What is Bitter Melon/ Bitter Gourd?
Momordica charantia or Bitter Melon is the edible fruit-pod of a tendril-bearing vine native to India, and is now widely cultivated in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean islands. It is harvested before it fully ripens otherwise it becomes increasingly bitter. The plant’s most prominent characteristics are its jagged warty texture and bitter taste.
Botanically, it belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family and is a close relative to the cantaloupes, cucumber, and squash. Apart from its scientific name, it also has many other names in different languages such as Ampalaya in Filipino, Cerasee in Jamaican, and Karila.
However, most people simply recognize it as bitter melon or bitter gourd due to its awful taste. Bitter melons or bitter gourds vary in shapes and sizes. Despite its sharp and acrid taste, bitter melon is present in many Asian dishes including Chinese, Japanese, and South Indian cuisines.
Moreover, bitter melon is just as prevalent in herbal medicine as much as its use in Asian culinary applications. The use of bitter melon in traditional medicine dates back 600 years ago. At present, pharmacological research and clinical trials found that the fruit contain several health benefits, particularly hypoglycemic effects.
Bitter Melon or Bitter Gourd health benefits includes managing blood sugar and treating diabetes, enhancing body immunity, hemorrhoid relief, help sharpen vision, relieving asthma, enhance skin and treat skin conditions, plays role in cancer prevention and helps treat HIV and herpes. Other benefits includes reducing cholesterol levels, promoting bone health and promoting weight loss and good digestion.
Bitter Melon History
The bitter melon is (as the name suggests) a highly bitter fruit that has been used for both medicinal and culinary purposes since ancient times in various parts of the world. Originally native to India and some parts of Africa, it soon spread via trade and introduction to China, Japan, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia, as well as selected areas of Northern and Eastern Europe. While not at all related to the melon family of plants, it has been referred to as such very commonly in the English speaking world, although a more fitting term would be ‘bitter gourd’.
The bitter gourd is a vine that is very discernable for it’s large, almost maple-leaf shaped leaves. The fruits of the vine itself are medium to large elongated gourds replete with very discernable ridges or indentations in the flesh of the fruit, so much so that it resembles (from a distance) a lumpy, shriveled-up cucumber. Due to its spread from its native soil and its acclimatization to other areas, other varieties of bitter melons also exists, each with their own unique physical characteristics, although the most popular varieties employed for both medicinal and culinary purposes is chiefly the Indo-Chinese and Indian varieties (the latter taking on a ‘spikier’ appearance than the former)
Bitter Melon Types
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The cultivar common in China is 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular “teeth” and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm (2.4–3.9 in) in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in Bangladesh, India (common name ‘Karela’), Pakistan, Nepal and other countries in South Asia. The sub-continent variety is most popular in Bangladesh and India.
Bitter Melon Nutrition
Momordica charantia goes by several common names around the world, including bitter melon, bitter gourd, balsam, bitter apple and carilla fruit. It belongs to the cucurbitaceae plant family and today is primarily grown in two varieties for its medicinal benefits (M. charantia var. charantia and M. charantia var. muricata), mostly throughout parts of India.
Over a dozen different species of the plant can be found growing throughout the world, and the beneficial properties, taste, texture, size and appearance differ from plant species to species. The most widely grown type of bitter melon plant produces a small, round fruit that has a distinct, highly sour/tart taste. The immature fruit is sometimes eaten as a vegetable and added to stir-fries or other recipes, especially throughout Asia. It can be consumed both raw and when cooked, as well as used to make a concentrated extract that contains high levels of anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral compounds.
According to the National Bitter Melon Council, at least 32 active chemicals have been identified in bitter melon.
What gives the bitter melon plant it’s signature sour flavor is a type of alkaloid momordicine compound, which is produced in the plant’s fruit and leaves.
In immature vegetable form, bitter melon is also a good source of nutrients including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and phosphorus.
One of its most important attributes, Momordica charantia contains biologically active phytonutrients and antioxidants. These include chemical compounds such as phenolic acids, glycosides, saponins, alkaloids, fixed oils, triterpenes, insulin-like peptides, and certain types of anti-inflammatory proteins and steroids.
Studies have identified specific phenolic and flavonoid compounds within bitter melon that are responsible for many of its anti-diabetic and anti-cancer effects. These include gallic acid, tannic acid, catechin, caffeic acid, p-coumaric, gentisic acid, chlorogenic acid and epicatechin. Research shows these help to reduce inflammation, balance hormones, regulate appetite, help prevent obesity, prevent tumor growth and much more.
