Okra is one of the most underused and underrated vegetables!
It has many health benefits and uses in food preparation.
It’s very popular in the Southern United States and used to thicken and flavor soups, stews and gumbos. Okra can also be pickled, fried, stewed or baked.
In many parts of the world okra is called Lady’s Fingers. The okra pods are long, slender and tapered at the end, much like a lady’s finger.
Is okra a fruit or a vegetable?
Okra is both!
It’s a fruit that has seeds and tastes like a vegetable.
Like tomatoes and avocadoes, it is botanically considered a fruit, however in the U.S. it is usually treated as a vegetable for culinary purposes.
Fun Facts about Okra:
Okra is a beautiful, flowering plant in the mallow family. Okra, cotton and hibiscus are “cousins.” (See pics below in the how to grow okra section of this blog)
The actual botanical or scientific name for okra is Abelmoschus esculentus. Tuck that nugget of info away for trivia night!
Okra is an edible thickener for soups and stews and has been used for centuries by many different cultures throughout history.
Okra was brought to the United States from Africa by slaves, who called it “ngombo” and later became known as gumbo. Nowadays we associate gumbo with the stew that has okra in it.
Okra seeds can be ground and used to make okra coffee and the seed pods are also used as an ancient remedy for dandruff. They’re high in nutrients and are full of protein!
Medicines made from extracts of Okra are effective against various bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Why is okra slimy?
Okra is mucilaginous, which means it contains a slimy substance called “mucilage.”
This very sticky mucilaginous pulp (gel) is made up of nearly 80% water. This is useful in cleaning, healing and soothing the skin!
The slime on okra is used for temperature regulation and to keep the seed from drying out.
The sticky substance also helps prevent the loss of water in hot weather and protects the okra from insects. But ants love it!
To reduce the slime it is recommended to cut or slice the pods and then freeze them before cooking or sautéing. But more on that later…
Do you Like, Love or hate Okra? Let’s talk more about this disease fighting superfood!
Sadly, a lot of people find that they hate okra because of the sliminess and avoid it as a result.
However it is packed full of great nutrients and antioxidants so if you can get over the slimy texture and try to enjoy the taste, you’ll be doing yourself a favor in more ways than one! Most of the time, the slimy texture can be cooked out of it.
How many calories in 1 cup of okra?
1 cup of okra has about 30 calories, 1g of protein and 0 fat.
Is okra low carb?
There are only 6g of carbs and 2g of fiber so 1 cup of okra only has 4 net carbs!
Okra is a low carb veggie and great for those on a keto diet!
Is Okra a Superfood?
Growing research suggests that okra may be considered an unofficial SUPERFOOD and there are many, many health benefits!
Okra is an antioxidant powerhouse that is rich in vitamins A and C, (both of these vitamins are antioxidants.) Antioxidants neutralize harmful molecules that cause cell damage and may help prevent cancer.
Okra contains folate, vitamin B6 and okra is also a great source of the minerals calcium, iron, manganese, zinc and copper.
It’s also a good source of magnesium and potassium making it great for bone health.
Okra is full of soluble fiber which may aid in the prevention of diabetes.
Fiber also helps decrease cholesterol and reduce risk of cancer.
Okra contains the antioxidant bicarbonate which is found in our stomach acid, making it a great detoxifier.
Some research has shown that okra juice may lower blood triglycerides as well!
Okra is also a super food because it provides lutein and zeaxanthin, which are phytochemicals that can help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Okra is indeed a SUPERFOOD!
It’s extremely healthy for you and I encourage you to find ways to add it to your meal plan and menu!
Can okra help with weight loss?
Okra is very low in calories! Just 30 calories for 1 cup so you can enjoy eating okra without worrying about packing on unnecessary pounds!
Plus, 1 cup of okra is very filling! These 30 calories pack a nutrient dense punch!
If you are trying to lose weight, it’s critical to consume high amounts of low calorie vegetables to help you feel full.
If you are cutting calories, you should try to consume nutrient dense foods to provide your body with the vitamins and minerals it needs to keep you healthy and full of energy!
Okra is a good source of fiber!
Fiber helps to promote digestive health by absorbing toxins from the intestines before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Fiber also slows down digestion and this helps you feel fuller longer and avoid overeating throughout the day.
Research has shown that eating a diet high in fiber can help with the prevention and treatment of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Okra is also good for your digestive system because it contains soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which promote healthy bowel movements!
According to the American Cancer Society, a diet that includes high fiber foods such as okra regularly may decrease your risk of colorectal cancer by about 25%! (I’ll take those odds!)
Fiber is critical to our health! You can read more about the benefits of fiber by clicking here.
