Different types of okra

Okra

Okra (also known as gumbo), is a tall-growing, warm-season, annual vegetable from the same family as hollyhock, rose of Sharon and hibiscus. The immature pods are used for soups, canning and stews or as a fried or boiled vegetable. The hibiscus like flowers and upright plant (3 to 6 feet or more in height) have ornamental value for backyard gardens.

Recommended Varieties

Annie Oakley (hybrid; 52 days to harvest; compact plant; extra tender pods)

Dwarf Green Long Pod (52 days; ribbed pods)

Clemson Spineless (56 days; AAS winner)

When to Plant

Because okra seeds do not germinate well in cool soils, plant seeds after the soil has warmed in the spring, probably a week to 10 days after the date of the last frost for your area.

Spacing & Depth

Sow seeds 1 inch deep in hills 12 to 24 inches apart. When the seedlings are 3 inches tall, thin all but the one strongest plant per hill. The seeds may be soaked, wrapped in moist paper toweling or in water overnight, to accelerate germination.

Care

Okra usually grows well in any good garden soil. Shallow cultivation near the plants keeps down weeds.

Harvesting

The pods should be picked (usually cut) while they are tender and immature (2 to 3 inches long for most varieties). They must be picked often—at least every other day. Okra plants have short hairs that may irritate bare skin. Wear gloves and long sleeves to harvest okra. Use pruning shears for clean cuts that do not harm the rest of the plant. When the stem is difficult to cut, the pod is probably too old to use. The large pods rapidly become tough and woody. The plants grow and bear until frost, which quickly blackens and kills them. Four or five plants produce enough okra for most families unless you wish to can or freeze some for winter use.

Common Problems

Aphids—Watch for buildup of colonies of aphids on the undersides of the leaves.

For more information on aphids, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Cabbage worms—Three species of cabbage worms (imported cabbage worms, cabbage loopers and diamond back moth worms) commonly attack the leaves and heads of cabbage and related cole crops. Imported cabbage worms are velvety green caterpillars. The moth is white and commonly is seen during the day hovering over plants in the garden. Cabbage loopers (“measuring worms”) are smooth, light green caterpillars. The cabbage looper crawls by doubling up (to form a loop) and then moving the front of its body forward. The moth is brown and is most active at night. Diamondback worms are small, pale, green caterpillars that are pointed on both ends. The moth is gray, with diamond-shaped markings when the wings are closed. The damage caused by diamondback larvae looks like shot holes in the leaf.

The larval or worm stages of these insects cause damage by eating holes in the leaves. The adult moths or butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves but otherwise do not damage the plants. The worms are not easy to see because they are fairly small and blend with the cabbage leaves. Cabbage worms are quite destructive and can ruin the crop if not controlled. They are even worse in fall plantings than in spring gardens because the population has had several months to increase. About the time of the first frost in the fall, moth and caterpillar numbers finally begin to decline drastically.

For more information on cabbage worms, see our feature in the Bug Review.

Questions & Answers

Q. Should I remove the old okra pods?

A. Yes. Maturing, older, tough pods sap strength that could go to keeping the plant producing new pods daily. Unless you desire ripe pods for dried arrangements or seed saving, overmature pods should be removed and composted.

Q. Why doesn’t my seed germinate even after soaking?

A. Okra seed does not keep well. Buy fresh seed each season, or save seed of non- hybrid varieties yourself by allowing a few pods on your best plant to mature. When the pods turn brown and begin to split at the seams, harvest them and shell the seeds from the pods. Dry seed thoroughly for several days, then store in a cool, dry place in tightly closed containers until next season.

Q. My okra plants grew over 6 feet tall and the pods were difficult to pick. What should I do?

A. Choose one of the new dwarf or basal-branching varieties, such as Annie Oakley, that grow only 2-1/2 to 5 feet tall.

Q. What causes yellowing, wilting and death of plants in midsummer?

A. These conditions are caused by either verticillium or fusarium wilt. Okra varieties, unlike certain tomato varieties, are not resistant to verticillium and fusarium wilt. Rotate crops to prevent buildup of crop-specific strains of these diseases in your garden.

