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White Bitter Melon
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White Bitter melon is easily recognized by its bumpy, warty oblong-shaped skin, giving the initial appearance of a malformed white cucumber. Even its flesh can be misleading, bearing a spongy seed cavity looking more similar to that of a cucumber than of a melon. And unlike any other melons, Bitter melons do not require peeling. The fruit's flesh is pale green to white in color and contains layers of flat white seeds which will turn red as the fruit matures. The bitterness in the melon is about the only flavor that the melon delivers. This bitterness is not a uniform bitterness and can range from fruit to fruit. Generally, the younger the fruit, the more bitter. Large, riper fruit will be more mellow and the flesh will become spongy.
White Bitter melon is commercially available in Asia.
White Bitter melons, Momordica charantia, are essentially the same as Bitter Green melons and bear no difference outside of their coloring. Bitter melons are a member of the Cucurbitaceae (gourd) family, and a relative of squash and watermelon. The fruit is also known as Mah-Ra Jeen and balsam pear, though it has no similarities to a pear. The reference to Bitter is a direct reflection of the level of quinine in the fruit. Bitter melons contain a concentrated amount of quinine, which incidentally is a reason why it is highly regarded among Asians, Panamanians and Colombians as a cure (and preventive medicine) for Malaria.
Bitter melon is rich in iron, beta carotene, calcium and contains substantial levels of vitamins C and B. Virtually everywhere that the Bitter melon grows, it is used medicinally. It is believed to be good for the liver and has been proven medically to contain an insulin-like compound, polypeptide P and to lower blood sugar levels. Bitter melon contains antiviral proteins, has anti-tumor properties and is used to treat colds, coughs and fevers.
Though White Bitter melons are often eaten in the Winter, they should be enjoyed during the summer months as they are considered a cooling vegetable. It is recommended to salt the flesh to reduce bitterness, though this does affect the texture, nutrient level and the flavor of other ingredients that it is paired with. Bitter melon is used as a flavor enhancing addition to recipes as its distinct bitter flavor can often be too astringent and sour to consume in large quantities. Bitter melons are often used as an ingredient in curries, soups and stews. Bitter melon pairs well with eggs, potatoes and chiles and it is often prepared as the main vegetable alongside lamb, boar, goose and duck as the bitterness will cut the richness and gaminess of these meats. Always slice the melon thin to reduce the bitterness of each bite.
Bitter melons may be an acquired taste among Western palates, however this flavor is celebrated and craved in Asian cultures. Bitter melons are a mainstay in Asian produce markets, especially in the hot summer months.
Bitter melon is native to the tropical areas of Asia, Africa, India, the Caribbean, and South America. It is now cultivated and naturalized in nearly every tropical region throughout the world from both the the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. In China, Thailand, the Philippines and other Asian countries the fruit is a common home garden vegetable, often plucked from the vine at gherkin-sized stage and eaten whole.
Recipes that include White Bitter Melon. One is easiest, three is harder.
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