Okra is a relative of the hibiscus flower and comes from the
tropics of the eastern hemisphere.
Its exact place of origin is Abyssinia, an area which
includes present-day Ethiopia, the mountains of Eritrea and the eastern
highlands of Sudan.
Today, okra is widely cultivated in the tropics and
subtropics of the western hemisphere, and thrives in most tropical Asian
countries, including Malaysia, India, Indonesia as well as Africa and the
Although it was cultivated in Egypt for hundreds of years,
there was not much record of it.
It was probably taken to Egypt by Muslims from the east who conquered the land in
the 7th century.
The plant made its way from Ethiopia to Arabia across the Red Sea and from there, it spread to
the Mediterranean countries and to India after the beginning of the Christian era.
French colonists introduced okra to the Americas in the early 1700s, hence its prominence in the
French-influenced cuisine of Louisiana.
But okra arrived in the New World before 1658; it came from West Africa to Brazil and it was
Africa gave okra its name too. The word "okra" is derived from nkuruma, the word for okra in the
Twi language of West Africa.
Other useful info about
These days, most people call okra ladies' finger, because of
its long, slender, elegant pointed green pod.
Its other names include gumbo in America's Deep South,
bhindi in India, and bamies in the eastern Mediterranean and Arab countries. In
Malay, it is called bendi, a derivative from Hindi.
The plant is a fast-growing shrub which can grow to about
Okra thrives in high temperatures and is tolerant of high
rainfall. Several varieties are cultivated in Malaysia, and the pods vary in
length, shape and colour.
The leaves are heart-shaped and the yellow flowers have a crimson
centre. The pod, hairy at the base, is long and tapering, and contains numerous oval seeds.
Young pods may be harvested from between two and six months from sowing, and about 5-10 days
Harvesting of young pods is recommended since mature ones become fibrous.
How to use okra
Some people don't appreciate okra, considering it too "gooey", or just simply do
not know how to cook it.
A common mistake is selecting pods which are far too old. When buying, look for bright, fresh,
green pods about 10cm long that feel firm and crisp. Avoid blemished pods. The storage period is normally up to 10
The green pods, resembling immature bananas, secrete a mucilaginous or glutinous substance when
cooking, which acts as a thickener in soups and
A notable dish is, of course, the gumbo of southern United States. The word "gumbo" was
originally a synonym of okra in the Bantu language, and is still used in America. It is an aromatic soup-stew
characteristic of the Creole cuisine of Louisiana, combining African, American, Indian and European elements. Okra,
an essential ingredient, is counted on for its ability to give body to the sauce.
There are many ways
to prepare okra. The pods can be eaten raw in salads.
They can be sliced, dipped in cornflour and deep fried but more popularly, they are used in
soups and stews. In recent years, the okra has become an important commercial crop in southern United States.
In Malaysia and other Asian countries, okra is widely featured in curries. Together with chilli
and brinjal, okra is also used to make Yong Tow Foo. It is sliced open and its centre emptied, and stuffed with
fish or meat paste.
If you want to give it a try visit our okra recipes section. Enjoy!