Selection & Storage

Gumbo is Swahili for okra. The recent upsurge in the popularity of gumbo has also brought renewed attention to okra. Okra was brought to the new world by African slaves during the slave trade.

The pods must be harvested when they are very young. Preferably two inches long although three inch pods can also be salvaged. Harvest daily as the pods go quickly from tender to tough with increased size.

Refrigerate unwashed, dry okra pods in the vegetable crisper, loosely wrapped in perforated plastic bags. Wet pods will quickly mold and become slimy. Okra will keep for only two or three days. When the ridges and tips of the pod start to turn dark, use it or lose it. Once it starts to darken, okra will quickly deteriorate.

Nutritional Value & Health Benefits

Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. Nearly half of which is soluble fiber in the form of gums and pectins. Soluble fiber helps to lower serum cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease. The other half is insoluble fiber which helps to keep the intestinal tract healthy decreasing the risk of some forms of cancer, especially colorectal cancer. Nearly 10% of the recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid are also present in a half cup of cooked okra.

Nutrition Facts (1/2 cup sliced, cooked okra)

Calories 25
Dietary Fiber 2 grams
Protein 1.52 grams
Carbohydrates 5.76 grams
Vitamin A 460 IU
Vitamin C 13.04 mg
Folic acid 36.5 micrograms
Calcium 50.4 mg
Iron 0.4 mg
Potassium 256.6 mg
Magnesium 46 mg

Preparation & Serving

Okra exudes a unique mucilaginous juice which is responsible for its thickening power in the famous Louisiana Creole gumbo dish. Aside from gumbo, okra compliments tomatoes, onions and corn, shellfish and fish stock. Okra has a subtle taste, similar to the flavor of eggplant.

Home Preservation

Freezing is the best method for long term home storage of okra. Freeze only young, tender okra. Okra must be blanched before freezing, as with all vegetables. Unblanched okra will quickly become tough and suffer huge nutrient, flavor and color loss during freezing. Follow the procedure outlined below for successful home freezing.

To Prepare Okra for Freezing

Since freezing does not improve the quality of any vegetable, it is important to start with fresh green pods. Avoid pods longer than 2 to 2-1/2 inches long. Okra that is at peak quality for eating is best for freezing.

  1. In a blanching pot or large pot with tight fitting lid, bring about 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.

  2. Meanwhile, wash, and trim of stems of okra pods, leaving caps whole.

  3. Blanch no more than one pound of okra at a time. Drop pods into boiling water and immediately cover with a tight fitting lid.

  4. Start timing the blanching immediately and blanch for four minutes.

  5. Prepare an ice water bath in a large 5 to 6 quart container or use the sink.

  6. Remove the okra from the blanching water with a slotted spoon or blanching basket.

  7. Emerge the okra in the ice water bath for 5 min. or until completely cool. If ice is unavailable, use several changes of cold tap water to cool the vegetables.

  8. Remove from water and drain.

  9. Label and date, quart size, zip-closure freezer bags.

  10. Pack okra into prepared freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible by folding the top portion of the bag over. Gently push air out and seal. Freeze for up to one year at 32°F or below.

Note: Blanching water and ice water bath may be used over and over again. Return blanching water to a boil after each batch of vegetables is blanched and replenish water if necessary.

Recipes

Okra and Corn with Tomatoes

Serve this Carolina favorite over a bowl of long-grain rice with a piece of hot cornbread. The okra should be young, not longer than 2 inches. Vine ripen tomatoes and fresh bell peppers add to the richness of this dish.

  • 2 tablespoons each butter and canola oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced into rounds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon each thyme, red pepper flakes and basil
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
  • 3 large fresh ripe, tomatoes seeded and chopped
  • 4 ears corn, remove kernels, about 2 cups
    (may use frozen or canned whole kernel, drained)
  • 2 cups small okra pods, left whole or 1/4-inch-thick rounds
  • 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

In a 10 inch iron skillet or heavy pan, heat olive oil and add onions, bay leaves, thyme, basil, and red pepper flakes. Sauté, and stir until onions are limp add bell pepper and continue cooking until onions are translucent. Add tomatoes, okra, water, salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low, and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add corn and cook 5 minutes longer. Taste, adjust seasoning if needed. Serve hot.

