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Abelmoschus esculentus
Okra plant, with mature, and developing fruits in Hong Kong
Ladies' Finger cross section
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Malvales
Family: Malvaceae
Genus: Abelmoschus
Species: A. esculentus
Binomial name
Abelmoschus esculentus
(L.) Moench
Map showing worldwide okra production
Worldwide okra production
  • Abelmoschus bammia Webb
  • Abelmoschus longifolius (Willd.) Kostel.
  • Abelmoschus officinalis (DC.) Endl.
  • Abelmoschus praecox Sickenb.
  • Abelmoschus tuberculatus Pal & Singh
  • Hibiscus esculentus L.
  • Hibiscus hispidissimus A.Chev. nom. illeg.
  • Hibiscus longifolius Willd.
  • Hibiscus praecox Forssk.

Okra or Okro (US or UK ; Abelmoschus esculentus Moench), known in many English-speaking countries as ladies' fingers, bhendi, bhindi, bamia, ochro 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 West African, Ethiopian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions around the world.[2]


  • Vernacular names in English-speaking nations 1
  • Structure and physiology 2
  • Origin and distribution 3
  • As food 4
    • Regional preparations 4.1
      • Africa 4.1.1
      • Americas 4.1.2
      • Asia 4.1.3
      • Other 4.1.4
  • Varieties 5
  • Fibre 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Vernacular names in English-speaking nations

The name okra is most often used in the UK, United States and the Philippines, with a variant pronunciation in Caribbean English and Nigeria of okro. The word okra is from the Igbo ọ́kụ̀rụ̀.[3][4] The plant and its seed pods are also known as "lady's fingers".[5] In various Bantu languages, okra is called (ki)ngombo or a variant,[6] and this is possibly the origin of the name "gumbo", used in parts of the United States and the English-speaking Caribbean.[7] In much of South Asia, it is called by some variant of bhindi, a name also heard in the United Kingdom, but people in Bengal call it dherosh.

Structure and physiology

Okra plant while flowering

The species is an annual and 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 with pentagonal cross-section, 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 compound farms in the rainforest of southeastern Nigeria,[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

Origin and distribution

Whole plant

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.

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 and described the plant under cultivation by the locals who ate the tender, young pods with meal.[7]

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[12] 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.[7]

As food

Okra, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 138 kJ (33 kcal)
7.45 g
Sugars 1.48 g
Dietary fiber 3.1 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
82 mg
0.61 mg
57 mg
299 mg
0.58 mg
Other constituents
Water 90.17 g
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Raw okra slices

The products of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic "goo" or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains soluble fiber. Some people prefer to minimize the 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 also 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 be pickled.

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.[13]

Stir fried okra

Okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions.[14] 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.[7] 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."[15]

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.[16] 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.[17] A 1920 study found that a sample contained 15% oil.[18] A 2009 study found okra oil suitable for use as a biofuel.[19]

Regional preparations


  • Malawi: Okra 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.
  • Nigeria: draw soup is a popular dish, often eaten with garri or cassava.
  • Zimbabwe: okra (derere, in Shona) is often sliced thinly and mixed with onion tomato and bicarbonate of soda and boiled to form a thick paste, served with sadza (a thick paste made from mealie meal).
  • Sierra Leone: Okra (okro): is commonly prepared with palm-oil and served with fufu.
  • Egypt: okra (bam-ya) is prepared in several ways, either cooked as stew with ground beef and onions tomato, or made in the oven.


Okra pickles
  • Brazil: Frango com quiabo (chicken with okra) is especially famous in the region of Minas Gerais, and it is the main ingredient of caruru, a Bahian food with dende oil.
  • Caribbean: Okra is commonly 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 the Dominican Republic okra is eaten in salad and also cooked with rice. In Trinidad and Tobago okra is used as one of the main ingredients in the thick soup-like melting-pot dish called callaloo. In Trinidad and Tobago and other West Indian territories such as Barbados it is also used as a main ingredient in the cornmeal-based meal called cou-cou that is similar to polenta.
  • United States: Gumbo, a hearty stew whose key ingredient is often okra, is found throughout the Gulf Coast of the United States and in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Reflecting the region's African and French heritage, gumbo is often cooked in cast iron pots and served over rice. Deep- or shallow-fried okra coated with cornmeal, flour, etc., is widely eaten in the southern United States.[20] A modern preparation of Okra is breaded with corn meal, deep fried and served with ranch dressing. Several cafe and nationwide restaurant chains serve deep fried okra, typically with a side order of a sauce such as buttermilk (or ranch) dressing. Okra pickles are also popular, normally made during the summer when it is readily available at produce markets and vegetable stands. Traditional Southern American preparation is sliced okra with a light coating of self rising cornmeal and spices, and shallow fried in a skillet with no dipping sauces.