Amount Per 100 grams
- Calories 34
- Fat 0.2 g
- Cholesterol 0 mg
- Sodium 13 mg
- Potassium 602 mg – 17% RDA
- Total Carbohydrate 7 g – 2% RDA
- Dietary fiber 1.9 g – 7% RDA
- Sugar 1 g
- Protein 3.6 g – 7% RDA
- Vitamin A 48% RDA
- Vitamin C 92% RDA
- Calcium 4% RDA
- Iron 5% RDA
- Vitamin B-6 40% RDA
- Magnesium 23% RDA
Nutritional Facts Of Bitter Melon
|BITTER MELON (MOMORDICA CHARANTIA), FRESH, RAW, NUTRITIVE VALUE PER 100 G|
|PRINCIPLE||NUTRIENT VALUE||PERCENTAGE OF RDA|
|Total Fat||0.17 g||0.5%|
|Dietary Fiber||2.80 g||7%|
|Pantothenic acid||0.212 mg||4%|
|Vitamin A||471 IU||16%|
|Vitamin C||84 mg||140%|
Vitamins and Minerals
Bitter melon nutrition is quite good when compared to more well-known fruits such as cantaloupe. Very bitter because of the cucurbitacins, the fruit is blanched or soaked in salt water to reduce the bitterness, then pickled, stir-fried or stuffed. The bitter gourd or melon is a good source of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, pantothenic acid and vitamin B-6. Bitter melon has 13.4g choline (to cantaloupe’s 11) and at 63g has twice the folate of cantaloupe. Lutein, a crucial component of healthy skin, eyes, nerves and hair, is at an unbelievable 1,641g (to cantaloupe’s 41). The fruit, shoots and flowers are eaten as greens, and are high in calcium, carotene and riboflavin.
- Calories: Bitter gourd is quite low in calories with a 100 gram serving providing just 17 calories.
- Vitamin C: Bitter gourd is an excellent source of vitamin C with 100 grams of raw pods providing 84 mg of this vitamin, which is equivalent to 140% of Recommended Daily Intake (RDI).
- Folates: Fresh pods are a good source of folates. 100 grams of fresh pods provide 72 µg of folate which is equivalent to 18% of RDI.
- B-vitamins: It is also a good source of B-vitamins like niacin or Vitamin B3, pantothenic acid or Vitamin B5 and pyridoxine or Vitamin B6.
Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
1. Controls Blood Sugar
Bitter melon has a significant levels of charntin (peptides that resemble insulin) and alkaloids which help in reducing the blood sugar levels. Bitter melon also helps to prevent unpredictable spikes and drops in insulin levels by regulating the metabolism and use of sugar the body has consumed.
Findings from both human and animal studies have demonstrated a hypoglycemic effect of concentrated bitter melon extract, meaning it helps to lower blood glucose (sugar) levels and regulate the body’s use of insulin. In many ways, bitter melon extract acts just like insulin that the body produces naturally. The Journal of Ethnopharmacology reports that “Over 100 studies using modern techniques have authenticated its use in diabetes and its complications.” Diabetic symptoms and complications that bitter melon extract can help to manage include:
- Insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels
- Nephropathy (kidney damage)
- Eye disorders such as cataracts or glaucoma
- Hormonal irregularities and menstrual changes in women
- Heart complications and blood vessel damage
- While multiple studies have found that Momordica charantia can be beneficial in normalizing blood sugar and
- managing diabetes, its effects seem to depend on how it is consumed. A 2013 study published in the Journal of
- Agricultural Food Studies showed that bitter melon consumed in both raw or juice form helps to lower blood glucose levels in healthy and diabetic animals, although other studies have found that responsiveness differs depending on the individual.
This study analyzed the hypoglycemic effects of bitter melon extract and seeds on mice with either normal or elevated blood sugar levels. The data showed that bitter melon extract (1 g/kg) significantly lowered the blood glucose level of both normal and diabetic mice. It did so primarily by regulating the insulin signaling pathways in muscles and fat cells (adipose tissues), helping cells to take up more glucose from the blood as needed. Bitter melon was shown to target insulin receptor sites and stimulate downstream pathways, leading researchers to conclude it can serve as a beneficial “regulator of glucose metabolism.”
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Other research has identified a mixture of active constituents within bitter melon that are responsible for its anti-diabetic abilities. These include: steroidal saponins (known as charantins), insulin-like peptides and alkaloids, which are most heavily concentrated in fruit of the Momordica charantia plant.
Bitter melon has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties which help purify the blood thereby promoting skin care. Its also effective in treating various skin disorders such as eczema and psoriasis. Bitter melon also has anti inflammatory properties that help reduce the irritating itching linked with skin conditions and infections such as ringworm and psoriasis.
2. Prevents Skin Problems
The regular consumption of bitter gourd helps in keeping your skin glowing and free from blemishes. It also helps prevent acne thanks to its blood purifying properties.
3. Skin Infections
Bitter melon benefits in treating skin diseases or skin infections, eczema and psoriasis. The regular consumption of bitter gourd juice helps in improving psoriasis as well as other fungal infections like ringworm and athlete’s foot.
Bitter gourd contains vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant. By fighting and eliminating the harmful free radicals, it helps to prevent wrinkles by slowing down the aging process. It also protects the skin from damage by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.
5. Healing Qualities
Bitter gourd helps in controlling the blood flow and clotting, causing wounds to heal faster, preventing further infections.
Hair Benefits Of Bitter Melon
Bitter gourd is a great home remedy for your hair. Besides being beneficial for your skin and health, bitter gourd juice is also effective in treating hair problems and promoting longevity. It is beneficial for your hair in the following ways:
6. Shiny Hair
To impart a natural shine to your hair, you can mix a cup of fresh bitter gourd juice with yoghurt and apply on your hair. Wash off after sometime. This will make your hair shiny and beautiful (15).
