||The lead section of this article may need to be rewritten. (December 2012)|
Momordica charantia often called bitter melon, bitter gourd or bitter squash in English, has many other local names. Goya from the indigenous language of Okinawa where there is a large US military presence and karavella from Sanskrit are also used by English-language speakers.
It is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. Its many varieties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit. This is a plant of the tropics.
Bitter melon originated in Indian subcontinent, and it was carried to China in the 14th century.
This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm across, with three to seven deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.
The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large, flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.
As the fruit ripens, the flesh (rind) becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some Southeast Asian salads.
When the fruit is fully ripe, it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The Chinese variety is 20–30 cm 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 in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India, Nepal and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||79 kJ (19 kcal)|
|- Sugars||1.95 g|
|- Dietary fiber||2 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||6 μg (1%)|
|- beta-carotene||68 μg (1%)|
|- lutein and zeaxanthin||1323 μg|
|Thiamine (vit. B1)||0.051 mg (4%)|
|Riboflavin (vit. B2)||0.053 mg (4%)|
|Niacin (vit. B3)||0.28 mg (2%)|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)||0.193 mg (4%)|
|Vitamin B6||0.041 mg (3%)|
|Folate (vit. B9)||51 μg (13%)|
|Vitamin C||33 mg (40%)|
|Vitamin E||0.14 mg (1%)|
|Vitamin K||4.8 μg (5%)|
|Calcium||9 mg (1%)|
|Iron||0.38 mg (3%)|
|Magnesium||16 mg (5%)|
|Manganese||0.086 mg (4%)|
|Phosphorus||36 mg (5%)|
|Potassium||319 mg (7%)|
|Sodium||6 mg (0%)|
|Zinc||0.77 mg (8%)|
|Link to USDA Database entry
Percentages are relative to
US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.
Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also in tisanes. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some Chinese and Okinawan beers.
It is very popular throughout South Asia. In Northern India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, or used in sabzi. In North Indian cuisine, it is stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India, it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and Pachi Pulusu (కాకరకాయ పచ్చి పులుసు), a soup with fried onions and other spices.In Tamil Nadu, a special preparation in Brahmins' cuisine called pagarkai pitla (பாகற்காய் பிட்லா) a kind of sour koottu (கூட்டு) variety is very popular. Also popular is kattu pagarkkai (கட்டு பாகற்காய்) a curry stuffed with onions, cooked lentil and grated coconut mix, tied with thread and fried in oil. In Konkan region of Maharashtra, salt is added to finely chopped bitter gourd and then it is squeezed, removing its bitter juice to some extent.After frying this with different spices, less bitter and crispy preparation is served with grated coconut.
In Pakistan and Bangladesh, bitter melon is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled bitter melon to be boiled and then stuffed with cooked ground beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).
Bitter melon is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.
In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the south. It is also used as the main ingredient of "stewed bitter melon". This dish is usually cooked for the Tết holiday, where its "bitter" name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.
In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.
In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this, the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and sautéed covered in oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sautéed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.
In some English texts, the plant or the fruit may be called by its local names, which include kugua (Chinese: 苦瓜, pinyin: kǔguā, "bitter gourd"); parya (Ilokano), pare or pare ayam (Javanese and Indonesian), pavayka or kayppayka (Malayalam:പാവയ്ക്ക, കയ്പ്പക്ക bubulu ), goya (Okinawan: ゴーヤー) or nigauri (Japanese: 苦瓜; although the Okinawan word goya is also used in Japanese), paakharkaai (Tamil: பாகற்காய்), hāgalakāyi (Kannada: ಹಾಗಲಕಾಯಿ), ma'reah (Khmer: ម្រះ), kaakarakaya(Telugu: కాకరకాయ), করলা (korola) (Bengali), ampalaya (Tagalog), muop dang (Vietnamese: mướp đắng) or kho qua (Vietnamese: khổ qua). It is also known as caraille or carilley on Trinidad and Tobago, carilla in Guyana, cundeamor is a small variety very common in Puerto Rico (actually is the Momordica balsamina), "asorosi" or assorosie" in Haiti, and cerasee or cerasse in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, including parts of South America (although is known in Portuguese as melão de São Caetano - and Spanish-speaking areas, however is known by the Okinawan or Japanese names in others regions). It is karela in Hindi- and Urdu-speaking areas, कारले (karle) in Marathi. It is known as तीते करेला (tite karela) in Nepali, tite means bitter and karela is the fruit. In Suriname, it is known as sopropo. The fruit is called kudhreth narhy (kudret narı) in Turkey, faaga in Maldives, and karavila කරවිල in Sri Lanka(Sinhala). Additional local names include hagala kayi(ಹಾಗಲ ಕಾಯಿ) in Kannada, karla in Marathi, karela (કારેલા) in Gujarati, kakarakaya (కాకరకాయ) in Telugu, paakal-kaai (பாகற்க்காய்) in Tamil, and kalara in Odia.
||This section needs more medical references for verification or relies too heavily on primary sources. (August 2012)|
Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African herbal medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey, it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. The fruit is broken up and soaked in either olive oil or honey.
The plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin I and momordicin II, and cucurbitacin B. The plant also contains several bioactive glycosides (including momordin, charantin, charantosides, goyaglycosides, momordicosides) and other terpenoid compounds (including momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol). It also contains cytotoxic (ribosome-inactivating) proteins such as momorcharin and momordin.
Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, α-eleostearic acid (from seeds) and 15,16-dihydroxy-α-eleostearic acid (from the fruit) have been found to induce apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro. Diets containing 0.01% bitter melon oil (0.006% as α-eleostearic acid) were found to prevent azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.
Researchers at Saint Louis University claim an extract from bitter melon, commonly eaten and known as karela in India, causes a chain of events which helps to kill breast cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying. 
Bitter melon is traditionally regarded in Asia as useful for preventing and treating malaria. Tea from its leaves is used for this purpose also in Panama and Colombia. In Guyana, bitter melons are boiled and stir-fried with garlic and onions. This popular side dish known as corilla is served to prevent malaria. Laboratory studies have confirmed that species related to bitter melon have antimalarial activity, though human studies have not yet been published.
In Togo, the plant is traditionally used against viral diseases such as chickenpox and measles. Tests with leaf extracts have shown in vitro activity against the herpes simplex type 1 virus, apparently due to unidentified compounds other than the momordicins.
Laboratory tests suggest compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection. As most compounds isolated from bitter melon that impact HIV have either been proteins or lectins, neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of bitter melon will slow HIV in infected people. Oral ingestion of bitter melon possibly could offset negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if an in vitro study can be shown to be applicable to people.
In 1962, Lolitkar and Rao extracted from the plant a substance, which they called charantin, which had hypoglycaemic effect on normal and diabetic rabbits. Another principle, active only on diabetic rabbits, was isolated by Visarata and Ungsurungsie in 1981. Bitter melon has been found to increase insulin sensitivity. In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined a daily dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the antidiabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day. Tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries.
Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its nonprotein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon. As bitter melon is extremely bitter if eaten raw, it must be cooked to make it palatable.
Bitter melon has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.
The seeds of bitter melon contains vicine, so can trigger symptoms of favism in susceptible individuals. In addition, the red arils of the seeds are reported to be toxic to children, and the fruit is contraindicated during pregnancy.
An Indonesian-style bitter melon dish, cooked with sambal, onion, and red bird's-eye chili peppers
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