Makes 6 servings.

Okra and Green Beans

This dish tastes even better after refrigerating overnight. The flavors blend into a wonderful taste sensation. Serve it warm or cold. This dish can also be oven-baked. Instead of simmering, lightly cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F.

  • 3/4 pound fresh okra, uncut
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3/4 pound fresh green beans
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed then chopped
  • 1 cup water plus 2 tablespoonssalt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste

Wash okra pods, trim stems, do not remove caps. If desired soak okra in vinegar for 30 minutes to remove some of the stickiness. Rinse well and drain. Wash beans and cut into 3 inch lengths. Combine water, tomato paste, olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper in a sauce pan and mix well.

Heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comet to boil. Add okra and beans and additional water if necessary to almost cover vegetables.

Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer gently until vegetables are crisp-tender, 20 to 30 minutes.

Makes 6 servings.

Benefits and uses of okra

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can reduce a person’s chances of developing a range of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

The mucilage of okra may also help remove toxins from the body.

The nutrients in okra may make it useful for preventing several health problems, including:

Cancer

Okra, beans, peanuts, and grains contain lectin, which is a type of protein.

In a 2014 study, researchers used lectin from okra in a lab test to treat human breast cancer cells. The treatment reduced cancer cell growth by 63% and killed 72% of the human cancer cells. More studies are needed to see if okra has an effect on cancer in humans.

Okra is a good source of folate. One 2016 review suggested that folate may have preventive effects against breast cancer risk.

A low folate intake may also increase a person’s risk of developing a range of cancers, including cervical, pancreatic, lung, and breast cancer.

However, there is no evidence that taking a folate supplement lowers the risk of cancer. Some scientists think that very high levels of folate may fuel the growth of cancer cells.

Consuming folate from food sources alone is unlikely to have this effect, and people should aim to obtain enough folate from foods, such as okra.

Learn more about the health benefits of folate.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Folate is also important for preventing fetal problems during pregnancy. Low folate levels can lead to pregnancy loss and problems for the child, including conditions such as spina bifida.

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend an intake of 400 mcg of folate each day for adults. Doctors usually advise that women take more folate during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Many women take vitamin supplements during pregnancy. Learn about prenatal vitamins and why they are important.

Diabetes

In 2011, researchers made a powder from the peel and seeds of okra to treat rats with diabetes. After approximately 1 month, the rats that consumed the powder had lower blood sugar and fat levels than those that did not.

More research is needed to confirm whether this treatment would work in humans.

A 2019 review looked at several rodent studies that seemed to confirm okra’s potential as an antidiabetic agent. The authors called for further studies to see if people could use it as a nutraceutical, which is a food with medicinal properties.

Find out more about foods that are good for people with diabetes.

Heart health

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), eating foods that are high in fiber can reduce harmful cholesterol levels in the blood.

High fiber foods lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes. Fiber can also slow heart disease in people who already have it.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend eating 14 g of fiber in every 1000 calories consumed.

The guidelines also recommend that adults consume the following amount of fiber each day:

  • 25.2–28 g per day for females between 19 and 50 years
  • 30.8–33.6 g per day for males between 19 and 50 years

After the age of 50 years, they recommend a daily intake of:

  • 22.4 g for women
  • 28 g for men

Children and teenagers require different amounts of fiber, depending on their age and sex.

People can incorporate fiber into their diet by choosing fibrous foods, such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains.

Why is dietary fiber important? Find out here. /articles/146935.php

Osteoporosis

Vitamin K plays a role in bone formation and blood clotting.

Consuming foods that are good sources of vitamin K may help strengthen bones and prevent fractures.

