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The 8 Best Okra Substitutes [Gumbo +More]

A fresh pile of okra on white background

Okra is a mild-tasting vegetable that has a subtle grassy undertone. Its texture retains a crunch when cooked but turns deliciously tender when slow-cooked. Okra can be used in a variety of ways, including frying, sauteing, roasting, and pickling. In the south of the United States, the vegetable is a key ingredient for flavoring and thickening gumbo. During cooking, it releases a slimy gel that is excellent for thickening food.

If you don’t have any okra or you don’t like its sliminess, then you can use an alternative ingredient. We’ve compiled a list of suitable okra substitutes so that you can finish any recipe without the original ingredient.

What can I use to replace okra in cooking?

To replace okra as a thickening agent in gumbo, soups, and stews, the best options are gumbo filé, roux, xanthan gum, corn starch, or nopales. Vegetables such as zucchini, green beans, and eggplant have a similar flavor and can replace okra as a side dish.

1. Gumbo filé

Best use: Thickener

If you’re making gumbo, we recommend using Gumbo filé as a thickener. North American sassafras leaves are dried and then ground to produce this spicy herb. In addition to thickening your dish, it will also add a unique flavor that is similar to root beer. Although this powder is an excellent replacement for okra, its flavor won’t appeal to everyone. If that’s you then keep reading down the list as other suitable options will work better.

To use Gumbo filé in your next meal, scoop in one tablespoon of this powder for every 2 cups of okra. It can be added during cooking to thicken the sauce; for a flavor additive, stir it in once the pot is removed from the heat.

2. Roux

Best use: Thickener

Although okra is a common ingredient for thickening gumbo, it isn’t essential. There are plenty of other recipes that use a simple roux instead. To make a homemade roux, add two tablespoons of butter to a saucepan and allow it to melt. Next, add two tablespoons of flour and stir until combined. Cook the mixture on low heat until it begins to change color. It will transform from a pale cream into a darker toffee-like color.

Allow the rue to darken sufficiently so that it adds a lovely nutty flavor to the dish, but don’t leave it too long because it will taste unpleasant. The roux can now be added to gumbo stock – as it cooks it will become gelatinous and the starch will thicken the liquid.

Hint: Check out our ultimate guide to making sauce which talks about the roux along with many other sauces.

3. Xanthan gum

Best use: Thickener

Xanthan gum is a lesser-known ingredient in home cooking, but it is commonly used by food manufacturers in products like ice cream and gluten-free cake mixes. A packet of this gum may look expensive, but you only need a tiny amount in each recipe, so a little will go a long way.

Xanthan gum is an excellent option for thickening food without adding extra flavor. Search in the “free-from” section of well-stocked grocery stores or visit a health food store to get a packet of this useful gum.

Okra Substitutes infographic4. Cornstarch

Best use: Thickener

Cornstarch is in most pantries at home so making a simple slurry out of this powder and water is another option for replacing okra as a thickener. This mixture can be made by combining a tablespoon of cold water with two teaspoons of cornstarch in a small bowl. Stir the ingredients with a spoon until combined and then add it to the stew, soup, or gumbo. Continue cooking for 5-10 minutes until it thickens.

A slurry won’t bring extra taste to the dish so long as it is given time to cook through. This differs from a roux, which provides a depth of flavor to food.

For those that can’t eat corn starch, arrowroot or minute tapioca are other suitable options for making a slurry. Once the liquid thickens, it will have a more transparent appearance than what you get from cornstarch, roux, or filé powder.

Note: Cornstarch, arrowroot, and tapioca are all suitable for those on a gluten-free diet.

5. Nopales

Best use: Thickener

Nopales are the edible pads which are a part of the prickly pear cactus and are common in Mexican cuisine. If you want to replace okra with another vegetable that has thickening properties, then this is a good option. They will incorporate a fresh, tart flavor to your food that is unique but not out of place in most dishes.

Use one cup of sliced nopales as a thickener in stews towards the end of cooking. Simmering the pads for 5 to 10 minutes will be sufficient. You can also use this vegetable fresh in salads for a crisp, nutritious option.

6. Zucchini

Best use: Vegetable side dish

If you’re looking to replace okra as a vegetable side dish but don’t need it to be a thickener, then zucchini is a great option. It has a mild flavor and once cooked it offers a similar soft texture.

Related reading: How do I freeze extra zucchini?

7. Asparagus

Best use: Fried whole

A popular side dish and bar snack served in the United States is fried okra. It is coated in cornmeal or flour batter and fried before serving with a dipping sauce like ranch dressing. Asparagus will work well in place of okra for deep frying. Its taste isn’t exactly the same but it still makes a delicious snack that everyone will enjoy. Many other green vegetables will work in this recipe including green beans or even eggplant.

Extra reading: What goes with asparagus?

8. Green beans

Best use: As a pickle

Pickled okra is another popular use for the vegetable and its flavor differs from fresh okra. The pickling process adds acidity which results in less slime. However, if you want a similar snack then you could look at pickling green beans, snap peas, or even sliced green tomatoes. They all have a delicious snap to them which is comparable to okra.

Tip: The crunchy texture of these alternative vegetables makes them suitable for stir-fries and salads as well.

Summary of okra substitutes

SubstituteBest Use
Gumbo filéThickener
Xanthan gumThickener
ThickenerThickener or as a vegetable sidedish
ZucchiniVegetable sidedish
AsparagusFried sidedish
Green beansAs a pickle

Fast facts about okra

  • The vegetable thrives in warmer climates and is often used in Caribbean, Indian, and African dishes. It is also popular in Chinese and Japanese cookery.
  • They are known as “ladies fingers” thanks to their elongated shape.
  • Ethiopian slaves brought the pods to the United States when they first arrived.
  • Although okra is sold canned and frozen it is best to purchase the fresh vegetable.
  • They can be fried, boiled, roasted, or added to cooked stews and salads.

Worth reading:
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Summing up

Okra is a mild-tasting vegetable that is especially useful for thickening dishes like gumbo and stews. It releases a slimy thickening gel and sodt texture to the food it is added to. If you don’t enjoy okra or you can’t get your hands on any then you are best to replace it with gumbo filé, roux, xanthan gum, corn starch, or nopales. Vegetables such as zucchini, green beans, and eggplant have a similar flavor and work well in place of okra as a side dish.

Have you ever cooked with okra before? Did you enjoy its taste and texture? Please let us know in the comments below.