February 28, 2024

Okra Oil Seed

by Tessa Desmond in Projects

Okra oil seed study display at the Variety Showcase hosted by the Culinary Breeding Network.  Oct 2023.  Photo by Tessa Lowinske Desmond.

Okra Oil Seed Study

Faculty Lead: Jonathan Conway and Tessa Lowinske Desmond

Collaborating Partners: The Utopian Seed Project

The Okra Oil Seed Study is a project of The Utopian Seed Project (TUSP) based in Asheville, North Carolina.  Together with TUSP and the Conway Lab in Princeton’s Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, we are assessing the oil content in okra seeds to collect data to further inform TUSP’s okra breeding project to breed a new variety of okra for artisanal oil production.  In addition to analysis of okra oil seed content, the Conway Lab is mapping the okra genome.  

In his book, The Whole Okra, Chris Smith, founder and director of TUSP, documents the value of okra as a low-input, hardy, climate resilient crop and also its potential to produce a wide range of agricultural products.  The entirety of the plant is useful: the leaves can be eaten like greens, the pods consumed as a tender vegetable, the flowers are edible, the seeds can be toasted, ground, or pressed, the stalk is fibrous and can be used for cording or weaving.  Smith has made okra ice cream, okra cake, okra paper, okra face cream, and many other okra-based products.  The way we currently use okra is synonymous to how we use “baby corn” if that were the only product we harvested from corn.  The agricultural potential for okra in a climate-uncertain future is significant.  In an effort to encourage farmers to grow more okra, Smith seeks to breed a new variety that would enable artisanal oil production, a high-value product for farmers and just one of the many potential crop outputs.

In 2023, we grew out Smith’s F2 population of okra bred from heirloom, high-oil seed varieties.  Students at The Seed Farm planted, transplanted, tagged, bagged, and harvested okra from 2,000 genetically-unique plants in the field.  The Conway Lab has used NMR analysis to assay these samples and inform selections for the F3 population, which will be planted in 2024.  The breeding project is expected to require at least eight seasons of selection.  

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