|Okra is good for you.|
Eat This Now: Okra
In the south, it’s available year-round, but for the rest of us, summer is a great time to take advantage of fresh okra. While it looks like a ridged pepper, okra belongs to the same family as hibiscus and cotton, and likely came to the U.S. from Africa more than three centuries ago.
The food: Okra is appealing for its tender fruit and leaves, but perhaps its most unusual feature is the gummy, gelatinous substance released from its pods when cooked. That sticky agent makes it a popular ingredient in gumbos and soups where it acts as a thickener, but if it’s not to your liking, some cooks recommend quick-frying sliced okra in a saute pan with some cornmeal.
The trend: Packed with fibers that can help to lower cholesterol, okra also contains nearly 10% of daily recommended levels of vitamin B6 and folic acid. And because it is relatively simple to grow in warm climates, okra is becoming popular in north and south China. “It was the preferred vegetable for the Olympic athletes of the Beijing Olympic Games,” says Kantha Shelke, a food scientist at Corvus Blue LLC and spokesperson for the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). And okra may have some other effects to thank for that. “Because of its physiological effects, it has gained some interesting names including ‘green panax’ in Japan and ‘plant viagra’ in the USA,” she says. “The polysaccharides in okra are thought to open up the arteries in a similar way to Viagra.”
While okra is a popular staple in some international cuisines, Americans are still warming up to the vegetable. According to Shelke, who studies food trends, okra chips are gaining popularity in the appetizer menus of Indian and vegetarian restaurants. And at the New York City Greenmarket, Eugena Yoo of Lani’s Farm in Bordentown, New Jersey says immigrant communities gravitate toward the in-season vegetable, since they tend to recognize it and are aware of its health benefits.
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