Okra, also known as lady’s fingers or gumbo, is a popular vegetable used in many cuisines around the world. While most people are familiar with the green varieties of okra, some may be surprised to find okra that has a rich purple hue. So is okra actually supposed to be purple? Let’s explore this colorful vegetable further.
What Causes Purple Okra?
The vibrant purple color of some okra varieties is caused by the presence of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are antioxidant pigments that are responsible for producing blue, purple, and red colors in plants. In okra specifically, two major anthocyanins are found:
- Cyanidin 3-glucoside
- Cyanidin 3-rutinoside
These anthocyanin compounds accumulate in the outer peel of purple okra pods during growth and development, creating the vibrant exterior color. The inner flesh of the okra pod can remain green or take on hints of pink or purple hues depending on the okra variety.
Popular Varieties of Purple Okra
While green okra is most common, many purple varieties of okra exist. Here are some of the most popular purple okra cultivars:
- Burgundy Okra – Deep reddish-purple pods that turn green when cooked. Pods grow 4-6 inches long.
- Red Velvet Okra – Dark purple pods with bright green insides. Pods grow 3-5 inches long.
- Star of David Okra – Dark purple ridgeed pods with hints of green. Grows up to 6 inches long.
- Hill Country Red Okra – Maroon red pods that can grow over 8 inches long.
There are many more purple and red-hued okra varieties beyond these few. Specialty seed companies offer a wide selection of okra seeds in colors ranging from lavender to burgundy.
How Does Purple Okra Taste?
In terms of flavor and texture, purple okra is quite similar to traditional green okra. When cooked, both green and purple okra have a slippery, mucilaginous interior that thickens stews, soups, and sauces. The edible seeds inside the pods have a pleasant nutty taste.
Some purple okra connoisseurs claim that certain dark-podded varieties have superior flavor over their green counterparts. Many say the pigments that give purple okra its color also imbue it with a richer, more complex taste. However, this is subjective and people’s preferences vary.
Along with providing vibrant color, purple okra packs plenty of nutrition. Some key nutrients found in a 1 cup serving (100 grams) of raw okra pods include:
Both purple and green okra are excellent sources of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and magnesium. But purple okra contains higher concentrations of antioxidant pigments, including:
These antioxidants give purple okra an edge over green okra in terms of nutrition density and overall health benefits.
Potential Health Benefits
The unique antioxidants in purple okra may offer some special health perks. Here are a few potential benefits:
- Anti-inflammatory effects – The anthocyanins in purple okra have demonstrated anti-inflammatory activities that may help reduce chronic inflammation in the body.
- Lower blood sugar – Animal studies show okra extracts may support lower blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity.
- Immune system support – Antioxidants like vitamin C and polyphenols promote proper immune function.
- Digestive aid – The fiber, mucilage, and anti-inflammatory compounds in okra can soothe the digestive tract.
- Heart health – Okra provides antioxidants and fiber that support healthy blood pressure and cholesterol.
More research is needed to determine okra’s protective effects for humans. But the combination of nutrients and antioxidants in okra, especially purple varieties, show promise for improved health.
How to Cook with Purple Okra
Purple okra can be used in place of green okra in any savory recipe. Its pods can be pan-fried, stewed, pickled, or added to soups, curries, and stir fries. To retain the most color, avoid overcooking purple okra. Here are a few quick recipe ideas:
- Grill or roast okra drizzled with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
- Stir fried okra with onions, garlic, spices, and shrimp or chicken.
- Slow cook okra in gumbo or tomato-based stews and curries.
- Pickle crispy okra pods in vinegar.
- Sauté okra with corn, zucchini, and spice blends like Cajun seasoning.
When buying purple okra, look for firm, brightly colored pods under 6 inches long. Avoid any mushy, discolored, or overly mature pods. Store unwashed okra in the fridge for 3-5 days. Frozen okra can keep for about a year.
While most people are familiar with green okra varieties, many don’t know that okra also comes in rich shades of purple, maroon, and red. These colorful pods get their pigments from anthocyanin compounds in the plant. Different varieties of purple okra feature unique hues, flavors, and textures.
Nutritionally, purple okra contains all the benefits of green okra, plus higher concentrations of antioxidants. These antioxidants are linked to anti-inflammatory, blood sugar lowering, and immune supporting effects. Purple okra can be cooked, pickled, and eaten just like green okra for a vibrant addition to soups, stews, and sides.
So next time you spot vivid purple okra at the market, give it a try! The eye-catching pods provide both visual appeal and nutritional perks to meals.