Bitter Melon

Bitter melon or bitter gourd is known as Karela in India, Goya in Japan, Foo Gwa in Chinese or Kho Qua in Vietnamese. Whatever you call it, bitter melon or bitter gourd as its name suggests is bitter. Bitter melon is widely eaten in Asian countries. It originated from the Indian subcontinent and was introduced to China in the 14th century. Although we call it a vegetable, the bitter melon actually belongs to the fruit family. It mainly grows on veins and is grown in warm weathers and takes 90 days to grow.

Bitter melon is elongated in shape and has a bumpy texture. It comes in different colors and shape depending on where it is grown. Okinawan and Indian are similar in texture, although the Okinawan goya are darker green in color. Both are skinnier than the Chinese one and has pointy-like bumps. Chinese bitter melon has a more smooth round waxy texture to it and lighter green color.  So why eat this strange long looking vegetable? Bitter melon has a ton of health benefits. Okinawan’s swear that bitter melon is one of their keys to longevity, with those still healthy and well beyond the age of 100. 

Bitter melon has been used to cure various stomach and intestinal disorders such as ulcers, colitis, constipation, intestinal worms, and indigestion. It’s also been used for diabetes, fever, kidney stones, psoriasis, and liver disease. The vegetable contains phyto-nutrient, a plant that acts like insulin to help reduce blood sugar levels. 

An excellent source of vitamin C and A with health benefiting flavonoids such as  ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin. All these compounds help to protect against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species that play a role in aging, caners, and various disease. Bitter melon helps aid in digestion and make it easier for food to pass through the bowl until it is excreted from the body. This vegetable is also a good source of vitamin B-3, B-5, and B-6 along with the following minerals: iron, zinc, potassium, manganese, and magnesium.

With all these amazing health benefits, you can see why the Asian countries continue to eat bitter melons regardless of their bitter taste. Although I find that regardless of the bitter taste, there’s something unique about it that just keeps me going back for more. Maybe because I was raised eating it as a child or I enjoy the taste of its bitterness, I still love it anyway. Wait.. don’t stray just yet from this fruit because the bitterness does decrease as the fruit matures. 

Before you make it, bitter melon contains seeds inside that need to be removed before cooking. Okay, what can you make with it? Bitter melon can be made into soups and stir-fry. You can stuff the bitter melon to make soup. Try a Chinese stir fry with black bean sauce. You can make Karela Chips aka bitter melon chips, an Indian recipe sprinkled with Tumeric before deep-frying and sprinkled with chat masala and hot chili powder before serving. Want to try the Okinawan Goya Chanpuru? It contains bitter gourd stir fried with tofu, pork and egg. This is a very popular dish from Okinawa. 

There is surprisingly a ton of recipes out there on how to make bitter melon recipe. If you’re brave enough to try it, just buy 1 gourd to test. Chinese bitter melons are available at your local Asian supermarkets, pick one that’s a bit tender on the outside. I’ve only seen the Okinawan goya at my local Japanese supermarket if you want to try that variety. I do believe that the Okinawan goya is more bitter than the Chinese ones. I have at times encounter Chinese bitter melons that were not bitter at all. Try some of these recipes out.

Here are a variety of ways to prepare bitter melon from 4 different countries. All meat recipes can be replaced with mock meat. Check out these recipes from some wonderful cooks:

Chinese Stir Fried Bitter Melon with Black Bean Sauce:

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