Okra or okro, scientific name Abelmoschus esculentus, is a typical plant of warm countries such as Tunisia, Egypt or Ethiopia but it is also grown in Italy, America and Asia. The fruits of okra, similar to green peppers, are used in the kitchen as vegetables. And what a vegetable! In fact, okra is a very healthy food to which science has dedicated several studies published in international journals. So let's try to understand the properties of okra and its uses in the kitchen.
Okra is a vegetable rich in carbohydrates, fibers, proteins, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, unsaturated fatty acids, but, above all, antioxidants, such as polyphenols and flavonoids, mainly contained in its seeds (Majd et al , Cell J, 2018). Thanks to this antioxidant content, okra proves to be a food capable of increasing the body's resistance to fatigue. Not only that, okra protects the brain, improving learning and memory, and the stomach, it is antidiabetic and counteracts the accumulation of lipids (Tongjaroenbuangam et al, Neurochem Int, 2011 - Xia et al, Nutrients, 2015). Scientific studies have also shown that okra has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-tumor properties and is capable of modulating the action of the immune system (Muhammad Torequl Islam, Phytother Res, 2019). The anti-inflammatory action has also been found to be useful in counteracting depression. In fact, okra contributes to counteracting inflammation of the intestine and this also brings benefits to the brain thanks to the connection, demonstrated by scientists, called the gut-brain axis (Yan et al, Int J Biol Macromol, 2020). Finally, okra also exhibits an antitumor action associated with the synergy of antioxidants, including isoquercetin, a substance more easily assimilable than quercetin, contained in the seeds. In particular, okra has shown to have useful properties in fighting some types of cancer, such as breast, liver, bladder and cervical tumors (Chaemsawang et al, Int J Biomater, 2019). It should be emphasized, however, that okra cannot be considered as a remedy for cancer, but it is certainly an interesting food to be taken into consideration within a diet to prevent diseases and cell degeneration.
Okra in the kitchen
Okra is a perfect ingredient to enrich soups, sauces and stews. However, okra has a drawback, in fact, it contains mucilage that tend to give a slightly slimy consistency to the vegetable when it is cooked. One way to reduce this effect is to cook the okra directly in the tomato sauce, perhaps flavored with onions. Or, before cooking, you can soak the okra in water and vinegar for a couple of hours, then rinse and dry.