Inventory, 10 lbs : 6.82
This item was last sold on : 11/03/23
Bitter melons are small to medium gourds, averaging 6 to 30 centimeters in length, and have a long and slender, oblong shape with slightly tapered ends. The gourd's surface will vary depending on the specific type, ranging from deeply creased, smooth, pale green, and ridged to rough, dark green, and heavily textured with warts and bumps. The gourd’s skin may also exhibit a waxy layer, and some rarer types of Bitter melon showcase a white hue. Underneath the thin skin, the flesh is crisp, watery, and pale green, encasing a central cavity filled with spongy pith and large, cream-colored seeds. Bitter melons are harvested when they are young and green, containing a sharp, astringent, and vegetal flavor. The gourds are also selected when they display a green coloring with a faint yellow hue, an indication of further maturity, rumored to contain a slightly milder, bitter, and acidic flavor.
Bitter melons are available year-round, with a peak season in the summer.
Bitter melons, botanically classified as Momordica charantia, are tropical gourds that grow on herbaceous vines that reach up to five meters in length, belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. There are two main types of Bitter melon cultivated worldwide, varying in appearance and flavor. Chinese Bitter melons are typically a lighter green hue with ridged and creased, smooth skin, while Indian Bitter melons are darker green, spiky, and covered in textured warts. Regardless of the specific type, Bitter melons are known by many names, including Karela, Bitter gourd, Balsam-pear, and Goya, and are considered to be one of the most bitter-tasting ingredients in the culinary world. The astringent flesh is highly valued in Asian cuisine and is often used to balance sweet, spicy, salty, and sour tastes. Bitter melons are also a favored home garden vine, cultivated for their edible leaves and gourds for use in culinary and medicinal applications.
Bitter melon is an excellent source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, boost collagen production, and reduce inflammation. The melons are also a good source of vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning, potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, provide some calcium to protect bones and teeth, and contain lower amounts of folate, iron, zinc, and fiber. Beyond vitamins and minerals, Bitter melons contain cucurbitacins, compounds in the flesh that give the gourd its bitter flavor.
Bitter melons have an astringent, bitter flavor well suited for cooked preparations, including stir-frying, baking, sautéing, steaming, boiling, braising, and stewing. The melon’s sharp flavor complements rich, fatty, and spicy ingredients and is often utilized in different culinary styles found within Asian cuisine. Bitter melons can be consumed raw, but the gourds should be deseeded, salted, and left for approximately 30 to 45 minutes to draw excess moisture and bitterness. Once the bitter flavor is lessened, the melons can be sliced for salads, chopped into dips and spreads, or blended into juices. Bitter melons are also traditionally blanched before use or salted to tame the astringent notes before cooking. The melons can be stirred into soups and curries, stuffed and baked as a main dish, stir-fried with vegetables and meat, or cooked and coated in rich sauces. Bitter melons can also be sliced and roasted as a simple side dish, cut and fried as a rice accompaniment, or pieces of the flesh can be dried and steeped as a healing and cleansing tea. In addition to the melons, the young leaves and shoots of the plants are edible and share the characteristic bitter flavor, used as an accent in salads and soups. Bitter melon pairs well with coconut milk, aromatics including lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and onions, chile peppers, tomatoes, green beans, eggplant, black beans, yogurt, pork, beef, and poultry, and seafood including fish, shrimp, crab, and scallops. Whole, unwashed Bitter melons will keep 3 to 5 days when wrapped in plastic or placed in a sealed container in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer.
Bitter melon was historically used as a medicinal aid in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda before it was incorporated as a culinary ingredient. The bitter flavor was believed to cleanse and purify the body and bloodstream, and herbalists generally recommend eating the melon raw, creating tinctures, or juicing the flesh to absorb the most amount of nutrients. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Bitter melon is viewed as a cooling ingredient used to expel unnecessary heat, calm the digestive tract, and maintain healthy liver functioning. Ayurveda also shares many of these beliefs, as Bitter melon is used to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetic patients, aid in digestion, protect against viral infections, and reduce symptoms associated with migraines.
Bitter melon is an ancient crop with a somewhat muddled history. Experts trace the species back to Asia, specifically India, where it has been growing wild for thousands of years, and believe the gourds were spread to China sometime during the 14th century. Over time, Bitter melons became widely cultivated throughout Asia, and new hybrids have been developed to be more palatable and less bitter than their wild ancestors. Bitter melons were also eventually introduced to Africa, Europe, Australia, and the New World. Today Bitter melons are grown worldwide in tropical to subtropical climates, sold fresh through supermarkets, specialty grocers, and farmer’s markets. In the United States, the Asian fruit is cultivated through select growers in Hawaii, Florida, and California.
Recipes that include Bitter Melon. One is easiest, three is harder.