The White Velvet Okra variety (Abelmoschus esculentus v. white velvet) was introduced to the public in 1890 by the Peter Henderson & Company (P.H. & Company) of New York. In the earliest specifications of okra varieties in advertisements and agricultural articles of the early 1800s, okra types were distinguished by color – white, red, purple, and the standard green okra. Breeders began improving these original strains into commercial seed catalogue varieties in the mid-19th century. Throughout the 19th century, the White Velvet variety showed up in various publications accompanied by enthusiastic reviews about its favorable features – long pods, efficient growth, good taste, easy harvesting. It was hybridized from both dwarf and long varieties to maintain plant productivity as well as added size to the pods while removing thorns from the plant.
White Velvet Okra has been a part of southern foodways for over 100 years, making it a distinctly southern vegetable highly appreciated by many southerners, especially in the states of Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. Originally White Velvet Okra was grown and harvested in concentrated areas within the South, specifically Birmingham, Alabama; Mobile, Alabama; Warrior, Alabama; Montgomery, Alabama; Valley Park, Mississippi; and Shreveport, Louisiana. In Alabama its popularity was legendary, with many citizens calling for its commercial cultivation. Unfortunately, while its unusual color and smooth fuzz became popular throughout the South, White Velvet okra disappeared from home menus as commercial farming invaded these communities in favor of other sustainable, less exotic varieties of green okra.
In other varieties, okras’ spines make prepping the vegetables troublesome, but this variety’s smooth velvet fuzz makes it easy to cook, as well as edible raw. After harvesting, the pods need to be laid out to dry and then they can be used in recipes, eaten raw, and do well canned. Historically the variety has seen a number of applications in kitchens, whether it be in a simple garden salad, in a vinegar based pickling method with other vegetables of the like or alone, gumbos, stews or cooked with greens and/or peas. Known for its tender, smooth pods, this variety’s most practiced application is in tomato based vegetable soups. Some prefer it to Green Velvet okra because it does not harden like the Green Velvet okra and is much more attractive in soups and on the table. Also like most okra varieties, White Velvet okra can be chopped into small pieces battered for frying.
As of 2015, White Velvet okra was not commercially produced in the United States. This original seed variety became scarce and only available through a handful of seed companies; therefore, it has become a seemingly exotic variety outside of the south United States and is infrequently grown in communities historically known for its cultivation. The majority of okra grown in the United States today is grown in South Carolina and Georgia, which are outside of the historical area from which White Velvet okra gained its popularity. Isolated within small communities, it is less likely to capture a commercial cultivators eye when scouting prospective future crops for mass production. This variety deserves attention for its continued popularity in these southern communities.