Monday, November 2, 2009

Okra Seeds as a Coffee Substitute?

One of the burning garden controversies of the 1840s was using okra seeds for coffee. The proponents were proclaiming it as the best thing since ... well, coffee.
Okra Seeds A Substitute For Coffee.—We find in the papers* a letter signed J. F. Callen, addressed to H. L. Ellsworth, declaring that the seeds of Garden Okra, when roasted and used as coffee cannot be distinguished therefrom, and many who have tried it pronounce it equal to the best 'Java.' The beverage is perfectly healthy, and as the seed is easily raised, he thinks it "destined at no distant day, to expel from our markets one of the most extensive articles of import."
We know how expelling coffee from our markets worked.

The comment from the editor was: "This sounds rather windy — but the matter can soon be decided by experiments, and we should be glad if some of our readers who have raised a surplus of of the seeds this season would try them as coffee and let us know the result." Ohio Cultivator vol. 1 No. 1 Columbus, Ohio, January 1, 1845

In the interest of science I sacrificed a half-cup of seeds and an hour of my time to toast and brew up some okra seeds. The resulting concoction was drinkable. With a bit of practice, you could make a brown, mellow-tasting, tolerable substitute for decaffeinated coffee. It was definitely better than Postum or Sanka.


Ingredients: 1/2 cup ripe okra seeds
  1. Put a heavy skillet on medium heat for about 10 minutes to pre-heat.
  2. Dump the seeds into the skillet and stir them frequently or shake the skillet.
    The seeds will go from dark green-black to light gray, then start turning brown
  3. Keep stirring at least until the seeds start popping open - about 10 minutes. You can roast them longer, but cover the skillet or they will be all over the kitchen.
    (this would be a good place to use an old-fashioned popcorn pan)
  4. Remove the seeds from the skillet and let them cool.
  5. Grind the seeds in something (I used a coffee grinder) until they look like coffee. They are brittle and grind faster than real coffee. 
  6. Brew, using about half as much water as you would for real coffee. Or twice as much okra as you would coffee.
*Instead of the blogosphere posting and commenting, our ancestors used a primitive "store and forward" technology called small town newspapers. Editors subscribed to many papers and routinely reprinted anything they thought their own readers would find interesting.


Lazy Gardens said...

Anonymous. I'm not having a problem with the text, using Firefox.

Obscurely Diverse said...

Would you have to still roast the seeds if you, say, let them dry out in the pods a month or so prior? You know, like at the end of the harvest/growing season when you save several pods for seeds and let them dry out naturally. I was just curious, as I'm thinking about trying this okra-based coffee stuff later on and wasn't sure if the roasting was required for aged seeds or not or if it was done to add to the flavor, etc.

Lazy Gardens said...

Yes, you have to roast it to develop the flavor.