Okra and Heart disease
Okra contains pectin, which is a soluble fiber. Soluble fiber binds to cholesterol, which can then be excreted from the body without being reabsorbed.
The soluble fibers in okra are also helpful in lowering LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol) and increasing HDL cholesterol which is known as good cholesterol.
The high fiber content in okra can help to lower blood pressure by lowering sodium levels in the diet, reducing inflammation of the arterial walls and preventing constriction of blood vessels.
Okra contains potassium which helps with healthy heart and blood pressure levels. It also helps to relax the muscles around the heart. Potassium is important for nerve signaling in the body. It keeps your muscles working properly and helps to keep your heartbeat steady and at an even rhythm.
Okra is also a diuretic, meaning that it makes you urinate more, which can help to flush out toxins in the body. This effect of okra can also help to lower blood pressure!
Okra is also an excellent source of vitamin K!
Vitamin K helps prevent osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease. One cup of cooked okra contains 36% of your daily recommended value so it is a great way to improve bone strength especially for postmenopausal women.
Okra may help fight Breast Cancer!
In 2014 researchers used lecithin, a protein found in okra, to treat breast cancer cells in a test tube. Amazingly, it reduced breast cancer cell growth by 63% and killed 72% of the human cancer cells. This study was done in a lab and not performed on humans and more research needs to be done. That’s pretty incredible results though!
Okra contains an anti-cancer chemical compound called beta-sitosterol. Scientists are studying the effects of consuming plants with beta sitosterol for the prevention and treatment of cancer. Researchers also found that beta sitosterol helps prevent the growth and spread of breast cancer cells in lab tests.
Okra contains a lot of Vitamin C and antioxidants, which help fight cancer. It’s also shown an ability to stop several types of human breast cancer cells from growing.
Okra is rich in Vitamin C.
1 cup provides almost 40% of the RDA!
Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that gives our immune system a great boost to fight of germs and reduces the severity and length of colds.
Vitamin C also helps to ward off other infections by boosting the immune system , reducing inflammation and keeping your gums healthy so they can fight off bacteria and viruses in the mouth. It even helps keep fight off bacteria that causes bad breath (halitosis).
Vitamin C is vital for the formation of white blood cells which also keeps you from getting sick .
This powerful vitamin also helps the body produce collagen which is an important structural protein in all tissues in the body, especially tendons, cartilage, skin and bones.
Okra and skin health
Okra is also a good source of vitamin A , which has been associated with increasing the production of collagen and elastin.
Elastin is an important protein that helps to keep skin flexible and elastic so it can resist wrinkles, stretch marks and other aging effects.
Okra and vitamin c together help to keep your skin healthy and may help prevent wrinkles from developing.
Antioxidants are helpful in keeping the skin looking youthful!
You’ve probably heard that antioxidants are really important for your health but do you know exactly what they do? Click here to find out why antioxidants are so vital to our health!
How does Okra fight Type 2 Diabetes?
Okra is effective in lowering blood-sugar levels, thus making it a great way to combat diabetes!
The amino acids found in okra also help balance blood sugar levels by lowering insulin resistance.
Okra has a low glycemic load! This means that the carbohydrates found in okra digest slowly, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Non-starchy vegetables such as okra do not cause insulin spikes, and can actually help to lower blood glucose levels by slowing down digestion.
How to Prepare Okra Water
Some believe if you cut open 2-4 pods of okra, soak them overnight in water, then drink the antioxidant rich okra water in the am, it may help lower your blood sugar levels, protect against heart disease, help boost weight loss and even protect against some cancers.
*Please note that these are considered holistic remedies and always discuss these options with your doctor.
When is okra in season?
Fresh okra is available in late spring/summer and early fall but frozen varieties can be found all year round. Frozen okra has been blanched before freezing which means they have already been pre-cooked or partially cooked before being packaged. This makes it much faster to cook and requires less time to prepare since they are already pre-sliced.
How to buy okra?
When choosing your okra, look for bright green pods that are blemish free. The pods should be no bigger than 4”. Any larger and they may be too tough or woody.
There are also canned varieties of okra that are available year round.
The best way to enjoy this superfood is by cooking fresh pods and freezing them for later use so they can be enjoyed all year long. Freezing will maintain their nutrients and flavor even after being stored for a few months making it one of nature’s most nutrient packed foods!
How to store fresh okra.
Fresh okra is best stored uncut and wrapped in paper towels or a paper bag. Plastic holds in too much moisture and it will quickly rot. It has a short fridge life, usually about 3-4 days.
What does okra taste like?
Okra tastes like a cross between zucchini and eggplant.
