Produce Spotlight: Okra

Before I talk about okra, I just want to mention that yesterday I found out that this week is Eat Local week in Maryland – I didn’t know that before I posted yesterday- so it’s just a coincidence. Still, it’s a good promotion for the local farm industry!

Okra, or Abelmoschus esculentus; Lady’s Fingers; gumbo, is a vegetable currently in season in several areas of the US. It’s an underused vegetable with a gooey inside (when raw). It is typically fried or used as a component of soup (can be used dried nearly as easily as if it were fresh). Additionally, the oil of the ripe vegetable can be used as a substitute for other vegetable oils (and often is, in the Mediterranean, for example).

According to Tamu.edu,

Okra apparently originated in what the geobotanists call the Abyssinian center of origin of cultivated plants, an area that includes present-day Ethiopia, the mountainous or plateau portion of Eritrea, and the eastern, higher part of the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. Considering the little contact between that region and the rest of the world within historic times, it is not surprising that little is known about the early history and distribution of okra.

Although the plant has been well known in India for a long time, it is not found wild there. Modern travelers have found okra growing truly wild, however, along the White Nile and elsewhere in the upper Nile country as well as in Ethiopia.

Because of the outstanding popularity of okra in the French cookery of Louisiana, and its slow gain in popularity elsewhere in this country, it is safe to assume that it was introduced to this country by the French colonists of Louisiana in the early 1700’s. It had been introduced to the New World, however, before 1658, reaching Brazil supposedly from Africa. It was known in Surinam in 1686.

The seeds have also been used as a cheap and local (and caffeine free) coffee substitute; apparently roasted okra seeds taste similar to roasted coffee beans (not extraordinarily supriszing).

Okra is a highly nutritional vegetable as well. It is full of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Just a cup of okra has 3.2g fiber, about half of which is soluble fiber (good for reducing cholesterol) and half of which is insoluble fiber (good for reducing the chance of developing colorectal cancer). It also has 300mg potassium/cup, 35% RDA of vitamin C, 81% RDA calcium, and a ton of other nutrients – too many to list here. If I were to speculate, I’d hope that okra would rise in popularity over the next few years – it’s a healthy food that people should incorporate into their diet!

So try some okra (especially if it’s in season where you are). Roast it, fry it, or if you’re brave and like “gooey” vegetables, have it raw on your next salad! (Or have some pseudo-coffee)

Sources/Further Info:

Okra, or “Gumbo”

Okra

Okra@TheDailyPlate

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