Have you had any bitter fruit in your diet nor have you eaten anything bitter before? How does a bitter melon sound to you? You must be grimacing right now.
Momordica charantia Linn., commonly known as bitter melon or bitter gourd in English, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the Cucurbitaceae family. This vine is widely grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean for its edible fruit and leaves. The bitter melon fruit is among the most bitter of all fruits. Essentially, there are many varieties that differ in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.
This wonder fruit is known in various names. It is kǔguā or 苦瓜, which means “bitter gourd” in Chinese. In Japanese, it is called goya (ゴーヤー) or nigauri (from a native Okinawan language). In Tagalog (Philippine language) it is called ampalayá, likewise, it is called arela/karella (in Indian and Nepalese languages, respectively), muop dang (mướp đắng) or kho qua (khổ qua, in Vietnamese).1
Did you know that majority of Asians have this wonder fruit in their diet?
In China, bitter melon is commonly stir-fried with pork and tofu. They also serve it in soups, and also as tea. Indians mostly prepare it with any of the following: curry, mixed with grated coconut, roasted coconut, or deep fried. To offset the bitterness, they serve yogurt on the side with some potatoes. In Pakistan, a whole bitter melon is boiled and stuffed with ground beef served with hot bread, lentils and rice.
Meanwhile, in the Philippines, country folks use the fresh juice they get from squeezing a handful of clean, fresh bitter melon leaves to purge a month old infant. It is a practice that is still observed these days. They claim that it would cleanse the baby’s digestive system and it would help keep the baby healthy. When the child is ready for solid food, bitter melon is gradually introduced in his diet, starting from bitter melon leaves added to stir-fried mung beans cooked with minced pork or chicken flavored with fish paste. Eventually graduating to the real fruit itself stir-fired with browned pork or any kind of meat with sliced onion and cloves of garlic. Other common recipes include stir-frying the bitter melon fruit with ground beef and oyster sauce, fish paste or fish sauce, or with eggs and diced tomatoes. In the Ilocos Region (located in Luzon), bitter melon is the main ingredient in a popular dish called Pinakbet, which consists of tomatoes,eggplants, lima beans or stringed beans and other various regional vegetables altogether sauteed and then stewed with a little fish paste (bagoong).
The Philippine Department of Health conducted a study in 2007 and determined the bitter melon’s crucial role in managing, preventing or counteracting diabetes mellitus type 2. The study stated “that a daily dose of 100mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day”. Under the trade name Charantia, tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement. It is now exported to many countries.
Ampalaya (bitter melon) was found containing polypeptide-P, a plant insulin that can lower elevated blood sugar level. Nutritional analysis showed that ampalaya is rich in iron, calcium, and Beta-carotene. It also contains some vitamin B, C, and phosphorous. 2
Bitter melon also contains a lectin, which helps lower blood glucose concentrations. Its insulin-like effects to the brain also suppresses appetite. Hence, incorporating this fruit in your diet would do wonders for your over-all health whether you are diabetic or not. Additionally, bitter melon is also believed to be an effective digestive aid, an antihelmintic, antimalarial, antiviral, immunomodulator, and anti-cancer.
How about the bitter taste?
Yes, it is definitely bitter and it is an acquired taste. But since it is available in tablet form you can always take it as a supplement. And if you are a tea drinking person, you can also get it from a Health Foods store or from your nearby Asian store. If you prefer the organic, all natural kind, you can always plant one in your backyard.
2http://www.gmanews.tv/story/35962/Ampalaya-tablets-out-soon-for-diabetics. Retrieved January 9, 2011.