Abelmoschus esculentus: Ladies finger, Okra

Family: Malvaceae
Common name: Ladies finger, Okra, Gumbo, Bhindi, Vendakka, Okro, Ochro

A popular vegetable grown very commonly in India, Ladies finger is used extensively in Indian cuisine. Okra plants can grow to a height of 2 meters with broad, palmate leaves having 5-7 lobes.

Flowers are very beautiful, yellow or white, with 5 petals and deep red shading towards the center. Yellow stamens and a deep red velvety style makes the flower very pretty indeed. The flowers then form long green fruits, which are pentagonal in cross-section with numerous white seeds inside. These seeds later turn brown and then black before the fruits break open at the seams releasing the seeds.

The fruit pods, tender leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Ladies finger is steamed, fried, stewed, mashed, grilled or baked in various dishes; and is a staple in Indian kitchens. The fruits are mucilaginous, and this sticky substance is used to thicken soups and sauces.

Okra seeds can be dried, roasted and ground to form substitutes for coffee powder. Oil obtained from ladies finger seeds have a pleasant taste and smell. It can be used in cooking or as a biofuel.

Ladies finger is one of the few vegetables with some protein content, about 2% or 1.9 grams out of 100 grams. It also contains potassium, calcium, sodium as well as Vitamins K, C, A and B6. High levels of fiber contained in this vegetable helps in control of diabetes, cholesterol, heart diseases and stomach ailments.

Test in animals have shown that ladies finger has anti-cancer properties, though there are no enough studies conducted in humans to validate this. Micronutrients contained in ladies’ finger helps in improving immunity, prevents clotting of blood, helps in weight management, maintaining bone density and muscle mass.

A new method of consuming this vegetable is to make ‘okra water’ by soaking the pods overnight in water, and drinking the water in the morning. This water would have a slight jelly-like consistency and a hint of bitterness, but it contains all the benefits of Okra. Okra peels and powdered seeds are also commonly available in many countries.

There are 2 varieties of ladies finger, red and green. Both taste alike, has the same uses and health benefits. There are various methods to reduce the sliminess of Okra in dishes – cooking in high heat, cooking with acidic substances like tomato or vinegar, not cutting into small pieces, are all methods to reduce the slime quotient.

They taste best when the vegetables are tender, harvested a few days after pollination. Older ladies fingers are fibrous and difficult to chew. An easy method to figure out the readiness is to snap the end of the vegetable. If it snaps off fast, it’s tender and ready to eat. If it does not break off quickly, its too mature and cannot be cooked.

Propagation is through seeds.

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