Dandruff is a common problem and is mostly caused due to the consumption of unhealthy food and exposure to pollution. To ward off dandruff, you can prepare a hair pack by mixing bitter gourd juice and cumin seeds. Regular usage of this pack will rid you of dandruff within a month.
8. Split Ends
If you are troubled by split ends, you can apply raw bitter gourd juice to your split ends and then comb gently. This should be done twice a week to get rid of split ends.
9. Dry And Itchy Scalp
To combat the dryness of the scalp, you can rub a fresh piece of bitter gourd on it and massage your scalp in a circular motion. Then, rinse off with clear water. To combat the itchiness, you can prepare a hair pack by mixing bitter gourd juice with either avocado or banana and apply it on your scalp. This should be used at least once a week to get rid of an itchy scalp.
10. Hair Loss
Bitter gourd juice helps in reducing hair fall naturally. All you need to do is mix bitter gourd juice with a dash of sugar and use this paste on your hair to get good results.
11. Rough And Tangled Hair
If you have rough and tangled hair, you can pour a cup of bitter gourd juice and allow it to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Then rinse off your hair. This will help smoothen your hair texture and make it soft and shiny.
12. Grey Hair
Bitter gourd can also treat premature graying of hair. You can apply freshly squeezed bitter gourd juice on your Grey strands. Doing this once in every ten days will reduce the Grey hair growth.
13. Oily Hair
Increased intake of oily food can cause the accumulation of excess oil in your hair. If you have oily hair, you should first limit the consumption of oily food. You can apply a mixture of bitter gourd juice and apple cider vinegar to remove the excess oil from your hair.
14. Reduces Cancer Risk
Antioxidants in bitter lemon neutralizes free radicals that cause cancer. Bitter melon has been widely studied as an anti-tumor and anti-carcinogenic agent all by itself, along with its antioxidant properties. Primarily, studies have shown positive correlations between eating bitter melon and the prevention or reduction of tumor growth for cervical, prostate, and breast cancer patients. Some of this is due to the fruit’s ability to induce apoptosis (cell death) in cancerous cells.
15. Aids in Digestion & Liver Health
Bitter melon has fiber which adds bulk to the digestion material and helps with bowel movement which aids in preventing constipation.
There’s evidence that bitter melon extract can help reduce stomach and intestinal disorders, decrease kidney stones, help prevent liver disease and improve liver function, help treat parasitic worms that enter the GI tract, reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (including colitis) and improve overall digestive health. Research done at Annamali University in India showed that extract from bitter melon increased levels of glutathione peroxidase (GPx), superoxide dismutase (SOD) and catalase, helping to improve detoxification and prevent liver damage.
Bitter melon also has natural laxative effects, and therefore helps to relieve constipation. A traditional use of bitter melon was for reducing stomach pains and ulcers. Recently, it has even been discovered that it can help act against Helicobacter pylori bacteria that contributes to ulcer formation.
16. Heart Health
Fiber helps reduce the bad cholesterol levels which clog the arterial walls and thereby reduces the chances of heart attacks. Also, it is known to lower the blood sugar levels that help in maintaining a good heart health. Bitter melon is very good for the heart in many ways. It helps reduce the bad cholesterol levels which clog the arterial walls and thereby reduces the chances of heart attacks. Also, it is known to lower the blood sugar levels that help in maintaining a good heart health.
17. Aids in weight loss
The antioxidants in bitter melon help flush out the system which improves metabolism and digestive system. It also has low calorie content and has high water content. Charantin in bitter melon increase the glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis, which in turn help lose excess weight by decreasing storage in fat cells.
Bitter gourd helps in controlling the blood flow and clotting, causing wounds to heal faster, preventing further infections.
19. Dissolves Kidney Stones
Bitter Gourd aids in getting rid of kidney stones by naturally breaking them down. They reduce high acid that help produce painful kidney stones.
20. Allevites joint pain
Bitter melon has vitamin K which posses anti inflammatory properties which helps lower pain and inflammation in the joints.
21. Improves Vision
Bitter melon have α-carotene, β-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin enhance eyesight and night vision as well as decelerate macular degeneration. These compounds play a crucial role in fighting the effects of aging, eliminating oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species that may lead to numerous complications.
22. Fights Bacterial Infections & Viruses
Research has demonstrated that bitter melon contains several forms of antibacterial as well as antiviral agents. These agents are capable of lowering susceptibility to such infections as Helicobacter pylori (a very common bacteria tied to the formation of stomach ulcers when someone’s immune function is low), along with viruses including HIV.
A report printed in the International Journal of Microbiology states that powdered bitter melon has been used in Ayurveda for centuries “for dusting over leprous and other intractable ulcers and in healing wounds, especially when mixed with cinnamon, long pepper, rice, and chaulmugra oil.” In recent years, bitter melon extract has been successfully used against pylorus ligation, aspirin and stress-induced ulcers in rats, showing significant reductions in ulcer symptoms.
Additionally, studies have identified anthelmintic agents within bitter melon, a group of anti-parasitic compounds that help expel parasitic worms and other internal parasites from the body. Anthemintics work by killing parasites internally, without causing significant damage to the host (the person or animal carrying the parasite).
