Okra is a favorite of mine. I wish we could grow it here but we can't not enough growing time. Great Up voted Up.

Levertis Steele from Southern Clime on May 30, 2012:

Okra is one of my favorite vegetables. I raise it often.

Thanks for sharing this information, especially the origin.

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on May 30, 2012:

You have so nicely shared info about okra. My parents always grew it and one thing my Daddy did may sound strange. As the plants got about 10 inches high he would go to each plant and tap on the stem with a stick several times, gently. He and Mother both maintained that it made the plant produce more okra. I have not had any this year so far but reading this has made me want to buy some this week. Thank you for sharing.

MickiS from San Francisco on May 30, 2012:

Nice Hub, sgbrown. I love okra and appreciate your cooking tips. That slime is truly difficult to clean from my chef's knife so I'm always looking for ways to cook it that don't involve slicing it up.

Kathy from The beautiful Napa Valley, California on May 30, 2012:

Pickled Okra w/chili peppers and cilantro...to die for...also, deep fried Okra...I learned to love this type of cuisine when I lived in the Heartland...Okra is a staple there.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 30, 2012:

I once grew some okra in central Wisconsin and because of the short growing season (compared to the south) it only got about 40 inches tall and had just truly started producing okra when the first freezing weather came along. Those northern neighbors had never eaten it and were not very impressed. Ha! I would love to grow it but it takes up a lot of room and I have to pick and choose because of limited space that gets enough sunlight in our yard and garden.

Good hub! Voted up, useful, interesting and will share.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on April 27, 2012:

Hello Vgyoung Km. Okra is one of the easiest vegetables to grow and it loves the heat. Good luck! Maybe you can try my recipe on pickled okra later in the summer. Have a wonderful day! :)

Vgyoung Km on April 27, 2012:

Planting my first Okra this year in a lot across the street...a neighbor gave me some seeds...so here it goes...THANKS for your HUB...GREAT INFO...Peace

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 30, 2012:

Hi alocsin! Always good to hear from you! If you like pickles, I think you will love the pickled okra. It's really VERY tasty. I wish I could offer you one now! (I love to share it!) Thank you for commenting and voting, you know it is always greatly appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

Aurelio Locsin from Orange County, CA on March 30, 2012:

I confess that this isn't one of my favorite vegetables. But after your description of them, I may give okra another try. Voting this Up and Useful.

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 18, 2012:

Hi Angela! Yes, actually a transplanted Texan. :) We do love our fried okra and sliced tomatoes and yes "sweet tea"! Glad I could bring back those memories. Sounds like you need a garden yourself and make some of those memories of your own! :) Thanks for commenting and voting up, it is always appreciated! Have a wonderful day! :)

Angela Blair from Central Texas on March 18, 2012:

Ahhhh -- a Hub by a true southern girl -- fried okra is about as good as it gets with sliced tomatoes and iced tea (or "sweet tea"). My grandmother always had okra in her garden and we looked forward to picking/frying as long as it lasted each year. Thanks for the good info and bringing back some fond memories. Voted up! Best/Sis

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 18, 2012:

Hello oceansnsunsets! :) I have to admit that the picture is borrowed...I didn't know I would be needing a picture of an okra plant when mine were blooming last year. I have only been on HubPages for 5 months. (I have to be honest!) Okra is really very easy to grow! I plan on writing more about Oklahoma as I do some traveling this year. It is a very diverse and beautiful state. "Most" of my photography is my own, there were no "credits" on the one I used for this hub so that is why I left it blank...But thank you for your kinds words! Thank you for visiting my hub and your kind comments, it is always appreciated! Have a beautiful day too! :)

Paula from The Midwest, USA on March 18, 2012:

Hello Sheila, thanks so much for sharing this information on Okra. I didn't know its flower was so pretty, you captured that very well with the camera. :)

I hope to grow my own okra sometime, as I didn't know it was easy and drought tolerant. I look forward to catching up on more of your great hubs, and learning more about Oklahoma, a very great state. I also look forward to seeing more of your great photography! Have a beautiful day. :)

Sheila Brown (author) from Southern Oklahoma on March 17, 2012:

Hello Perspycacious. Yes, my husband is a 6 ft. 2 and we have had plants get almost as tall as he is. Makes it hard for me to pick. Thank you for visiting my hub and your votes. Have a wonderful day! :)

Demas W Jasper from Today's America and The World Beyond on March 17, 2012:

Up to 6' tall caught me by surprise, and the rest of the Hub is icing on the cake. Thanks for the insights and tips. Up, useful/interesting.