Foodie Tuesday: Okra, Part 1 – History, Health and Beauty Benefits


Where Did Okra Come From?

this is an okra plantAmong the many vegetables that West Africans brought with them on the slave ships was okra, the seeds for which some historians believe people purposely hid in their hair.

The name for this vegetable, also known as “lady fingers” probably derives from the Niger-Congo group of languages. For instance, in the West African Twi language, okra is called nkuruma. In Louisiana, slaves taught Creoles how to use okra (called gombo in French) to thicken soups and the vegetable is an essential ingredient in the dish that is now called “gumbo.”

Okra is a vegetable with a long history. Historians believe that okra was cultivated in Ethiopia as far back as the 12th century B.C, making its way from there to West Africa. During the years of the Atlantic slave trade, it spread across the world. You’ll now see okra in African, Middle Eastern, Greek, Turkish, Indian, Caribbean, and South American cuisines.

Health Benefits

okra pods - the vegetable comes in both purple and green varietiesIn Japan’s Kowchi Prefecture, where farmers specialize in growing okra, residents credit their good health and beautiful smiles to the vegetable. And no wonder! One-half cup of this superfood contains 83.6 mcg of folate, or 22% of your daily requirement. It’s also high in a number of other B vitamins, as well as vitamin C and A, iron, and calcium. Okra’s high fiber content makes it useful for digestion.  In addition, mucilage and fiber found in okra helps adjust blood sugar by regulating its absorption in the small intestine, which makes it a great food for people who are concerned about Type II Diabetes.

Beauty Benefits

Cleopatra of Egypt and Yang Guifei of China, both of whom were considered beautiful women, loved to eat okra for its health and beauty benefits.  Okra can become “sticky” when cooked using certain techniques; it’s this slimy quality that makes it a good thickener in soups and stews. It also makes it a good setting lotion (see this recipe from Black Hair Media), final hair rinse, natural hair gel and lice eradicator. To make a natural okra-based conditioner:

  1.  Boil horizontally sliced okra till the brew become maximally slimy.
  2. Cool it and add a few drops of lemon or your favorite natural scent.
  3. Use this as your last hair rinse for body and softness.

Okra, Part 2 – Cooking Okra w/out the Slime

Tune in next Tuesday for information on how to cook okra, including a couple of really tasty recipes that use techniques that prevent it becoming “slimy.”

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