23. Reduces Respiratory Disorders & Symptoms
Through increasing detoxification, improving blood flow, lowering inflammation and decreasing free radical damage, bitter melon is capable of preventing common illnesses such as coughs, colds or the flu.
A strong immune system and well-functioning digestive system are essential for fending off potential infections and diseases, as well as reducing seasonal allergies and asthma. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, juice from bitter melon fruit has been used to treat dry coughs, bronchitis and sore throats for hundreds of years. Studies today show that bitter melon juice, fruit and seeds can be beneficial for preventing respiratory illnesses, coughs, mucus and food allergies.
24. Immune System
Boil bitter melon leaves or fruits in water and consume it every day to fight against infections. This also helps to build your immunity.
Consuming bitter melon can help you get rid of acne, blemishes and deep skin infections. Bitter melon is useful in treating blood disorders like blood boils, scabies, itching, psoriasis, ringworm and other fungal diseases. The free radicals in it are also useful for anti-ageing. Consume the juice of a bitter melon mixed with lemon on an empty stomach daily for 6 months or till you get the desired results.
Bitter melon juice benefits include helping to overcome type 2 diabetes. It has been a part of the Chinese and Indian ancient medicine for a long time but only recent research has proven that it is no folk lore. Type 2 diabetes is caused partially due to the inability of a cell to absorb the sugar in the blood due to insufficient insulin or due to development of resistance to insulin. In both cases, the cells are unable to absorb the sugar due to the ineffectiveness of the insulin produced.
The absorption of sugar occurs due to the activation of AMP-activated protein kinase in the cells. Bitter gourd activates these kinases due to which the absorption of sugar increases and hence, aids in bringing diabetes under control. Green juice for diabetics: cucumbers, green apples, bitter melon, celery, ½ green capsicum (bell pepper). Bitter melon contains certain chemicals that are like insulin which help to reduce the blood sugar levels.
Bitter melon helps in easy digestion as it contains fiber properties. The food is digested and the waste is thrown out of the body which helps in curing indigestion and constipation problems.
27. Energizes Naturally
Regular consumption of bitter gourd juice improves stamina and energy levels of the individual and improves sleeping patterns.
28. Purifies Blood
The antimicrobial and antioxidant properties of bitter gourd juice help to treat skin problems, blood disorders, clear toxins from the blood and purify it, and further improves blood circulation throughout the body. It helps to cure issues like itching caused by toxaemia, rashes, acne, psoriasis, blood boils and even inhibits the growth of cancerous cells in the body.
29. Hemorrhoid Relief
A number of studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory qualities present in bitter melon make it a very good salve for the uncomfortable condition of piles, also known as hemorrhoids. A paste created from the root of the bitter melon plant can be applied topically to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain and bleeding. If you can handle the bitter taste, drink bitter melon juice to receive similar benefits!
30. Asthma Relief
There have been a number of studies that showed bitter melon as a means of getting relief from respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and hay fever (rhinitis). It’s anti-histamine, suppressant, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, and antiviral properties make it an ideal booster for respiratory health. It is recommended to eat some bitter melon before going to bed, so the soothing effects can occur while you’re asleep!
31. Antifungal Agent
The antifungal and antibacterial qualities of bitter melon make it ideal for fighting off various fungal infections. These properties also help to get rid of any toxins in the bloodstream before they can cause any more damage.
Selection And Storage Of Bitter Melon
Fresh bitter melon pods can be available in the markets around the seasons. When you buy them, look for fresh, bright pods that feature dark-green, without any cuts, or blemishes on their surfaces. Choose young, tender immature fruit-pods. Immature fruits are least bitter since this astringent level increases as the pods mature.
At home, fresh bitter gourd can be placed in a plastic zip pouch and stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator, where they stay fresh for up to a week.
Preparation And Serving Methods Of Bitter Melon
Wash bitter gourds thoroughly in cold running water before cooking. Fresh pods, as well as young leaves, can be used for cooking. Bitter taste can be reduced by marinating in salted spice mixture and drying under sunlight. There are several local traditional methods to reduce bitterness like boiling in salt water for 5-10 minutes and then discarding the water or marinating in yogurt for about 30 minutes.
Although its pith and seeds discarded due to their higher alkaloid content, they can also be enjoyed in some Asian regions without any reservations.
Here are some serving tips:
In India, where it popularly known as karela, it is used in a variety of recipes either stir-fried or stuffed with garam-masala, tomato, onions, green chilies, garlic and curry leaves. Goya chanpuru, Okinawan stir-fry with bitter melon, onion, tofu, pork, and eggs, is a special dish of the health-conscious island inhabitants.
Known as ampalaya in the Philippines, it has been widely used in unique dishes like Pinakbet Ilocano, prepared with shrimp paste and mixed with vegetables like eggplant (aubergine) and okra. Dried and powdered whole bitter gourd has been used in the preparation of iced or milk tea in some East Asian regions. Bitter gourd is also used in the pickling preparations.
How to Use Bitter Melon
- Bitter melon fruit can be eaten on its own, cooked with, or consumed in extract/tablet form.
