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Okra - An ancient food source

Published on October 4th 2021
Okra has a longstanding history with the African continent. It is one of those plants handed down from parent to child or one that makes it into the travel bag when you move. The controversial taste of the pods draws both fans and naysayers alike.
Where did it come from and how do people eat it? All this and more in today's article.
Image by elouis from Pixabay.

History of Okra

The history of this strange crop is shrouded in mystery as records are few and far between. Food historians postulate that Okra may have originated in central Africa, possibly Ethiopia (where it still grows wild). Sometime during the 12th century, the crop made its way into Egypt, where it was cultivated in large quantities and distributed to other areas of Europe, including France, India and Arabia.


Abelmoschus esculentus

Fun Fact | The name okra is derived from the word quingombo, a Portuguese corruption based on the African name for the plant quillobo.
Its widespread use in the South of the USA is largely thanks to the African-American population thought to have brought it with them. Another theory is that French colonists brought it over from France when they settled in Philadelphia. Either way, it has withstood the test of time.
okra flower
Image by Talib abdulla from Pixabay.

Grow & care

Okra is a tropical or subtropical crop that requires a hot summers day to flourish. Take care not to start seeds too early, as they will not survive a cold snap.
Sowing suggestions:
  • Season: Spring and Summer
  • Direct sowing: Yes, it can be directly sown
  • Sowing depth: 1cm
  • Water: Keep moist throughout germination
  • Soil: Fertile, well-draining
  • Sun exposure: Full sun
  • Spacing: 30cm apart
  • Water: Okra is tolerant of some underwatering. Water every 7-10 days. A higher crop is expected with more frequent watering.
  • Fertiliser: A general 10:10:10 mixed into the soil
  • Days to harvest: 55 Days
Mayford seed stockists
okra recipe
Image by 宏和 東涌 from Pixabay.


Many will advise you that raw (or even cooked) okra is slimy and unpalatable. I am here to tell you that is not the case. There is a multitude of recipes to suit your tastes. If you are stuck with several mature Okra, the thick sap is ideal as a thickening agent for soups/stews or sauces. If the fruit is not to your taste, then you can always opt to eat the flowers (a delicacy onto itself).
Here are some suggestions:
Roasted okra
  • Young okra of 3-4 cm
  • Butter
Slice the baby okra in half and grill until lightly crispy. Serve with other stirred vegetables or as a side dish with a salsa.
Pimiento Cheese-stuffed Pickled okra
This one is a fan favourite for finger foods. A brilliant appetizer for those summer barbecues. The recipe by Vishwesh Bhatt is easy and quick to boot. For a printout of the recipe see here.
Okra Sauce The West African way
Okra sauce can be used as a condiment with fufu or rice. The thickening agent is in the seeds and, depending on the okra chosen, will differ slightly in consistency.
  • 250g okra
  • 1 Chilli pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
Dice the okra with the chilli and garlic. If you would like a smoother texture to the sauce, I would recommend using a mincer. Once you have achieved the texture you would like, you can go ahead and add the lemon juice and salt. Store in a sterilized glass jar.
For more recipes see below:

Bon appétit! Please leave your own okra recipe recommendations in the comments below.

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