Okra, Swiss chard, arugula, and spinach are all excellent sources of vitamin K and calcium.

Gastrointestinal health

Dietary fiber helps prevent constipation and maintain a healthy digestive system.

Research suggests that the more fiber a person eats, the less chance they have of developing colorectal cancer.

Fiber in the diet also helps reduce appetite, and it may contribute to weight loss.

In Asian medicine, people add okra extract to foods to protect against irritation and inflammatory gastric diseases. The anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial action may help protect against gastrointestinal problems.

Other health-related uses

Okra seeds can also provide oil and protein, and people have used them as a source of oil in small-scale production.

In regions where food is scarce, the seeds can offer a source of high quality protein.

In medicine, the viscous extract of okra could be useful as a tablet binder, a suspending agent, a serum albumin extender, a plasma replacement, or a blood volume expander.

Okra also has some uses in medicine. Scientists use it to bind the compounds in tablets, to make liquids for suspending compounds, as a replacement for blood plasma, and to expand the volume of blood.

Food Articles, News & Features Section

OKRA – Varieties and Usage Tips

Okra grows in an elongated, lantern shape vegetable. It is a fuzzy, green colored, and ribbed pod that is approximately 2-7 inches in length. This vegetable is more famously known by its rows of tiny seeds and slimy or sticky texture when cut open. Okra is also known as bamia, bindi, bhindi, lady’s finger, and gumbo, is a member of the cotton (Mallow) family.
Okra is a powerhouse of valuable nutrients. It is a good source of vitamin C. It is low in calories and is fat-free.

(See also: Okra History and Facts – Okra Trivia & Statistics – Recipes)

Varieties

  • CLEMSON variety is dark green with angular pods. This okra takes less than two months to mature.
  • EMERALD type is dark green, with smooth round pods.
  • LEE is a spineless type known by its deep bright green, very straight angular pods.
  • ANNIE OAKLEY is a hybrid, spineless kind of okra with bright green, angular pods. It takes less than two months from seeding to maturity.
  • CHINESE Okra is a dark green type grown in California and reaches 10 to 13 inches in length. These extra-long okra pods are sometimes called “ladyfingers.”
  • PURPLE Okra a rare variety you may see at peak times. There is a version grown for its leaves that resemble sorrel in New Guinea.

Availability, Selection, and Storage

Okra is available year-round, with a peak season during the summer months. It is available either frozen or fresh. When buying fresh okra, make sure that you select dry, firm, okra. They should be medium to dark green in color and blemish-free. Fresh okra should be used the same day that it was purchased or stored paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Severe cold temperatures will speed up okra decay. Do not wash the okra pods until ready to use, or it will become slimy.

Preparation

When preparing, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become. Its various uses allow for okra to be added to many different recipes. Okra is commonly used as a thicken agent in soups and stews because of its sticky core. However, okra may also be steamed, boiled, pickled, sautéed, or stir-fried whole. Okra is a sensitive vegetable and should not be cooked in pans made of iron, copper or brass since the chemical properties turns okra black.

Young Versus Mature Okra – What is the difference?

Most okra pods are ready to be harvested in less than two months of planting. If the okra is going be consumed, then these pods must be harvested when they are very young. They are usually picked when they are two to three inches long, or tender stage.
Okra pods grow quickly from the tender to tough stage. Pods are considered mature when they exceed three inches in length. Mature okra is tough and is not recommended for use in certain recipes.

How do I reduce okra slime?

Most people who have eaten or have cooked okra, know about the okra slime. Some recipes call for the whole okra, but how do you deal with the okra slime?
There are few ways to minimize the slime:
Simply trim the off the ends and avoid puncturing the okra capsule.
You can also minimize the slime factor by avoiding the tendency to overcook okra.

Make Okra Part of Your 5 A Day Plan

  • Boil or microwave whole until just tender. Dress with lemon juice and ground pepper.
  • Stew with tomatoes. Serve over rice.
  • Add okra to curries or sauté with spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, or curry powder.
  • If okra is used in a soup, stew or casserole that requires longer cooking, it should be cut up, to exude its juices, and thicken.