- Look for immature bitter melon fruit that is green, firm and free from bruising or splitting. Store it at cool temperatures, ideally in the refrigerator, for 1–2 weeks or until its green color starts to shot spots.
- If you’re able to find the whole fruit, you can try cooking it in a way that it’s traditionally prepared in Asia: stir-frying it with potatoes, garlic, chili and onion until some of its strong smell is reduced.
- Up to 100 milliliters of fresh bitter melon juice can be taken once a day. If you’d like to reduce the bitterness of the fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice, use a small amount diluted with fresh squeezed fruit or veggie juice, or add a small amount of raw honey.
- Dosage of bitter melon extract depends on the condition being treated. Most research shows that taking around 1000–2000 milligrams daily has the strongest effects. Many brands recommend splitting doses into 2–3 servings and taking capsules after meals to help with absorption.
- Bitter melon is usually taken in doses of 1–2 capsules, three times a day after meals, for up to 3 months. This amount has been shown to help with improvement in blood sugar management/diabetic conditions, but not enough is known about its effects when used for more than 3 months straight.
- Look for pure bitter melon extract in tablet or capsule form that is ideally certified organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, magnesium stearate free, and contains no synthetic additives.
Although being a very healthy drink, bitter gourd juice should only be consumed in small quantity everyday as this drink may cause nausea and abdominal pains if consumed in high amounts. Pregnant women should avoid drinking too much bitter gourd juice as it has properties to stimulate the uterus and thus can cause premature labor pains. Believed to be an ideal remedy for treating diabetes, this drink should however, be consumed on the doctor’s advice and directions by diabetic patients undergoing medication containing hypoglycemic drugs since the dosage of the medicine will need to be changed in accordance with consumption of bitter gourd juice.
Bitter Melon Recipe
1. Bitter melon stir-fry
This recipe calls for red wine vinegar or even balsamic vinegar for a bit more “bite.” But if you have a good Chinese rice wine feel free to substitute it. (recipe from former Chinese food expert)
- 1 pound bitter melon (about 1 ¼ melons)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- ½ teaspoon chili pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons oil for stir-frying
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- A few drops of sesame oil (optional)
- To prepare the bitter melon, cut in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut on the diagonal into thin slices.
- Degorge the bitter melon by sprinkling salt over the slices and placing them in a colander to drain for 15 minutes. In a small bowl, mash the chili pepper flakes with the minced garlic.
- Heat wok over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chili mixture.
- Stir-fry briefly until aromatic (about 30 seconds).
- Add the bitter melon. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, then splash with the balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.
- Stir in the sugar. Cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Until the bitter melon is browning and beginning to soften.
- Stir in a few drops sesame oil if desired. Serve hot.
2. Stir-fry bitter melon with pork
- 1 pound of bitter melon
- ½ pound lean pork
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic
- 1.5 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Pinch of freshly ground black or white pepper
- 1 ¼ teaspoons cornstarch
- ½ cup chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon Chinese slated black beans
- 1-2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, as needed
- ¼ teaspoon Asian sesame oil
- Salt or pepper to taste. Optional
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- Cut the ends off the bitter melon and cut in half lengthwise (do not peel). Remove the seeds and pith from the middle of the melon with a small spoon. Cut the melon diagonally into thin, ¼ inch slices.
- Place the sliced bitter melon in the boiling water and parboil until it is just tender(2-3 minutes). Drain.
- Cut the pork across the grain into very thin, 1/8th inch thick slices that are 1.5 – 2 inches long.
- Place in a bowl and add the soy sauce, 2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry, pepper and cornstarch, stirring to combine and let the pork marinade while preparing the other ingredients.
- In a small bowl, combine the chicken broth and 1 tablespoon sherry. In a separate small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 tablespoon water. Rinse the black beans to remove excess salt. Mash the beans with the side of a cleaver or knife. Stir together the beans and chopped garlic with a small amount of water.
- Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a preheated wok. When the oil is hot, add the bean/garlic mixture. Cook, stirring for about 15 seconds until aromatic, then add the pork. Stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, until the pork turns white and is nearly cooked. Remove the pork from the pan.
- Heat 1 to 2 teaspoons oil in the wok, as needed. When the oil is hot, add the bitter melon. Stir-fry for a minute, then pour in the chicken broth mixture. Add the pork back into the pan, stirring to mix everything together.
- Cover and simmer for 2 minutes.
- Re-stir the corn starch/water mixture. Push the other ingredients to the sides of the wok and add it to the chicken broth in the middle of the wok, stirring to thicken. Stir everything together, stir in the sesame oil, and season with salt or pepper if desired. Serve hot.
3. Stir-Fry Bitter Melon with Dried Shrimps
- 2 tablespoons dried shrimps, soften in warm water then drain
- 2 small size green bitter melons, cut into halves lengthwise and use a small metal spoon to remove the seeds.
- Thinly slice.
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 chili removed seed and chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon demerara sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon rice wine
- Heat up oil in a wok then stir fry garlic and chili until the fragrance comes out.
- Add shrimps and stir-fry for 10 seconds.
- Add bitter melon and 1 tablespoon water. Stir-fry for a couple minutes.
