Ladies’ fingers or ochre, is a flowering plant in the mallow family. It has edible green seed pods. The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of West African, Ethiopian, Southeast Asian, and South Asian origins. The plant is cultivated in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate regions around the world and is a notable part of the cuisine of the Southern United States as well as Middle Eastern cuisine, Indian cuisine, Brazilian cuisine and Sri Lankan cuisine.
Read the below article by Pritish Kumar Halder to know about ladies’ fingers and associated facts with it.
Origin and distribution
Okra is an allopolyploid of uncertain parentage. However, 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 West African variety has been described as a cultigen.
The geographical origin of okra is disputed, with supporters of Southeast Asian, South Asian, Ethiopian and West African origins. The Egyptians and Moors of the 12th and 13th centuries used the Arabic word for the plant, bamya, suggesting it had come into Egypt from Arabia, but earlier it was probably taken from Ethiopia to Arabia.
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 European 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. 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 by 1658, when its presence was recorded in Brazil. It was further documented in Suriname in 1686. Okra may have been introduced to southeaster 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.
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 cultivation, the seeds are soaked overnight prior to planting to a depth of 1–2 centimetres (0.39–0.79 in).
It prefers a soil temperature of at least 20 °C (68 °F) for germination, which occurs between six days (soaked seeds) and three weeks. As a tropical plant, it also requires a lot of sunlight, and it should also be cultivated in soil that has a pH between 5.8 and 7, ideally on the acidic side. Seedlings require ample water. The seed pods rapidly become fibrous and woody and, to be edible as a vegetable, must be harvested when immature, usually within a week after pollination. The first harvesting will typically be ready after about 2 months of plantation, and it will be approximately 2-3 inches long.
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, yellow mosaic and root-knot nematodes. Resistance to yellow mosaic virus in A. esculentus was transferred through a cross with Abelmoschus Manihot and resulted in a new variety called Parbhani kranti.
Food and uses
The pods of the plant are mucilaginous, resulting in the characteristic “goo” or slime when the seed pods are cooked; the mucilage contains soluble fibre. One possible way to de-slime okra is to cook it with an acidic food, such as tomatoes, to render the mucilage less viscous. Pods are cooked, pickled, eaten raw, or included in salads. Okra may be used in developing countries to mitigate malnutrition and alleviate food insecurity.
In Cuba and Puerto Rico, the vegetable is referred to as quimbombó, and is used in dishes such as quimbombó guisado (stewed okra), a dish very similar to Southern gumbo. It is also used in traditional dishes in the Dominican Republic, where it is called molondrón. In South Asia, the pods are used in many spicy vegetable preparations as well as cooked with chicken.
Raw okra is 90% water, 2% protein, 7% carbohydrates and contains negligible fat. In a 100-gram reference amount, raw okra is a rich source (20% or more of the Daily Value, DV) of dietary fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, with moderate contents of thiamin, folate and magnesium.
Leaves and seeds
Young okra leaves may be cooked in a similar way to the greens of beets or dandelions, or in salads. Okra seeds may be roasted and ground to form a caffeine-free substitute for coffee. 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 with coffee in every way equal to that imported from Rio.”
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. The oil content of some varieties of the seed is about 40%. At 794 kg/ha, the yield was exceeded only by that of sunflower oil in one trial. A 1920 study found that a sample contained 15% oil.