Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family, and a relative of squash, watermelon, muskmelon, and cucumber. The tropical vine is a tender perennial. The fruit of this plant lives up to its name - it tastes very bitter. The surface/skin is bumpy coated with glossy light to dark green. The inside of the melon is filled with spongy pulp whose color ranges from white to light green covering the seeds. Younger melons are seedless (more like inside the of a cucumber) and are generally more bitter. Ripe ones (outside: lighter green with hints of yellow color; inside: everything turns bright red) are much milder.
The plant: Bitter Melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. Although the seeds, leaves, and vines of Bitter Melon all have uses, the fruit is the safest and most prevalent part of the plant used for food and medicine.
Health & nutrient benefits: Bitter Melons are rich in iron. Bitter Melon has twice the beta carotene of broccoli, twice the calcium of spinach, twice the potassium of bananas, and contains Vitamins A, C and B1 to B3, phosphorus and good dietary fiber.
As for its medicinal value, at least three different constituents in Bitter Melon have been reported to have hypoglycemic (blood sugar lowering) or other actions of potential benefit in treating diabetes mellitus.
In traditional Chinese medicine Bitter Melon is used as an appetite stimulant and as a treatment for gastrointestinal infection and against cancer (breast). Bitter Melon may prove to be a very effective herbal remedy against diabetes! It has been proven to increase the number of beta cells (those which produce insulin) in the pancreas. Bitter Melon seems to be supportive in HIV treatment, several proteins (such as alpha - and beta momocharin) have HIV inhibitory effects in vitro. However, they are not cytotoxic.
Bitter Melon’s bitterness comes from the high concentration of quinine it contains, which incidentally, is the reason why it is regarded by Asians, as well as Panamanians and Colombians, as a valuable agent for preventing and treating malaria.
How to eat Bitter Melon: Although it is bitter and is an acquired taste, Bitter Melon is used in a wide range of cultures with their distinct flavors and ingredients. In India, Bitter Melon is stuffed with meat and stir-fried with tons of spices. In Denmark, Bitter Melon is cut into small pieces to eat as a salad garnish. In one well-known Chinese recipe, Bitter Melon is cooked with pork and black beans.
Fortunately, blanching it before cooking will help reduce the bitter taste. You can also degorge them as you would with eggplant. In addition, you'll often find Bitter Melon paired with strong flavors such as black beans and hot peppers, which counteract the bitterness.
Its white fibrous seed core is usually cut in half and seeded, then the interior membrane is discarded, leaving a thin ring of flesh. It is used in soups and stir-fries, or can be steamed and braised.
There are many recipes available online for traditional Bitter Melon dishes, including: