If you’ve seen okra on ingredient lists as you’re perusing cookbooks and recipe sites looking for something delicious to make for dinner, you might have found yourself wondering what this little veggie is.
While okra is typically used as a vegetable in most recipes, it is, botanically speaking, actually a fruit. It is the seed pod of the Abelmoschus esculentus and can be used in everything from gumbo to stir-fries to roasted veggies to pickling.
So, what does okra taste like? This little seed pod has a mild and slightly grassy flavor. You can enhance and deepen the flavor of okra by cooking it at a low temperature over a long period of time. The real magic of okra comes from its texture, which is mucilaginous and great for thickening dishes like gumbo.
Read on to discover what okra is, what it tastes like, how to reduce its sliminess, delicious ways to prepare it, and suitable vegetable substitutions if you can’t find any for your recipe!
What Is Okra?
You may have heard of okra on cooking shows or seen it listed in recipes and might be wondering what exactly okra is.
Technically, what we refer to as okra is the seed pod of the plant Abelmoschus Esculentus, or okra plant. In some regions, it is called lady’s fingers and gumbo.
This crop grows best in hot and humid climates. It is believed to have been brought to North America several centuries ago from Ethiopia.
Since then, it is has become a staple in Southern cuisine and can be used in many delicious preparations, which we’ll get to soon.
While okra is used as a vegetable in cooking, like the tomato, it is also botanically a fruit. The definition of a fruit is the mature and ripened ovary of the plant, which has seeds.
Okra (and other fruits) grows out of a flower and ripens into the long, green, edible seed pod used in cooking.
Even though it is technically a fruit, in most instances okra is going to be used in savory preparations such as gumbo, as a deep-fried snack, pickled, or boiled.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy okra that can impact its taste and its texture.
What Does Okra Taste Like?
Now that you know what okra actually is, you might be wondering what it tastes like. In general, it has a very mild, subtly grassy flavor. If you want to deepen and enhance the flavor you can cook it low and slow for a long time.
It is a great vehicle for other bold flavors and doesn’t tend to overwhelm other ingredients that it is paired with.
However, what really differentiates okra from other fruits and vegetables is that it has a slimy texture. In terms of texture, it is like cacti, such as nopales.
The outside of okra has a soft peach fuzz, which most people don’t mind. It’s what is inside okra that can be divisive.
The sliminess of okra is amazing for thickening stews and soups and gumbos, but on its own some folks really dislike it.
There are ways to reduce the sliminess depending on your preference, which we will get into below.
But that sliminess is what makes okra so unique and it provides beneficial soluble fiber that can be great for your digestion.
Why Is Okra Slimy?
Okra is part of the mallow family of plants, many of which are known for their mucilaginous textures.
Marshmallow root tea is a great example that contains the slimy, mucilaginous fiber. While it may initially be off-putting, it can be really great for your digestive tract and gut health.
Okra is slimy because it has an abundance of soluble fiber, which is what makes it a little gelatinous once it has been sliced open.
Chia seeds and flax seeds are other common foods that have that mucilaginous fiber texture.
For those foods you need to add water first, whereas with okra, the sliminess becomes apparent as soon as you slice it open and start to release the liquid and water inside of the plant.
While this fiber may be a little surprising at first, if you can get used to it, then it can add a real richness and depth to your dishes and help you reach your daily fiber intake.
How To Reduce The Sliminess Of Okra
If you want to reduce okra’s slimy texture, then there are a few little kitchen tips and tricks that you can try out to do so.
It is unlikely you will completely eliminate all the soluble fiber, but you can certainly reduce it enough that you won’t even notice it is there.
A couple of basics include letting your okra reach room temperature before preparing it.
You will also want to rinse it and pat it dry before chopping it up. Don’t wash it until just before you are ready to use it as it may cause some excess sliminess if you store it wet.
1. Try soaking it in vinegar
A popular trick for reducing the mucilaginous texture of okra is to soak it in vinegar for half an hour before you use it.
You will want to cut it into whatever shape you’re going to use in your recipe and then submerge it fully in vinegar.
After 30 minutes or so, remove the okra from the vinegar, give it a rinse, and then pat it dry. Use it as directed in the recipe.
2. Cut your okra into larger pieces
The fiber is released from inside the okra when you cut it. So the more surface area there is to release the fiber, the less slimy your okra will be.
Try to cut it into larger chunks or pieces. You can let it sit for a few minutes and then pat the liquid off the outside before using it.
3. Let it sit in salt
Letting your okra sit in salt for a little while is a trick I use with cucumbers to draw the moisture out of them before I use them in recipes. Since salt attracts moisture, it can pull the liquid to the surface and allow you to rinse it off.
Chop your okra into the size you plan on using it in your recipe.
Generously coat the okra in salt and let it sit on a plate or in a bowl for about 1/2 an hour.