- Add all the seasonings and stir-fry for 1 minute. Ready to serve
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 3 people
When Bitter Melon Is In Season
You can usually find this fruit at Asian markets all season long. But if you choose to grow it at home, you will want to harvest it at the end of summer or early in the fall, when temperatures are high and humidity peaks. This is also the time you might see bitter melon at the farmers’ market. Don’t pass it up — grab that long, warty fruit and get ready for a culinary adventure.
How To Prepare Bitter Melon
Unless you get a small, young bitter melon (recommended), avoid eating the thick, waxy skin. Instead, peel the fruit to get to the flesh beneath. The taste of the meat is quite astringent due to the high levels of quinine, the same ingredient that makes the tonic part of your G and Ts. But it’s this bitter quality that makes the fruit so beloved by those in the culinary world.
“I love its bitterness so much so that I find myself craving it,” says McLagan, who highlights it in her book and shares a recipe for bitter melon with coconut milk and tofu. “There are lots of way of using bitter melon — it can be steamed or pan-fried like zucchini, and some cooks leave it whole and hollow it out to stuff, like a squash. Its bitterness makes it a perfect match for chilies and fat, and I like it best simply cooked with other vegetables, or in a spicy curry.”
One of the cuisines that bitter melon is most prevalent in is Chinese food. “Most commonly bitter melon is stir-fried or used in soups,” says Tommy Lee, chef-owner of Hop Alley and Uncle in Denver. “Like most bitter foods in Chinese culture, it’s believed to aid in digestion and improve overall health,” he adds.
But how do you go about dissecting this strange-looking ingredient? First, says Lee, “Split it in half, dig the seeds out with a spoon and slice into half moons. Or it can also be stuffed by cutting into thick rounds and coring. Either way, it’s best to toss the bitter melon in some salt and let it sit for 30 to 45 minutes to help draw out some of the bitterness and excess liquid.” The last part is key, an important step Lee’s father, who was raised in Hong Kong, taught the chef. “He grew up eating it and would cook it for our family when we were kids.” One well-known Chinese dish Lee likes is stir-fried bitter melon with Chinese black beans and shrimp or beef. “As with most bitter foods, a salty component, like Chinese black beans, helps balance the bitterness.” Other tips Lee has for working with bitter melon include blanching the produce after its saltwater soak before adding it to the pan and letting it cook for just a couple minutes so it maintains its pleasing crunch.
Some Important Tips Of Bitter Melon
- Always wash bitter melon thoroughly under running water.
- Use fresh bitter melon for best results.
- Always choose bitter gourds that are fresh, bright, and deep green in colour.
- Don’t consume more than 2 bitter melons in a day.
- The bitter melon leaves should be kept in a cool, dry, and dark place. They stay fresh in the refrigerator up to a week.
- Marinade with salt to reduce the bitterness.
- Pregnant women should be careful while consuming this vegetable. The laxative component of the vegetable may lead to premature contraction, vaginal bleeding and miscarriages. Do consult your doctor once.
What is Karela?
Most English speakers call it “bitter melon”, “bitter gourd”, or “balsam pear”. The scientific community refers to it as Momordica charantia. Karela is its Sanskrit name. As you might have guessed from its shape, it’s a kind of cucumber that grows on a long, tendriled vine. Originating in India, it is now a popular cultivated plant from Okinawa to Brazil.
How does Karela taste like?
They don’t call it “bitter gourd” for nothing: karela is one of the worst-tasting fruits in the world! People who incorporate it into their cooking often stir-fry it aggressively to curtail its almost overwhelming bitterness. You’d never know it was a superfood if you were to pick it off the vine and take a bite.
Right now, you might be asking yourself why we’d write an article all about karela if it’s so unappealing. True, this fruit makes an unfortunate first impression. But like a prickly friend with a heart of gold, there’s more to karela than meets the eye.
What are the main health benefits and the 10 top uses of karela?
1. Stronger Immune system
Having a strong immune system is like having an invisible iron shield protecting the whole body. How to strengthen the immune system? The abundance of antioxidants in bitter melon helps in fighting infections, viruses and bacteria that attack your body. In addition, among the karela health benefits is the prevention of indigestion issues and allergies, both of which are correlated to our immunity by causing inflammation in the body. So due to different reasons, a stronger heart is one of the main health benefits of karela that you should explore.
2. Lowers the risk of Diabetes
Nowadays, more and more people suffer from diabetes. Among the most effective medicines used against this disease are nature-based remedies. The p-insulin found in the bitter melon juice is similar to insulin. One of the most important uses of the bitter gourd is as being a natural remedy for control of the blood sugar levels. It also prevents the risks of complications from the disease.
It can be consumed in the form of karela juice for diabetes, bitter melon tablets, extract, powder and tea. Just to make a quick clarification – these supplemental forms are idea not just for regulating diabetes, but also for fighting any other ailment this plant is known to treat or relieve. There are tens of bitter melon benefits. To clue you in further in the properties of this intriguing natural gift, simply keep reading below….
3. Healthier Kidneys, liver, and bladder
Among the health benefits of karela is the detoxifying of the liver, clearing the kidneys, and the lungs. It has powerful properties for purifying the digestive tract for better functioning. This natural remedy is effective in the treatment of kidney stones. The bitter melon fruit helps in relieving of the lower back pain caused by kidney stones. It is also effective in fighting kidney infections. Patients often use bitter melon extract, tea or tablets for prevention of kidney stones.
