Food of the Week: Okra
Posted on August 7, 2012
Information and photograph Courtesy of www.neurophys.wisc.edu/ravi/okra/
Okra’s scientific name is ”Abelmoschus esculentus” and also ”Hibiscus esculentus”. In various parts of the world, it is known as Okra, Ochro, Okoro, Quimgombo, Quingumbo, Ladies Fingers, Gombo, Kopi Arab, Kacang Bendi, Bhindi (S. Asia), Bendi (Malaysia), Bamia, Bamya or Bamieh (middle east) or Gumbo (Southern USA). Apparently Gumbo is Swahili for okra. In Portugal and Angola, okra is known as Quiabo (plural: Quiabos), and in Cuba, as “quimbombo”. In Japan it is known as okura. Patrick Taylor adds: “Okra has found its way to Taiwan, where it’s called “qiu kui” (pronounced cheeoh kway). That’s the Mandarin Chinese word for it in Taiwan – which might be the same in the PRC, or might not.”
Mr. Jaakko Rahola writes from Finland:
Most (or at least very many) plants have several scientific names (not only two, but three, four and even more), because different scientists have named the plants based on their own ideas of the family relations of the plants. The first part ot the Latin name (always capitalized) is the family name, and the second part (always in lower case) is the species name – in this case “esculentus”, meaning ‘edible’ in Latin. Abelmoschus is derived from the Arabic “abu-l-mosk” (meaning ‘father of musk’), referring to the musk-scented seeds. Hibiscus again is the Greek name for mallow.
In this case, someone thought that okra belongs to the Hibiscus family (mallow plants), and named it accordingly. Later, some other scientist found so many differences from the Hibiscus, that he thought that the plant must get a family name of its own. This renaming of plants in different countries and by different scientists will continue until a final, modern DNA analysis is made on all plants and their real relations will be revealed. And that will take years, if not hundreds of years. We will have to live with several synonyms for most plants.
Okra is found in it’s wild state on the alluvial banks of the Nile and the Egyptians were the first to cultivate it in the basin of the Nile (12′th century BC). It was propagated then through North Africa to the Mediterranean, the Balkans, and India. It arrived then in the Americas at Brazil (1658), Dutch Guinea and at New Orleans before extending in the United States and going up to Philadelphia in 1781.
In the 1800′s slaves from Africa used ground okra as a part of their diet, and this apparently led to the use of ground okra seeds as a coffee substitute by other southerners during the American Civil War blockades of the 1860′s. Even today, ground okra is used in West Africa to make a local soup made from dried and ground okra, baobab leaves or rosselle.
Okra is a rich source of many nutrients, including fiber, vitamin B6 and folic acid. I got the following numbers from the University of Illinois Extension Okra Page.
Okra Nutrition (half-cup cooked okra)
- Calories = 25
- Dietary Fiber = 2 grams
- Protein = 1.5 grams
- Carbohydrates = 5.8 grams
- Vitamin A = 460 IU
- Vitamin C = 13 mg
- Folic acid = 36.5 micrograms
- Calcium = 50 mg
- Iron = 0.4 mg
- Potassium = 256 mg
- Magnesium = 46 mg
These numbers should be used as a guideline only, and if you are on a medically restricted diet please consult your physician and/or dietician.
Sylvia W. Zook, Ph.D. (nutritionist) has very kindly provided the following thought-provoking comments on the many benefits of this versatile vegetable. They are well worth reading. (Dr. Zook has an excellent web site with other nutritional information and recipes, which you can visit at http://www.eatinaftereden.com/)
- The superior fiber found in okra helps to stabilize blood sugar as it curbs the rate at which sugar is absorbed from the intestinal tract.
- Okra’s mucilage not only binds cholesterol but bile acid carrying toxins dumped into it by the filtering liver. But it doesn’t stop there…
- Many alternative health practitioners believe all disease begins in the colon. The okra fiber, absorbing water and ensuring bulk in stools, helps prevent and improve constipation. Fiber in general is helpful for this but okra is one of the best, along with ground flax seed and psyllium. Unlike harsh wheat bran, which can irritate or injure the intestinal tract, okra’s mucilage soothes, and okra facilitates elimination more comfortably by its slippery characteristic many people abhor. In other words, this incredibly valuable vegetable not only binds excess cholesterol and toxins (in bile acids) which cause numerous health problems if not evacuated, but then assures easy passage out of the body of same. Unlike some prescription and over-the-counter drugs for this, the veggie is completely non-toxic, non-habit forming (except for the many who greatly enjoy eating it), has no adverse side effects, is full of nutrients, and is economically within reach of most.
- Further contributing to the health of the intestinal tract, okra fiber (as well as flax and psyllium) has no equal among fibers for feeding the good bacteria (probiotics).
- To retain most of okra’s nutrients and self-digesting enzymes, it should be cooked as little as possible, e.g. with low heat or lightly steamed. Some eat it raw. However, if one is going to fry it (and it is undeniably delicious prepared that way when rolled in cornmeal and salt), only extra virgin olive oil, or UNREFINED coconut butter is recommended (this is NOT the unhealthy partially hydrogenated product found in processed foods.) Organic ghee used by gourmet chefs, has the oil and flavor of butter without the solids, is also excellent for frying okra (does not burn like butter), and may be obtained from the health food store. (requests for sources for unrefined coconut butter and organic ghee may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org).