How to preserve okra

In this brief guide, we will answer the question “How to preserve okra” and discuss the different methods used to preserve okra.

How to preserve okra

In the world, the production of okra is about six million tons per year. In 2009–2010, the area under okra crop was 0.43 million hectares, and the production stood at 4.54 million tons. India was the first country in the world, with 3.5 million tons of okra production from over 0.35 million hectares of land. India is the most important country in the world for okra production and shares a share of 67.1%, followed by Nigeria (15.4%) and Sudan (9.3%) (1).

Okra can be preserved by:

  • Refrigerating
  •  Freezing
  • Dehydrating
  • Pickling and canning

Okra, also known as “ladies fingers” in some countries, is a nutritional and versatile vegetable. It is usually cooked as a complementary dish.

There are several methods to cook okra. Okra can be stewed, stir-fried, deep-fried or even cooked as a curry in coconut milk. Okra is also a key ingredient for gumbo recipes.

How to preserve okra by refrigerating

Fresh okra can be preserved by refrigeration for 2 to 3 days. However, stored in polyethylene bags the shelf life can be extended to 12 days, according to a study.  Okra stored in polyethylene followed by plastic sieve container controlled weight loss and delayed senescence significantly, as well as loss of vitamin C (2).

To refrigerate fresh okra:

  • Wrap the okra in a paper towel and place it in a perforated plastic bag.
  • Refrigerate and use within 3 days.

Do not wash the okra before refrigerating as any moisture will make it rot faster. 

How to preserve fresh okra by freezing

Seasonality and perishability of vegetables explain the necessity of applying preservation technologies, such as freezing. The aim is to combine shelf life extension with maintenance of sensory and nutrient characteristics. The main factors affecting the final quality of frozen vegetables are: raw material, processing, including blanching treatment and method of freezing, and post-processing distribution, storage and home-handling (3).

Both fresh and fried okra can be preserved by freezing.

Fresh okra can be frozen for up to a year (3).

To freeze fresh okra:

  • Trim the ends of okra without cutting into the pods.
  • Blanch for a few minutes and then transfer to ice-cold water.
  •  Slice the pods or freeze them whole.
  • Place the okra on a tray lined with parchment paper. Make sure that the pods are not touching each other.
  • Place the tray in the freezer until all the okra pods are frozen.
  • Seal, label and freeze until needed.

Okra can also be fried and then frozen.

How to preserve fried okra by freezing

Fried and then frozen okra will keep well in a freezer for about a year

To freeze fried okra:

  • Wash trim and blanch fresh okra.
  • After blanching, slice the pods diagonally.
  • Make a mixture of flour, cornflour, salt and pepper. Other spices such as cinnamon can be added if needed.
  • Combine the okra with the flour mix.
  • Arrange them on a tray so that the pods are not touching each other.
  • Place in the freezer until the pods are just frozen. The next two steps can be skipped if you want to prep and freeze the okra to deep fry later.
  • Deep fry in vegetable or coconut oil until they are browned.
  • Let the okra cool back down to room temperature.
  • Transfer into ziplock bags and freeze until needed.

How to preserve okra by dehydrating

The traditional method for preserving okra involves slicing and sun drying of the fruit until they become brittle, followed by milling into powder for further use. Since it is an important constituent of Indian food/curries, drying of okra to enhance its keeping quality has been practiced since time immemorial (5).

Okra is another vegetable that dehydrates well. Okra can be dehydrated using a food dehydrator or by using the oven. If using an oven the lowest temperature setting must be used and the okra must be flipped over every few hours (4).

If stored properly, dehydrated okra can last about a year. Both fresh and blanched okra can be dehydrated.

To dehydrate fresh okra:

  • Wash, and dry the okra with a paper towel.
  • Either cut diagonally, slice or leave the okra whole.
  • Coat the okra with a mixture of oil, salt, cayenne pepper and any other preferred spices.
  • Dehydrate the okra until they are dry and brittle.
  • Transfer into an airtight container, label it and store it in a cool dark place.

How to preserve okra by pickling and canning

Pickling or salting is a method of fermenting food to extend its shelf life. It can be considered as one of the oldest preservation methods of food. The pickling process consists of lowering the pH due to conversion of sugar to acid by microorganisms present that are lactic acid bacteria and they naturally present in the surface of the vegetable. The salt also plays an important role in fermentation by drowning out water and nutrients from vegetables and becoming lactic substrates for lactic acid bacteria growth. As the lactic acid grows, sugar will be converted to lactic acid and drop the pH to make the condition become acidic and inhibit the growth of pathogens and other non-acidic tolerant microorganisms especially aerobic spoilage microorganisms that can lead to spoilage (6).

Fresh and tender okra can be preserved by pickling followed by canning. Although both pickling and canning require techniques and are time-consuming, the results are worth it. Pickling also removes the distinct sliminess of okra and

It is important to pick the right okra for canning.  Young and tender okra is the best and you can fit them whole in the canning jars.

Pickled foods must not be eaten in large quantities due to the high salt content and the same holds for pickled okra. Pickled okra can be used to complement sandwiches, burghers.

Pickled and canned okra can be left at room temperature for about a year. After opening, the pickles must be refrigerated.

There are several recipes for pickling okra and all of them use salt, vinegar, sugar and a combination of spices. You can find one such recipe here.

How to pick the best okra for preservation

One cup of okra contains almost 40% of the daily value of vitamin C, which is essential for normal growth and development in the body. It plays an important role in maintaining and repairing tissues, including: skin, teeth, and bones. Additionally, vitamin C is an antioxidant, which neutralizes free radicals that can accumulate in the body and often lead to aging and some diseases (7).

The best okra must be picked when purchasing. Always choose okra that is:

  • Bright green in color: Okra must be bright green. If okra has yellowed, it is too ripe. Okra must not have black spotting in it which indicates bruising.
  • Firm in texture: Okra must have fuzzy outer skin and be firm to the touch and not sticky or too soft.
  • Is just the right size: Most okra is 4 to 6 inches long. Certain recipes require okra with a shorter length. Especially for canning, it is important to use small and tender okra.

Other FAQs about Okra that you may be interested in.

How long do I cook frozen breaded okra in an air fryer?

Can you eat raw okra?

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the question “how to preserve okra” and discussed the different methods used to preserve okra. We also looked at picking the best okra for preservation.

References

  1. Nawaz, Ahmad, et al. In-vitro assessment of food consumption, utilization indices and losses promises of leafworm, Spodoptera litura (Fab.), on okra crop. J Asia-Pacific Entomol, 2020, 23, 60-66.
  2. Babarinde, G. O., and O. A. Fabunmi. Effects of packaging materials and storage temperature on quality of fresh okra (Abelmoschus esculentus) fruit. Agric. Trop. Subtrop, 2009, 42, 151-156.
  3. Giannakourou, M. C., and P. S. Taoukis. Kinetic modelling of vitamin C loss in frozen green vegetables under variable storage conditions. Food chem, 2003, 83, 33-41.
  4. Drying Okra. University of Colorado.
  5. Pendre, N. K., et al. Effect of drying temperature and slice size on quality of dried okra (Abelmoschus esculentus (L.) Moench). J food sci technol, 2012, 49, 378-381. 
  6. Sunmonu, M. O., et al. Nutritional response of Okra to various packaging materials and chemical pickling agents. J Res Forest Wildlife Environ, 2016, 8, 63-72. 
  7. Hongu, Nobuko, Alexandra M. Franklin, and Asuka Suzuki. Okra. 2015. University of Arizona.