Bitter gourd juice purifies the liver and hence blood from toxins. That’s because the liver serves as a filter when it comes to our blood. You can take karela daily and enjoy all the benefits including better blood circulation. Because of this, we can firmly say that karela can be a safe bet if you have to pick your team of top liver cleansing foods.
4. Purifies the blood
Because it is a liver detox plant, we can deduct that karela would be highly effective in purifying the blood. Besides being a natural blood purifier, bitter gourd is also a means of lowering the blood pressure. To boot, it increases the production of red blood cells.
5. Relies Heart disease
The stronger heart prolongs one’s life. What’s the recipe for a strong heart? A healthy lifestyle that can very well include taking advantage of the benefits of bitter gourd vegetable that may do miracles for one of the most vital organs. How does that happen? Well, karela reduces the levels of LDL cholesterol in the human body and thus facilitating the ease of blood flow. That, in turn, decreases the risks of heart attacks and heart diseases. The properties of the bitter melon include improving the function of the heart and strengthening the blood vessels for better overall health of the cardiovascular system.
6. Fights Cancer
Science still tries to find the most effective remedies and medicines that will prevent and cure cancer. There are tens of studies about dozens of different foods and herbs and their effects against the multiplying of cancer cells. The antioxidants are among the most powerful fighters against the deadly cancer cells.
How to include more antioxidants in your daily life? By consuming karela daily to keep your body healthier and stronger. Recent clinical trials and pharmacological studies show a link between ingesting bitter melon and the reduction of tumors in individuals with breast, cervical, and prostate cancer.
7. Treats Acne
Beautiful skin is one of the exterior signs of a healthy body. How to get rid of the acne and red spots on your skin? Start consuming powerful fruits like bitter gourd daily and you’ll notice the difference before you know it. The blood purifying properties of the fruit make karela especially effective against skin problems. You’ll enjoy healthier and younger-looking skin thanks to the antioxidants and the strong properties of the bitter melon for fighting inflammation and bacteria.
8. Induces Weight Loss
This is one of the most famous karela benefits and with the disturbingly high numbers of overweight people, that’s no surprise at all. Karela contains many antioxidants which boost your metabolism and flush your system, plus it reduces cholesterol which reflects on weight management. You can maintain your weight and even lose extra pounds just by adding karela to your diet. The consumption of bitter gourd juice for weight loss makes your body work faster (green tea is also effective in that, so you can combine both as a natural pre workout combo). Here’s how it happens: karela contains certain enzymes that break down fat into free fatty acids, which results in fat reduction. On the other hand, it also suppresses another type of enzymes which stimulate the formation of fat cells. To boot, karela induces bile juice secretions from the liver and bile juices ease fat metabolism.
Let’s not neglect the fact that bitter gourd is very low in calories (only 34 calories per 100g), which of course is crucial to weight reduction, because one of the most known weightloss approaches is the calorie deficit in which you have to count your daily calories.
At last, but not least, the plant activates a specific protein named AMPK, which is involved in things like: fat burning, insulin release modulation, glucose uptake, inhibition of triglycerides and cholesterol buildup. Combine karela with a healthy diet and more active lifestyle and get ready to fit into those skinny jeans you keep at the back of your closet.
9. Improves your vision
Everyone who suffers from vision-related health issues knows how important it is to take care of your eyes and take the necessary eye health-boosting nutrients. Do something great for your eyes and add bitter gourd nutrition to your diet. The vitamins packed in the karela fruit will improve eye functions. This amazing fruit is a source of vitamin A and beta-carotene – just what your eyes need the most.
10. Improves Hair Health
Dandruff, split hair ends, dry and itchy scalp, tangled hair, hair loss…
There is no need to search for a different product to help for each of these problems. Do you know that karela is a great remedy for all kinds of hair issues? Bitter melon is used for treating the scalp. Thus, you can get rid of the dandruff and give your hair a shiny, natural look. Just add to your hair a few drops of bitter gourd juice and you’ll forget about the split ends. Treating your scalp with the juice will prevent you from issues like an itchy scalp and greasy hair.
You can also prevent and even treat gray hair, as well as diminish hair fall thanks to karela juice. In the first case, you can mix bitter gourd juice with curry leaves, while for preventing hair loss, you can mix the juice with an equal quantity of curd.
If you start using it, you may find a lot more than 10 benefits of bitter melon. However, before jumping on the bandwagon, you should take a minute to contemplate on the following questions:
Is Karela safe for me? Are there any side effects of karela?
Overall, karela seems to be a fairly safe substance, but it can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. Certain diabetes medications don’t mix well with karela either, and if you want to try using this fruit to maintain your blood sugar, a long talk with your doctor is in order. Finally, karela can induce miscarriage when it’s taken in large quantities and it might make children ill, so kids and pregnant women should avoid it.
There’s a lot of potential for karela as a major medical food of the future. Research continues to uncover its incredible powers. If you’ve established that this plant is appropriate for you to consume, you can enjoy this wondrous natural gift in numerous different forms, such as: a karela powder, bitter melon tea, extract, juice or tablets.
