Okra is one of those vegetables that polarizes people. While it is commonly used in a variety of cuisines from around the world including Indian and Carribean, it isn’t as popular as you might think. Of course, there are people who love the taste of okra and would eat it with every meal, given half the chance. But there are a lot of folks who would do anything to avoid having to take even the smallest taste.
The key with okra is in the cooking. As with many foods, when it is cooked, it takes on an entirely different texture and this can be slimy and markedly unpleasant. So, we thought we would put together a guide on okra introducing you to the taste, texture, benefits and drawbacks of this unique veggie as well as showing you the best way to cook it.
How Would You Describe Okra?
Many of us would instantly refer to okra as being a vegetable, and it is treated in just this way. However, okra is, in fact, a fruit because of the presence of seeds. This flowering plant belongs to the mallow family and features long, slender seed pods that can be consumed by humans.
The taste of okra is very unique. There aren’t many things that taste the same and while many people would compare it to eggplant and veen green beans, there is a very noticeable difference. Okra has a rather grassy taste that is remarkably sweet.
As the seed pods are cooked, this flavor changes and becomes much deeper and intense. While the pods are very crisp when raw, they become soft and juicy when they are cooked. However, overcooking can result in the okra becoming creamy, slimy, and not very pleasant. There are ways to improve this but more on that later!
What is the English name of okra?
While okra is an acceptable term for this food in English, you may often hear it being referred to as Lady’s Fingers. This is in relation to the long seed pods that some might agree vaguely resembles the slender fingers of a woman.
How Did Okra Come To America?
Okra is not native to America. This plant is typically found growing across Africa including countries like Sudan, Egypt, Ghana, and Benin, among others. It will also grow in certain areas of Asia, most notably places such as Pakistan, India, and Saudi Arabia. But it is believed that these areas are not native for this plant and that it was, in fact, brought to Asia by the Egyptians as early as the 12th or 13th century.
However, back in the 1600s during the time that slaves were being shipped from Africa to the Americas, okra found its way to these two continents. One of the first recorded incidents of this was in 1658 when okra made an appearance in Brazil.
That being said, it is thought that the plant wasn’t introduced to North America until much later in the 18th century. Growing conditions were favorable and as a result, farmers began to harvest the plant as far North as Philadelphia.
What Does Okra Do To The Body?
As you might expect, being a fruit, albeit one that is treated like a vegetable, okra has a variety of health benefits. If you are looking to eat more greens then this is an excellent way to do it. For example, okra is high in various minerals including magnesium and folate. The latter being incredibly important for pregnant ladies as it will help to prevent certain defects occurring in the developing fetus, particularly those related to the spine and brain.
Moreover, okra is known to potentially lower blood sugar. In studies, it has been shown to prevent spikes in blood sugar as well as decreased how much sugar was absorbed in the digestive system.
Your overall health may benefit even more by keeping a regular portion of okra in your diet since it contains something known as lectin. Lectin has been shown to reduce cancerous cells massively, in some cases by up to 60%. That’s no small number.
Does Okra Help Sexually?
Maintaining a healthy sex life could be more beneficial to your overall health than you might realise. For example, studies have shown that regular sex could do things such as lower blood pressure which as we all know, is beneficial for a healthy heart.
That said, it can be difficult to function sexually if your reproductive organs are not in the best of health. But there is evidence to suggest that the mineral-richness of okra could be advantageous for this. Magnesium helps the body to relax which can be useful if you have been suffering from a low libido. Moreover, zinc, vitamin B and iron are all present in okra and each of these is known to maintain excellent reproductive health.
Why Is Okra Bad For You?
While okra is an excellent source of many vitamins and minerals, there may be a chance that it could have an adverse effect. But don’t worry, you’d need to over indulge to experience any of the negative effects associated with it.
What happens if you eat okra every day?
Eating okra everyday in small amounts is not going to cause you a problem. But when you begin eating it in excess, you may notice that you develop gastrointestinal issues such as stomach cramps and diarrhea. This is down to the fruit containing fructans which are known to bring on or exacerbate these types of conditions. For this reason, it is always best to avoid too much okra if you have an existing digestive condition.
Moreover, too much okra may lead to the development of kidney stones owing to the increased presence of oxalates. Kidney stones are often formed from calcium oxalate and too much of a good thing could be bad. It is also worth keeping in mind that because okra contains gossypol, this could have a negative impact on sperm count in men.
What Is The Best Way To Cook Okra?
When you cook okra, the natural thickening agent that is present inside the seed pod can cause it to take on a slimy texture. However, there are ways that this can be reduced, if necessary. Since okra is typically used in dishes like soups and stews, this unusual texture may go unnoticed.
By pickling the okra seed pods, much of the natural sliminess can be taken away. Furthermore, in the Carribean culture, the seed pods are generally deep fried as this can reduce that unwanted texture even further.
There have been many attempts to reduce the slimy texture of okra by chefs around the world but one thing that always remains reliable is vinegar. And we aren’t talking about pickling. In this instance, you can soak the okra in vinegar before cooking making sure to dry it thoroughly. Once you are ready to cook, it is better to blast the okra with high heat rather than slow cooking it as this tends to improve the texture more effectively.
Can You Eat Okra Raw?
The good news is that okra is an incredibly diverse food that can be eaten just as easily raw as it can be cooked. What’s even more interesting is that okra, much like other fruits and vegetables, loses some of its nutritional value as it is cooked so eating is raw is actually thought to be better for you.
What Is The Slime in Okra?
As we have mentioned, okra contains a natural thickening agent. This is known as mucilage and when you cook the fruit, this develops causing that slimy texture that is associated with this food. It won’t cause you any harm and it is also found in other foods such as Chinese yams and flax seeds.
Okra is a fruit that has long seed pods which can be used in a variety of dishes. These seed pods are incredibly nutritious and provide us with a range of vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to our overall health. That said, there could be side effects if you eat too much so always be sure to keep this as a balanced part of your diet.
Cooking okra incorrectly can lead to the taste and texture being very unpleasant and for this reason, a lot of people are put off eating this food. By ensuring that you prepare and cook okra correctly, this can be lessened.