There is a lot of controversies about ‘okro’ or should I say ‘okra’. Some are confused in regards to the name, whether to call it ‘okro’ or ‘okra’. While some are obscured about it’s geographical origin. Some are even confused whether the plant is a fruit or vegetable. Lol! The confusion is too much. For clarity, we will be discussing about the correct word, ‘okro’ or ‘okra’.
In terms of description, okra is scientifically called Abelmoschus esculentus of the family of Malvaceae. It is a well-known plant in many English-speaking countries as ‘lady’s fingers’ or ‘gumbo’. It is a flowering plant in the mallow family, related to cotton and hibiscus. It is valued for its edible green seed pods.
Here’s the clarity, Okra is a French slang for the fruit of the Okro plant. The two names are different because those living in Nigeria, Ghana and other parts of West Africa have continued to call it Okro, while those living in Canada, the Philippines, Liberia and the US have embraced the name Okra.
It is also believed that the word “okra” may have come from a corruption of the West African name for the plant, ‘Nkruma’. In Swahili, it’s called ‘gumbo’, and the people of the Mediterranean call it ‘Bamyia’. Okra is a native African food, it is believed by many to have come to America with the African slaves.
Prior to civilisation, the Portuguese called Okra ‘Quiabo’ while in Spanish, it is called ‘Quingombo’. It is a warm-season crop that originated from India and was cultivated by the Egyptians in the 12th century AD, and arrived in the US in the 18th century with the slave trade. It is also very famous in many parts of Brazil, among many other countries.
There is also some dispute about where the plant originated from. Some believe it was most likely be somewhere in West Africa. But, we do know that it was cultivated by ancient Egyptians; ancient Egypt was called Kemet, which means ‘black land’ and is believed to have referred to the generative soil in the region.
To also clear the controversy about whether ‘Okro’ or ‘Okra’ is a vegetable or a fruit. The plant is a vegetable for culinary purposes, but botanically it’s a fruit, as it is the seed-bearing part of the plant. Okra can be divisive for its slimy texture.
In terms of the dishes, it is called ‘Okra soup’ by the Igbos, ‘Obe ila’ by the Yorubas and ‘Otong soup’ by the Efik or Ibibio. It is a versatile dish that can be enjoyed with all kinds of swallow such as eba, semovita, wheat, pounded yam and even eko, which is a type of corn meal.
In the Igboland, it is called ‘okuru’. Somehow, it was introduced to the Americas by Igbo slaves and ‘okuru’ gradually became the English word, Okra.
Okra soup is a commonly served in Nigeria. It is typically made of okra, onions, habanero pepper, red bell pepper, locust bean, and various seasonings.
Okra has a lot of health benefits. This includes:
- It is rich in vitamins A, C, vitamin B complex like niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.
- It is rich in dietary fibre and mucilage which have a number of pertinent nutritional benefits.
- It also contain antioxidants that help reduce the risk if serious health conditions like stroke, cancer, diabetes, and heart diseases.
- Okro is also a good source of magnesium, manganese, calcium and iron.
It is also important to know that Okro pod can even be eaten raw. The less cooked okra is, the better it is for you. Slice off the stem, cut the pods into 1-inch pieces and give them a quick saute to reduce the green taste.