Bitter Melon Leaves Effects
Bitter melon is a tropical vine found extensively throughout the Caribbean, Africa, China, India and Southeast Asia. The leaves are dried and encapsulated, or steeped in hot water to prepare a tea, which is a traditional treatment for malaria, hypertension, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders and diabetes. While the herb does demonstrate many beneficial properties, there are also a few potentially harmful effects associated with bitter melon.
A monograph created by Natural Standard and published online, in part, by Aetna InteliHealth Inc., states that you should avoid bitter melon preparations if you have a known allergy to gourds and melons belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family of plants, such as cantaloupe and honeydew.
According to information provided by Drugs.com, the plant contains vicine, charantin and an agent referred to as polypeptide P, all of which have been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetic mice as well as reduce insulin resistance. While these observations may support the historical use of bitter melon leaves to treat diabetes, the use of this herb may actually produce negative effects if you take medications to regulate your blood sugar. Whether you have diabetes type I or type II, please talk to your doctor before self-treating your condition with this herb.
Although this herb is a traditional remedy for gastrointestinal problems, researchers have found that the ingestion of bitter melon extract may produce ulcers. In fact, the results of a study published in the Jan. 29, 2010 issue of “Indian Journal of Gastroenterology” reported that bitter melon extracts also lead to hematemesis, the medical term for the vomiting of blood.
Drugs.com says that a protein present in the bitter melon plant appears to exert antifertility activity in male rats and in female mice.
Drugs.com also states that mormordicine alkaloids present in the bitter melon plant, collectively referred to as momorcharins, increase the risk of spontaneous abortion. Do not take liquid extracts or drink tea made from bitter melon leaves during pregnancy. Since it is not known if these agents pass through breast milk, women should also avoid using this herb while nursing.
The Natural Standard monograph notes that two cases involving children have been reported in which drinking bitter melon tea caused blood sugar levels to fall dramatically, resulting in coma.
The National Standard monograph also states that bitter melon may interfere with the absorption or escalate the effects of several supplements and medications, including diabetes drugs, anthelmintics to treat parasitic infections, chemotherapy medications and antiviral drugs used in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.
Negative Effects Of Bitter Melon
1. Can Stimulate Miscarriage:
Bitter gourds, if taken in excessive quantities can turn out to be a nightmare for pregnant women. Bitter gourds are notorious for causing emmenagogue (increase of menstrual flow) and abortifacient effects.
Bitter gourds can also trigger contractions. And for lactating women, it is best to avoid bitter gourd. This is because though there isn’t any scientific backing which says bitter gourds are bad for lactating women, its adverse effects on pregnant women might have similar effects on lactating women.
2. Drug Interactions:
It is actually shocking to know vegetables like bitter gourd which are known for their healing properties, might even come in the way of drugs. But this is the fact. Combining bitter gourds with standard drugs can reduce blood sugar levels steeply. This might possibly lead to dangerously low blood sugar levels.
Hence diabetic patients who are under medication should consult their doctors before consuming bitter gourds.
3. Can Cause Irregular Heart Rhythm:
In 2010, a study published in ‘The Annals of Saudi Medicine’ revealed something new. A 22 year old male without any heart rhythm irregularities developed related symptoms when he drank half a cup of bitter gourd juice before the admission.
When the heart rhythm gets irregular, it leads to the pooling of the blood in one side of the heart. This can result in the platelets forming clots in the pool, thereby causing stroke or heart attack.
4. Bitter Gourds For Your Children? Think Again:
This might come as good news for your kids. But this is not a random statement produced out of thin air. It has been reported that red arils (the covering on the seeds) might be toxic to children. They might cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
So if your child is allergic to bitter gourds, it is better to avoid giving them the vegetable.
5. Hypoglycaemic Coma:
Hypoglycaemic coma is a condition of coma which is caused due to excessive doses of injected insulin. This might lead to severe decrease in blood sugar levels. There are case reports which suggest the onset of hypoglycaemic coma and the start of atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm) with the intake of bitter gourds.
6. Might Affect The Liver:
You might wonder what the connection is between liver and bitter gourd. Though this might appear a bit illogical, evidence exists. Intake of bitter gourds for extended periods of time to control diabetes might actually induce liver inflammation.
Bitter gourds don’t directly damage the liver. Long term use of bitter gourds can elevate liver enzymes and result in a condition called atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Some of the points, or maybe all of these side effects of bitter gourd sound new and unbelievable to you. It’s natural. Though it is extremely beneficial in a lot of ways, its over consumption can lead to complications. So the next time your mother asks you to eat bitter gourds, don’t show her this post and justify your hatred for the vegetable. Eat it instead. Because moderate consumption of anything is not going to be harmful!
Safety profile Of Bitter Melon
Bitter gourd may contain alkaloid substances like quinine and morodicine, resins, and saponin glycosides, which may be the cause of intolerance in some people. Their bitterness and toxicity may be reduced somewhat by parboiling or soaking in salt water for up to 10 minutes. Toxicity symptoms may include excessive salivation, facial redness, dimness of vision, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, muscular weakness. (Medical disclaimer).