Is Okra a Fruit or Vegetable?

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Okra is often confused with other vegetables such as peas and beans. Is okra a fruit or vegetable?

Okra has long pods that contain edible seeds. The pods are green when young but turn yellowish brown after they mature. They are also called lady fingers because of their shape.

Okra is a flowering plant appreciated for its tasty seed pods. It is cultivated in the tropical environments of South Asia, Africa, and South America. They are also packed with vitamins and minerals.

Okra Dish
Okra Dish

Is Okra a Fruit or Vegetable?

Botanically, okra is a fruit, yet for culinary purposes, it is also considered a vegetable. Okra is a finger-shaped green pod full of edible seeds. They are also known by the popular name “Lady fingers”.

The scientific name for okra is Abelmoschus esculentus plant. It belongs to the Mallow or Malvaceae family. These pods, when cut open, have a slimy texture making them ideal for thickening stews and soups. Used in savory cuisine, they are commonly considered vegetables.

Okra is a Fruit

Biologically, okra is technically fruit. The fruit develops from the plant’s flowers. Blooms may appear in a dazzling yellow and red or delicate purple and white combination. The anatomy of okra fruit is pod-like to contain the seeds necessary for reproduction.

Okra plant flowers contain male and female reproductive parts known as gametes. Blooms feature a pollen tube at the center and male gametes on the sides with the anther. These parts are responsible for fertilization.

Once the flower has been fertilized, small fruit in a cone shape will develop. In less than a week, the okra fruit will be ready to be harvested.

By definition, fruit contains a plant’s reproductive seed and develops from a flower. Okra fits this definition perfectly, so scientifically it is considered a fruit.

Okra Plant Growing
Okra Plant Growing

Okra is a Vegetable

Okra is used as a vegetable in cooking. It is a common ingredient in South American dishes and is regularly included in gumbo. In the Southern United States, it is also a common and popular fried side dish.

According to chefs and their criteria for judging, okra is a vegetable. Fruits are generally used in sweeter dishes. You’ll find them in desserts, smoothies, jams, and marmalade.

For culinary purposes, okra is a vegetable because it is low in sugar and employed in savory dishes.

Okra Health Benefits

Many people don’t appreciate okra’s slimy texture. This slime, though, is nutrient-packed. It is low in calories, but contains protein, limited carbohydrates, fiber, and zero fat.

Okra is unique in that it does contain some protein which many vegetables and fruits do not provide. This fruit is also a great source of vitamins C, K1, A and B6 as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

1. Okra Protects the Heart and Brain

Okra contains lots of antioxidants to fight free radicals responsible for cell damage. Its principal antioxidants are polyphenols such as flavonoids and isoquercetin.

Studies show diets rich in polyphenols can lower the risk of blood clots. Polyphenols also prevent oxidative harm improving cardiovascular health.

Polyphenols also protect brain health from inflammation, particularly during aging.

2. Okra Contains Anticancer Compounds

Okra contains the protein lectin. Laboratory tests show that lectin may prevent the growth of breast cancer cells by as much as 63%.

Other laboratory research demonstrated that okra extract killed melanoma cancer cells in mice.

3. Okra Helps Lower Blood Sugar

High blood sugar levels can lead to the development of type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Laboratory research was performed on mice.

The study demonstrated okra’s effect on blood sugar levels. When okra was eaten or its extract consumed, blood sugar levels decreased. This is thanks to okra being rich in polysaccharides.

Yet, okra has also been shown to interfere with medications used in the treatment of diabetes. Check with your doctor before integrating it into your diet.

Spiky Okra
Spiky Okra

Okra Surprising Facts

Besides its health benefits, there are some also useful and surprising facts about okra:

1. Okra Leaves Contain Cyanide

The okra plant’s foliage contains cyanide, which is lethal. But cyanide is a common component in plants. 5 minutes of boiling neutralizes its poisonous effect.

Who can guess how many times we’ve eaten natural plant cyanide? We didn’t realize it and we weren’t harmed?

2. Okra Features Natural Defenses Against Insects

Okra features small parts that resemble hair. These plant hairs are the plant’s natural defenses against attacks from pests.

3. Okra Appears Conical or Cylindrical

Many of us would describe okra as having a cylindrical structure. Some may even describe a conical appearance to its tip. Instead, okra is pentagonal featuring five individual chambers for hosting seeds.

4. Okra Is Slimy

Yes, indeed, okra does produce a slime that may resemble stretchy, fluffy Ziggy. But even if you don’t like the feel of slime, know that this substance is incredibly healthy.

What we consider slime is produced by the okra’s mucilage to protect the plant’s pods from drying out. It’s great for digestion and is an alternative for soluble roughage.

5. Okra Attracts Pollinators

Okra blooms attract bees and butterflies. These pollinators guarantee pollination. Without pollination, there will not be any fruits. It stands to reason that more okra flowers mean more fruit in your garden!

Okra Sliced Open with SEeds
Okra Sliced Open with SEeds

Okra is Both a Fruit and Vegetable Final Thoughts

Okra is both a fruit and vegetable. You needn’t worry about eating too much okra since it doesn’t contain high amounts of calories. It’s also beneficial to our bodies with its high dietary fiber and nutritional content. 

Learn more about other fruits and vegetables with these articles: 

Fast Growing Trees and Plants

Photo of author

Written by:

Denise Davis
Denise Davis is an avid gardener, deeply rooted in growing organic veggies and crafting homemade fertilizers. She cherishes the earthy essence of composting and the continuous learning that gardening provides. Denise sees gardening as a holistic activity, offering physical and mental benefits alongside the joy of consuming what you cultivate. Her passion is to inspire others to embrace gardening as a rewarding, healthful lifestyle.

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