What are okras? How healthy are they? How long do okras last? To learn more about these gooey stuff, read on!
History of Okra
Otherwise known as lady fingers, bhindi (Indian) or gumbo (Cajun dialect), okras have existed for thousands of years.
Okra plants are natives of Africa, where they grow naturally along the banks of river Nile.
Their exact place of origin remains a mystery, although southern Ethiopia carries the day in being the first place where they were sighted. They are also found in West African regions where they thrive.
In the 1600s, cultivation of okra was introduced in the U.S.A. through slaves. Moreover, they became widespread in other regions like China, India and South America.
As such, okras are popular not only in African cuisine, but also in numerous other cuisines.
Okras are associated with sliminess, hence they connote a love or hate relationship among people.
What makes them slimy? Well, they owe their sliminess to mucilage – a thick, sugary substance naturally occurring in the pods.
As a result, okras are usually cooked for a considerable period which helps break down the mucilage.
Okras are popularly used in soups such as gumbo since the mucilage aids in thickening. Sautéed okras are also popular in many cuisines.
However, people have devised several tricks that mitigate the gooeyness in okra. From coating okra with batter, deep frying, drying in sunlight, soaking in acidic liquids to searing them on high heat, these methods seem to appease those pestered with the goo.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits of Okra
Putting the gooey stuff aside, okras are highly essential for their nutrients. Okras are choke-full of minerals, with potassium being the highest. They are also rich in vitamin C and numerous elements.
Here is an overview:
Okras contain this crucial mineral in abundance. In fact, a single cup contains 299 grams of potassium.
Our bodies can malfunction without sufficient potassium levels. This is because it facilitates proper functioning of cells, tissues and organs. Potassium maintains intracellular fluid balance.
Besides this, it helps in muscle contraction, water retention, neutralizes high calcium levels, hence preventing kidney stones as well as nerve signal transmission.
This is the second highest mineral found in okras. A whole cup of raw okras has 82 grams of this essential mineral. Calcium is a vital mineral as it promotes bone and teeth health.
Calcium deficiency is associated with bone and muscle diseases like osteoporosis and hypocalcemia.
This mineral is also key in hormonal balance, nerve and muscle function.
Appropriate levels of magnesium in the diet cannot be overemphasized. This is because of its supporting role in the body.
It works with other minerals to boost the immune system, maintain muscle and nerve functions as well as regulating glucose levels.
Other notable nutrients found in okra include vitamin C, K, A, sodium, thiamin, folate, fiber, protein and sugar.
Whereas these are found in small amounts, they still go a long way in supplementing your body.
Shelf Life of Okra
Okra is highly perishable. As such, consume them as soon as possible. Alternatively, preserve them for a longer shelf life.
Both fresh and cooked okra deteriorate quickly. Utilize the refrigerator to store extra portions.
When fresh, raw okra is left at the counter or pantry, deterioration sets in within 3 days. Therefore, place them on the vegetable crisper of your refrigerator.
Don’t wash until you are about to use them. This is because they tend to absorb water. This way, they can last in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Cooked okra keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days.
How to Preserve Okra for a Longer Shelf Life
This preservation technique entails immersing food in brine or vinegar. Pickling okra is a surefire way of extending their shelf life. By pickling, you get to enjoy okra all year round. When pickling okra, do the following:
- Thoroughly wash the okra by scouring the pods to remove soil.
- Use evenly sized okra in each Mason jar. This guarantees uniform pickling.
- Use a specific pickling recipe without altering the ingredient ratio. There are both sweet and sour pickling recipes. Basic ingredients used include vinegar (any variety), water and salt. Spices are optional, depending on your personal preference.
- Arrange whole okras inside mason jars, ensuring you leave ample headspace.
- Boil the other ingredients before pouring over the okra.
- Unopened jars can be stored in the pantry. They keep well for up to 1 year. Store opened jars in the refrigerator and consume within days.
Dehydration is a classic food preservation method. You can dry in the sun, use an oven or dehydrator. When drying okra:
- Thoroughly wash them
- Use them whole or evenly slice them into rings
- Dry until crispy to the touch. For a spicy twist, coat the okra in cayenne pepper or paprika with salt.
- Store dried okra in airtight containers. Avoid moist, humid areas.
- Well dried okra lasts for several months – 6 months in good quality.
If the above methods seem too technical, just use your freezer. Before freezing okra, do the following:
- Blanch them by dipping in boiling water for 3 minutes.
- Shock them in ice water to stop cooking.
- Pat them dry before placing in freezer friendly Ziploc bags or containers.
- Freeze in small batches that you will use once.
- Well frozen okra has a shelf life of 1 year. As such, you will never miss gumbo!
You can easily mistake canning for pickling. However, the major difference between the two is clear. When canning okra,
- Add everything into the mason jars. By everything I mean – well cleaned okra, water, salt or sugar.
- Leave enough headspace.
- Place the jars in a pressure canner or hot water bath and close the lids.
- Can for 25-30 minutes.
- Remove them from the canners and leave to cool.
- The lids should seal themselves while cooling.
- Store unopened jars in the pantry. Well canned okra has a shelf life of up to 2 years!
Yes, you read that right! You may wonder who does salting in this day and age. However, salting is a fantastic way of retaining freshness and quality of okra. Important points to note when salting:
- Use kosher or pickling salt. The usual table salt may have additives which will interfere with the process and alter the food composition.
- Improvise or use a fermenting container/ jar.
- Coat the okra in enough salt.
- Pound the salted okra in a pestle and mortar, before pouring into the jar.
- Add water and more salt.
- Tightly seal the jars and place in a cool, dry area.
Salted okra goes well with grilled meat and roast chicken.
You can easily spot spoiled okra, whether fresh or cooked. Look out for:
- The green pods turn brown or black
- Visible mold growth
- Sunken, mushy pods with slime on the green peel.
Besides being gooey, okras are worth stocking up. If you had never dealt with okra before, read about them in this post. You will find answers to questions such as “how long do okras last?”