  • Okra pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded with corn meal and baked.
  • Sauté okra with corn kernels, onion and sweet peppers for a tasty side dish.
  • Okra has a similar flavor to eggplant and can be used as a substitute in your favorite recipes.
  • Use raw okra in your tossed salads

1. Baby Bubba Hybrid

‘Baby Bubba’ Hybrid seeds are available from Burpee in packages of 60. This plant is appreciated for its small size and suitability for cultivation in containers and small garden plots.

‘Baby Bubba’ Hybrid

Plants are 3-4 feet tall with a diameter of up to 24 inches. Dark green fruits grow up to three inches in length and mature in about 53 days, making this cultivar an excellent choice for cooler climates with shorter growing seasons.

2. Blondy

‘Blondy’ seeds are available from True Leaf Market in one-ounce, four-ounce, and one-pound packages. Seeds are open-pollinated.

‘Blondy’ Open-Pollinated

Dwarf plants reach up to four feet and bear three-inch, pale green, spineless pods in about 50 days. This is another excellent option for cool locales with short growing seasons, as well as patio pots and small spaces.

3. Burgundy

Heirloom ‘Burgundy’ seeds are available from Burpee in packages of 50. Plants may reach five feet in height and up to 48 inches in diameter.

Heirloom ‘Burgundy’

Attractive green leaves contrast with burgundy stems and six- to eight-inch fruit, making this a particularly attractive ornamental option.

Plants mature in 49-60 days. Pods may pale in color during cooking.

4. Cajun Delight

An excellent choice for a short growing season in cooler climates, this hybrid matures in 50-55 days. It will reach a maximum height of four feet.

Hybrid ‘Cajun Delight’

Dark green pods are 3-5 inches long, and slightly curved.

Packets containing 1 gram of ‘Cajun Delight’ seeds, or approximately 18 seeds to get your okra patch started, are available from Seedsurvivor via Amazon.

5. Clemson Spineless

‘Clemson Spineless’ seeds are available from Burpee in packages of 250. Known for being the industry standard and the most popular type on the market, ‘Clemson Spineless’ was an All-America Selections winner in 1939, and has remained a favorite ever since.

‘Clemson Spineless’

Plants reach a height of about four feet, and spread up to 48 inches in diameter.

Early to mature, this heirloom is ready for harvest in 55-60 days. Virtually spineless, slightly curved dark green pods may reach nine inches in length.

6. Cow Horn

If you’re in the South where the growing season is long, and looking for an ornamental conversation starter, this one’s for you.

This giant heirloom takes 90 days to mature. It may grow as tall as 14 feet, and produces enormous, curved pods of up to 14 inches in length!

‘Cow Horn’

Open-pollinated seeds are available from Eden Brothers in 1-ounce, 1/4-pound, and 1-pound packages.

7. Emerald

‘Emerald’ seeds are available from True Leaf Market in one- and four-ounce, and one- and five-pound packages. Seeds are heirloom and open-pollinated.

‘Emerald’ Heirloom

This classic variety was developed by Campbell’s Soup Company in the 1950s, and plants grow up to eight feet tall.

Smooth, dark green, exceptionally straight fruits grow to seven inches. Expect maturity in about 60 days.

8. Go Big

This is a good pick if you’re looking for a wealth of edible fruit, a striking ornamental specimen, or both.

‘Go Big’

‘Go Big’ seeds are available from Burpee in packages of 50. Plants are tall, topping out at up to seven feet with a diameter of up to five feet.

Dark green pods are 7 inches long. Harvest in 60-65 days.

9. Hill Country Red

Open-pollinated ‘Hill Country Red’ seeds are available from True Leaf Market in one-ounce, four-ounce, and one-pound packages.

‘Hill Country Red’

An heirloom from the Texas Hill Country of South Texas, plants top out at six-feet tall, adding structural interest to the garden.

Thick green fruits tinged with red grow up to six inches long. Plants mature in about 64 days.