It is mild and slightly sweet, but it does have a slimy texture some people don’t like.
GREAT NEWS! Once okra is cooked, the slimy texture usually goes away!
Ways to cook and prepare okra!
Okra is commonly sliced and fried, pickled, or breaded into okra tots.
Okra can also be used in soups, stews, casseroles, and curries.
It goes well with tomatoes sauces such as marinara.
Try it stir fried with onions and peppers for a delicious side dish!
Crispy, Roasted Okra
I love, love, LOVE to oven roast okra. Slice it into coins, sprinkle with Tony Chachere’s seasoning or any other cajun/Creole seasoning and oven roast on a lightly sprayed baking sheet at 350* for 20-30 minutes. Bake longer if your coins are bigger or if you want it crispier. DELISH!
Baked, Okra Fries
Cut the okra in half long ways for fries. Season with your favorite Cajun or Creole seasoning and oven roast on a a lightly sprayed baking sheet at 350* for 20-30 minutes.
You can even dip these “fries” into some ranch. If you don’t want it that spicy, you can use other seasoning. Garlic works well. My family loves Tony’s best.
Can you eat fresh okra raw?
YES! Okra is delish FRESH and can be added to almost any leafy green salad? Baby okra are best for fresh eating.
Have you heard of “smothered okra”? Simply simmer okra, tomatoes, garlic, bell pepper and onion together. You can add in chicken, sausage, or shrimp for a 1 pot meal. Okra and tomatoes are a marriage made in heaven!
Air Fryer Okra
Slice into coins or in half for fries. Lightly season with Tony’s or other Cajun/Creole seasoning. Toss in to air fryer and lightly mist with cooking spray. Cook at about 350* for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
Breaded Okra-Baked or Fried
You can bread okra coins and fry them in oil or use your air fryer. Even oven roast them this way. These resemble tator tots to me and I love them dipped in ketchup. I love almost anything dipped in ketchup. I’m such a kid at heart.
Okra pickles are a refreshing summer side dish or snack! Plus, you get good gut health benefits from anything pickled or fermented.
I’ve saved the BEST FOR LAST! Who can resist a yummy pot of gumbo with lots of okra! Did you know that the sliminess of okra is what helps thickens gumbos, stews and gravies? But don’t worry, often the sliminess is cooked out of okra so you’ll never taste it or feel it.
How to grow okra?
Okra grows best in sandy loam soil with great drainage. You don’t want your okra to get too soggy.
Okra will do well in full sun but will also tolerate light shade. Sow seeds at least 1 inch deep.
Water young plants often when they are first planted since okra is drought tolerant once fully established.
Okra gets huge!
Okra can grow up to 15 feet tall so be sure to give them lots of room in the garden or plant them with corn, beans, squash and cucumbers which are also tall.
You may want to grow a shorter variety like Clemson Spineless.
Okra likes a pH of 6-7 and is said to be one of the most drought tolerant vegetables out there.
When to plant okra?
If you are starting from seed, sow them in indoors 6 weeks before last frost. When you can work the soil, plant them outdoors.
They are frost tender so if you live in colder climates, protect plants with pine straw or mulch completely when the temperature drops below 50*.
What do okra seeds look like?
Okra seeds are small like a dried pea with a tan or brown coating.
Seed depth to sow: 1/2 – 1 inch
Seed spacing- plant seeds 2 inches apart but thin to 12 inch apart and your rows should be about 3 foot apart.
When to harvest Okra?
Harvest the pods when they are about 2-4 inches long. You can harvest them smaller, but if the pods get much bigger than that you may notice a drop in taste and texture. They get hard and woody in texture.
How do I harvest okra?
Cut the stem where it connects to the plant with a pair of scissors or pruning sheers.
How to grow okra in pots?
Okra can be grown in pots but they will grow quite a bit taller than plants grown in the ground. Try to choose smaller or dwarf varieties of okra.
If you start with seeds, sow them indoors 6 weeks before last frost and transplant seedlings after last frost. You can place them outside during the day once the weather and soil has warmed up.
Pots should be 12 inches or more deep so you don’t uproot them when trying to harvest them.
What is your favorite way to eat okra?
I’m curious to know what state you live in and if you can get fresh okra locally.
Be sure to let us know in the Veggie Obsessed Facebook group!
JOIN US to learn more about veggies and plant based eating-with or without meat!
Hey there my friend! My name is Jodie Crandall and I’m a veggie loving certified health and nutrition coach on a journey to spread the word about how amazing veggies are for our health! I am a self-proclaimed “plant-based meat eater” who has recently lost almost 50 pounds by eating more veggies!