Sushi with okra slices
Dried okra fruits in Bosnia and Herzegovina market
  • Japan: Okra increased in popularity toward the end of the 19th century, served with soy sauce and katsuobushi as tempura, steamed with ponzu and more recently as a nigiri sushi topping.
  • 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.
  • Middle East / West Asia / Mediterranean: In Syria, Tunisia, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Bulgaria, Republic of Macedonia, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Yemen, Palestine, Cyprus and Israel,[21] okra is widely used in a thick stew made with vegetables and meat. In the Turkish cuisine, other than the stew, which can also be made using dried okra, bamya is also made as a cold starter or meze dish with the use of olive oil and is eaten sprinkling lemon juice over the plate. West Asian cuisine uses young okra pods, usually cooked whole.
  • 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.
  • India and Pakistan, 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 an ingredient in curries, in which it is used whole after trimming only the 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 stir-fried in oil with salt and hot pepper powder to make curry. However, when used in sambar, it is cut into pieces which are one inch thick to prevent it from dissolving when the sambar is let to simmer. In India, okra harvesting is done at later than in Mediterranean regions, when the pods and seeds are larger.
  • Vietnam, okra is the important ingredient in the dish canh chua.


  • Okra slices can also be added to the French dish ratatouille.


Green and Red Okra in a grocery store

Okra is available in two varieties, green and red. Red okra carries the same flavor as the more popular green okra and differs only in color. When cooked, the red okra pods turn green. [22]


Bast fibre from the stem of the plant has industrial uses.[23]


  1. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved 3 October 2014. 
  2. ^ National Research Council (2006-10-27). "Okra". Lost Crops of Africa: Volume II: Vegetables. Lost Crops of Africa 2. National Academies Press.  
  3. ^ Harper, Douglas. "okra".  
  4. ^ McWhorter, John H. (2000). The Missing Spanish Creoles: Recovering the Birth of Plantation Contact Languages. University of California Press. p. 77.  
  5. ^ "Alternative Cold Remedies: Lady's Fingers Plant", (accessed 3 June 2009)
  6. ^ "gumbo".  
  7. ^ a b c d "Okra, or 'Gumbo,' from Africa,
  8. ^ J. C. Okafor & E. C. M. Fernandes (1987). "Compound farms of southeastern Nigeria: a predominant agroforestry homegarden system with crops and small livestock".  
  9. ^ "Non-wood Forest Products and Nutrition". Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  10. ^ "Okra Seed" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-10-17. 
  11. ^ "Growing okra". Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, Queensland. 19 September 2007. Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  12. ^ " Okra gumbo and rice" by Sheila S. Walker, The News Courier, unknown date
  13. ^ Duvauchelle, Joshua (26 May 2011). "Okra Nutrition Information". Retrieved 24 June 2012. 
  14. ^ Okra Greens and Corn Saute, M.S. Milliken & S. Feniger, 1996
  15. ^ 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
  16. ^ Martin, Franklin W. (1982). "Okra, Potential Multiple-Purpose Crop for the Temperate Zones and Tropics". Economic Botany 36 (3): 340–345.  
  17. ^ 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. 
  18. ^ Jamieson, George S.; Baughman, Walter F. (1920). "Okra Seed Oil.1". Journal of the American Chemical Society 42: 166.  
  19. ^ Farooq, Anwar; Umer Rashid; Muhammad Ashraf; Muhammad Nadeem (March 2010). "Okra (Hibiscus esculentus) seed oil for biodiesel production". Applied Energy 87 (3): 779–785.  
  20. ^ Madison, Deborah (2008). Renewing America's Food Traditions. Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 167.  
  21. ^ Devlin, Julia; Yee, Peter (March 2005). "Trade Logistics in Developing Countries: The Case of the Middle East and North Africa". The World Economy 28 (3): 435–456 (445). 
  22. ^ "Red Okra Information, Recipes and Facts". Retrieved 2015-09-30. 
  23. ^ De Rosa, I.M.; Kenny, J.M.; Puglia, D.; Santulli, C.; Sarasini, F. (2010). ) fibres as potential reinforcement in polymer composites"Abelmoschus esculentus"Morphological, thermal and mechanical characterization of okra (. Composites Science and Technology 70 (1): 116–122.  

External links

  • at ITISAbelmoschus esculentus
  • (L.) MoenchAbelmoschus esculentus Medicinal Plant Images Database (School of Chinese Medicine, Hong Kong Baptist University) (traditional Chinese) (English)
  • Abelmoschus esculentus in West African plants – A Photo Guide.
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