While this vegetable is not very pretty or delicious, the uses of bitter melon are enough to make it noticed, eaten and studied. Also called bitter gourd, balsam pear or wild cucumber, bitter melon is not that popular in the West primarily due to its taste and availability. It is the most bitter of all fruits or vegetables, and only grows in winter-free countries. It is very popular in China, India and Southeast Asia. The Chinese, in particular, believe that the bitter the food, the more nutritious it is. This makes bitter melon easily one of the most important vegetables in China.
Bitter melon looks like an uglier version of a cucumber with warts and bumps. It is best when green or unripe. It is no use when it begins to look more mouth-watering in yellowish orange color because this is the time when is bitterness it at the zenith. It is a hollow pod with seeds inside that are white when unripe and red when ripe. This melon is actually a fruit, not a vegetable, because it is seed-bearing. The tip of the bitter melon vine and young leaves are as edible as the fruit, nutritious and bitter.
There are two varieties of the bitter melon: a longer kind that grows to about 20 cm and the smaller kind that is oval and darker green. They cannot survive cold weather, which is why they thrive only in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean.
Bitter Melon Health Benefits
The bitter melon benefits and uses convince people to eat it despite its unmatched bitterness. Because bitter melon contains hypoglycemic compound or plant insulin, it is used for the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Several studies, including one from the American Association of Naturopathic Physician, prove that this bitter fruit lowers blood sugar level just like insulin.
Juiced, in capsule form, or eaten cooked or raw, bitter melon is also used to reduce hypertension, purify blood, improve blood circulation, improve energy and stamina, boost the immune system and treat a number of illnesses including cholera, fungal infections, constipation, indigestion, eye problems and liver problems.
And as though the above bitter melon uses were not enough, medical researchers are now studying compounds in bitter melon that could treat cancer and inhibit HIV infection.
Aside from the therapeutic bitter melon health benefits, this fruit-vegetable is also used in a number of international dishes. The Chinese typically stir-fry it and place it in soups. In the Philippines, it is also stir-fried with beef and oyster sauce, or cooked as omelet. In India, it is well liked with potatoes and yogurt. In Okinawa, it is believed to cause long life. Indonesians love to stir fry or steam it with coconut milk. The bitter melon soup with shrimps is popular in Vietnam. In Trinidad and Tobago, it is sautéed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper.
These are the two important uses of bitter melon: for healing and for eating. Come to think of it, most foods have only one use: for eating pleasure. With bitter melon, once you learn to love it for its medicinal use, you would soon learn to savor its delicious bitterness and eat it for its taste. But good luck feeding your kids.