After 1/2 an hour has passed, wipe the okra down with a cloth or paper towel and remove the salt. If some remains, just adjust the seasoning level of your final dish.
4. Poke some holes in the top of the okra
Another quick little trick is to try poking some holes in the top of the okra with a tooth pick and then squeezing some fiber and liquid out of it.
This technique may not remove quite as much mucilage as some others, but it can be quicker.
While none of these techniques are guaranteed to eliminate all the mucilage from your okra, they can help greatly diminish the amount that ends up in your final dish.
What Vegetables Taste Most Like Okra?
If you’ve found a recipe that looks delicious, but you don’t have any okra on hand then you might be wondering what you can use as a substitution. While no other vegetable will be an exact replica, there are a few that will do in a pinch.
What you replace your okra with will depend on how it functions in your recipe.
If the recipe is using okra as a thickener, say in a gumbo dish, then you are going to need to add a vegetable and a thickening agent to replicate both the taste and the texture.
A few vegetables you can use to replace okra in fried preparations or in soups and stews include eggplant, zucchini and other summer squash, and green beans.
Remember, that while these vegetables are going to give you a similar taste, they don’t have the fiber content to thicken.
If you can get your hands on nopal, a type of cactus, then it makes an incredible substitute for okra since it has a similar texture and a lovely flavor that is slightly tart and a little citrusy.
This flavor profile can really brighten up rich and heavy dishes.
If you want to replace okra in a gumbo or stew, where it acts as a flavoring and thickener and you can’t get nopales, then you will want to combine one of the following vegetables:
- Zucchini and summer squash
- Green beans
With one of the following thickening agents:
- Gumbo filé (this is one of the traditional thickeners used in gumbo. It comes from the dried leaves of the North American Sassafras. The leaves are ground down and used to thicken and season food. They have a unique flavor that is similar to root beer).
- Xanthan gum
- Tapioca flour or starch
- Arrowroot flour or starch
- Potato flour or starch
- A roux
As you can see there are several substitutes that you can use to replicate the taste and texture of okra in a recipe.
What Are Some Great Okra Recipes And Preparations?
Okra is an incredibly versatile kitchen ingredient that can be used in tons of different preparations. While it may be most well-known for its use in gumbo, that is just the beginning of what this little seed pod can do for you.
If you want to get creative, you can try a few different cooking methods, such as:
Deep fried okra is a real treat and one of the best ways to make it crispy and delicious and reduce the slimy texture.
You can do everything from a thick batter to a light dusting of flour to add an extra crispy texture to your okra. But don’t be afraid to fry it plain, just as it is.
Another delicious way to prepare and preserve your okra is to pickle it.
You can go the traditional pickling method route and add some delicious spices.
A blend I enjoy starts with a base of apple cider vinegar, which adds a distinct taste that is a little more exciting than plain white vinegar.
Then I add some chili flakes for a spicy kick, as well as paprika, peppercorns, sea salt, and garlic.
Find a recipe for properly pickling your okra and get creative with the spices and flavors that you include.
You can use pickled okra to garnish fancy cocktails, to use as a vehicle for dips, or enjoyed as a plain crunchy snack on their own.
Okra makes a great addition to stir fries and it’s a great way to get a bit of a crispy texture.
Make sure you follow the above tips for reducing the sliminess of your okra if you want them to be crispy.
Conversely, you can also use okra to thicken a stir-fry sauce by chopping it up and using it as is. Add it to your sauce as you cook it then incorporate it into your stir-fry.
I love roasted veggies and roasting okra is a delicious way to make it crispy and crunchy.
Follow these instructions to roast your okra:
- Preheat your oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Wash and pat dry your okra. You can roast small pods whole or if they are larger you may cut them in half lengthwise. If you prefer a smaller bite, you can cut them into rounds.
- Feel free to soak them in vinegar for 1/2 an hour or trying one of the other methods of reducing sliminess before roasting. It’s not necessary but it could make them a little crispier.
- Toss your okra in olive oil, salt, pepper, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and a touch of flour.
- Spread the okra out in a single layer on your baking sheet. Try to leave some space between the pieces, so they don’t end up steaming. If the pieces are touching, they likely won’t get crispy.
- Place in the oven for about 25-30 minutes. You might want to flip them halfway through.
- Once crisp, remove from the oven and enjoy!
As you can see, okra is a super versatile kitchen ingredient and one that is worth getting to know.
It has a mild, grassy flavor that you can deepen by cooking it low and slow for a long time. This little seed pod also has a distinct, mucilaginous texture.
While it may take some time to get used to, this texture is great for thickening soups, stews, and sauces. The fiber is also great for digestion.
You can also reduce the sliminess by soaking okra in vinegar, poking holes in the top of the pod and squeezing the liquid out, or by cutting it into larger pieces and soaking it in salt before using.
Do you have any favorite ways to use okra? Let us know in the comments!