What Is Okra And What Does It Taste Like?

Okra gets a bad rap. The much maligned vegetable (Or is it a fruit? More on that later.) suffered an image problem long before celebrity chef Tom Colicchio called it out as his least favorite food. Colicchio, who made the declaration during a 2007 interview with The New York Times, described okra as "slimy." Fair enough, okra can be slimy — but it can also be crispy, and even creamy! It's all in the preparation. One Green Planet advises freezing fresh okra and then cutting it while it's still frozen, or soaking fresh okra in vinegar for 30 minutes prior to cooking to avoid this unpleasant texture. Another option, as suggested by Food & Wine, is cutting the pods vertically into long strips rather than the more traditional horizontal rounds.

But what is okra? Harvesting History describes it as both an ornamental plant and a vegetable. (Although, the vegetable part is cause for debate. Based on its botanical characteristics, Business Insider declared it to be a fruit that tastes like a vegetable.) According to Medmunch, okra has a subtle taste, often described as a close to that of an eggplant or fresh green beans. If not for its inherent sliminess, it seems like okra would probably have a much broader appeal. The pods are also jam-packed with antioxidants and vitamins, making okra a pretty healthy choice (via Healthline).

Use high heat to avoid the slime

A member of the mallow family, according to Gardens All, okra is botanically related to the original marshmallow, a sweet concoction that bore little resemblance to today's sugar-packed snack. Like its cousin marsh mallow (the plant), okra is mucilaginous (via Sustainable Food Center), hence the "slime" — a quality that Harvest to Table says makes it an excellent thickening agent in dishes like gumbo and other stews.

In addition to pre-prep hacks like freezing or soaking in vinegar, cooking method can have a marked impact on the slime factor. Southern Living suggests recipes that call for high heat (like sautéing, roasting, or grilling) work best with the misunderstood ingredient — and let's not forget fried okra. There's (probably) not a food in the world that doesn't taste great crispy deep-fried, right?

Even Tom Colicchio eventually succumbed to okra's appeal. Almost a decade after his hardline assertion in The New York Times, Colicchio good-naturedly back-pedaled when, as reported in the Dallas Observer, he declared an okra dish made by chef John Tesar "one of the best dishes of the night" during an episode of Bravo's Top Chef. If properly prepared okra can prove chef Colicchio wrong, we're sure you can be turned around on the ingredient as well.