• In Yuma County, okra is grown primarily as a seed crop. This year there are about 100 acres of okra being grown for seed in the area.
• Okra probably originated somewhere around Ethiopia, and was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians by the 12th century B.C. Okra came to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the 1700s, probably brought by slaves from West Africa, and was introduced to Western Europe soon after. In Louisiana, the Créoles learned from slaves the use of okra to thicken soups and it is now an essential ingredient in Créole gumbo.
• The name “okra” probably derives from one of the Niger-Congo group of languages (the name for okra in the Twi language is nkuruma). The term okra was in use in English by the late 18th century.
• Okra is a member of the Mallow family, related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhock. It is a tall (6-foot) annual tropical herb cultivated for its edible green seed pod. There is also a red pod variety, which turns green when cooked. It has heart shaped leaves and large, yellow, hibiscus-like flowers. The seed pods are 3-10 inches long, tapering. These tender, unripe seed pods are used as a vegetable. The pods, when cut, exude a mucilaginous juice that is used to thicken stews, and have a flavor somewhat like a cross between asparagus and eggplant.
• Okra is excellent sauteed or fried. Very young, tender pods can be sliced, dipped in egg, breaded with corn meal and fried (a favorite in the Southern U.S.). Saute with corn kernels, onion and sweet peppers. Okra can also be steamed, baked, pickled, boiled or stewed. Because of its similar flavor, it can be used in place of eggplant in many recipes. Use it raw in salads. Avoid long cooking times unless you are making soups, stews or gumbo. The flavor blends well with acid foods such as tomatoes.
• Okra is a good source of vitamins C and A, also B complex vitamins, iron and calcium. It is low in calories, a good source of dietary fiber, and is fat-free.
• Purchase young, tender but firm pods. They should snap easily in half. The best varieties are a rich green color. Store in a paper bag in the warmest part of the refrigerator. It does not store well, so use within two or three days at most.
• Do not wash until ready to use, or okra will become slimy. When preparing, remember that the more it is cut, the slimier it will become. Aluminum pots will discolor it.
• Mature okra pods can be used to make rope and even paper!
Source: Kurt Nolte is an agriculture agent and Yuma County Cooperative Extension director. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 726-3904.