10. Louisiana Green Velvet

Heirloom open-pollinated ‘Louisiana Green Velvet’ seeds are available from True Leaf Market in one-ounce, four-ounce, and one-pound packages. Plants may reach eight feet tall and bear eight-inch, dark green, spineless pods.

‘Louisiana Green Velvet’

This exceptionally large plant bears fruit abundantly, and makes a bold statement in the landscape. Expect maturity in about 65 days.

11. Perkins Long Pod

This heirloom is an early variety suitable for growing in northern and southern climates. It reaches maturity of about 55 days.

Plants may grow to five feet in height, and bear straight green pods that are about four inches long.

‘Perkins Long Pod’

‘Perkins Long Pod’ seeds are available from Eden Brothers in quantities ranging from a 1-ounce packet to a 5-pound sack.

12. Red Velvet

Organic ‘Red Velvet’ seeds are available from Burpee in packages of 50. Plants grow to five feet with a diameter of up to 48 inches, a good size for container or small-space gardening.

Organic ‘Red Velvet’

Scarlet red fruit is slightly ribbed and can grow up to six inches long. Expect maturity in 55-60 days.

13. Silver Queen

‘Silver Queen’ is a southern belle who loves the heat of summer, and isn’t tolerant of cold weather.

Plants mature in about 80 days, another indicator that this cultivar is suitable for warm regions with a long season for edible gardening.

‘Silver Queen’ Heirloom

An heirloom variety with a large habit that will reach up to six feet tall, it produces creamy-colored ivory-green pods that can grow to seven inches long.

Open-pollinated seeds are available from Eden Brothers in 1-ounce and quarter-pound packages, as well as 1-pound sacks.

Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus), native to Africa and related to hibiscus, arrived in North America in the 1600s. This edible green seed pods quickly became popular in the Deep South as both a side dish and a thickening for gumbo and stews.

As a crop, oka thrives in any climate where corn will grow. The large-flowered, fast-growing plants reach 2 to 6 feet tall depending on the cultivar. Varieties with colorful stems and leaves, such as Burgundy, also make attractive garden borders.

Planting

Okra needs full sun. It will grow in ordinary garden soil but does best in fertile loam, particularly where a nitrogen-fixing crop — such as early peas — grew previously.

In the South, plant the first crop in the early spring and a second crop in June. In short-season areas, start plants indoors six weeks before setting them out (three to four weeks after the last frost date). Sow two seeds per peat pot and clip off the weaker seedling.

When seeding okra directly in the ground, wait until after the soil has warmed and the air temperature reaches at least 60 degrees. Use fresh seed soaked overnight or nick each seed coat with a file to encourage germination.

Sow the seeds 1/2 inch deep in light soil and 1 inch deep in heavy soil; spacing is 3 inches apart in rows 3 feet apart. Thin seedlings to 18 to 24 inches apart, always choosing the strongest of the young plants.

Growing

Kit_LeongGetty Images

When okra is 4 inches tall, mulch to keep out weeds and conserve moisture. Water during dry spells and side-dress with compost every three to four weeks. In areas with long, hot summers, cut the plants back almost to ground level in midsummer and fertilize to produce a second crop.

Solving Common Problems

Okra seldom succumbs to pests or diseases. Hand pick any stink bugs that appear as they can cause misshapen pods. Corn earworms, cabbage loopers, aphids, and flea beetles may also become a problem.

Fusarium wilt, a soilborne disease, is sometimes an issue in hot regions. If the disease causes leaves to yellow and wilt, pull and destroy affected plants. Crop rotation is the best preventive measure.

About 50 to 60 days after planting, edible pods will start to appear. They’re tough when mature, so harvest daily with a sharp knife when they are no more than finger-sized and stems are still tender and easy to cut. Pick frequently and the plants will keep producing until killed by frost. Be sure to remove and compost any mature pods you might have missed earlier.

Many people find their skins are sensitive to the pods’ prickly spines, so wear gloves and long sleeves when harvesting, or plant a spineless variety such as Clemson Spineless.

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