Cucurbitaceae, which includes watermelon, cucumbers, squash, and muskmelon, also includes bitter melon (Momordica charantia). This product is known by many different names around the world, including bitter gourd, bitter cucumber, bitter squash, karela, balsam pear, and balsam apple.
Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, India, and the Middle East are some of the countries where it is most popular. The skin of the bitter melon is bumpy and ranges from light yellowish green to dark yellowish-green and oblong in shape as it matures and ripens. The fruit gets thornier and more bitter as it matures. The Chinese (smooth skin) and the Indian (rough skin) are the two most common varieties (bumpy skin).
Asian and Indian cuisines use bitter melon frequently.
Cooking pork and bitter melon together is common in Chinese cuisine, and bitter melon is used as tea.
It is possible to cook Northern Indian bitter melon by stuffing it and cooking it in oil. To counteract the bitterness, it is served or prepared with yogurt.
In Kerala, South India: Bitter melon is a common ingredient in curries.
In the Caribbean: Onion and garlic are sautéed with bitter melon until crispy.
You can also juice bitter melon and have it on its own. It’s also possible to mix it with other juices to create a mocktail.
Bitter melon was used for medicinal purposes for centuries in Asia, Africa, and India.
Bitter melon can be anywhere from 5 to 12 inches in length, depending on the variety. As the fruit ripens, it will turn yellow or orange, but it is usually picked when it is green. While the fruit has a reddish-pink seed coat and a fair-skinned layer of pulp inside, it is not eaten in its raw state.
In Southeast Asia, it is among the most commonly consumed vegetables. The fast-growing, climbing vine crop, which is native to China and India, is widely grown across Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. It is also grown in Europe.
In Florida, Hawaii, and California, bitter gourd is cultivated as a specialty vegetable, and to a smaller extent.
Although it is theoretically a fruit, bitter gourd is consumed as a vegetable and used as an acidic flavoring in various dishes.
As one of the most bitter produce, it is often immersed in cold water before being boiled, fried, curried, or steamed to reduce the bitterness before being eaten. Curry, soup, and stir-fry dishes are all examples of dishes where bitter gourd is commonly used.
It has gained the focus of doctors and scientists from around the world because of its reputed medicinal properties. As a source of essential nutrients such as iron and calcium, it is also being investigated as a possible treatment for a variety of illnesses, including infectious diseases, diabetes, and skin conditions.
Different Types of Bitter Gourd
Bitter melon comes in two varieties: Chinese and Indian. The Chinese type is larger, with a typical length ranging from 8 to 12 inches. With sleek, wart-like bumps on its light green skin, this variety has rounded ends. While the Indian variation is more compact, it has sharper ridges on its dark green skin as well as more pointed ends.
The best growing conditions for bitter melon are in the range of 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day. If plants are correctly irrigated during the drier months of the year, the gourd can be grown year-round in the tropics. Lowland areas up to an elevation of 3,200 feet are ideal for this plant.
It can be cultivated in a greenhouse or out in the open, but the former is more common. Transplanting the plant or starting from seeds, which need warm, moist conditions to germinate, are both viable options. After root development, the plant will begin to produce three to four new leaves.
The plant’s vines will begin to grow tendrils as soon as the leaves appear. These vines can grow up to 15 feet in length and have many branches. Crops typically require trellis support after reaching a height of 4 to 6 feet.
Bitter melon thrives in sandy or silty loams that are well-drained. Wilt caused by bacteria and mold can harm plants and stunt fruit development when they are grown in wet environments. There should be a generous spacing of 5 to 6 feet between rows and three to five feet between each plant.
Fruit can be harvested 50 to 70 days after seeding, depending on the growing region. Transplanting plants increases the rate at which fruit develops. Bitter melon must be harvested by hand, which necessitates extra care. Every two to three days, the fruit needs to be harvested because it grows so quickly.
The best time to pick young fruit is when it is solid and pale green in color. Harvested at full ripeness, the fruit changes color from green to yellowish-orange. If left on the vine for too long, the bitter gourd will become squishy, split in half, and begin to drop seeds; eventually, the bitter gourd will become overly large and bitter.
At 53 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit and 85% to 90% relative humidity, the fruit must be removed from the field immediately following harvest. Shelf life can be lengthened by 2 to 3 weeks in these conditions.
Bitter melon should be sold as soon as possible due to its high perishability. Temperatures below 50°F should be avoided when storing the fruit. To avoid over-ripening, it should be kept away from other ethylene-producing fruits such as pineapples, apples, and bananas.
Pests & Infections
It is the melon fruit fly, aptly named, that is the most destructive pest of bitter melon because its worms feed on the fruit and populaces grow rapidly.
Management of the flies can be achieved through the use of insecticides, insecticide pesticides, protein baits, insecticide traps, and resistant plant varieties. Other pests, such as thrips, ladybugs, cutworms, aphids, bollworms, and mites, can also attack the fruit.
As with other Cucurbitaceae plants, bitter melon can be infected with diseases like Cercospora leaf spot, powdery mildew, powdery downy mildew, bacterial wilt, and mosaic virus.
Fungicide sprays can be used to prevent most of these diseases, especially during prolonged wet periods.
Cooked bitter melon, whether green or yellowing, is the preferred method of consumption. If you’re looking for an alternative to lettuce, try the bitter melon. You can remove some of the acrid flavor of the fruit by soaking it in ice water and then draining it.
Curry Plant’s Medicinal and Culinary Uses
The medicinal properties of bitter melon are numerous. It has antimicrobial, antiviral, and ulcer-treating properties. It has a chemical in it that works in a manner similar to insulin and can therefore assist in the reduction of blood sugar. Conditions like dysentery, gout, and rheumatism can all be treated with a root decoction. The fruit’s antioxidant properties help it decrease bad cholesterol levels, a factor in heart disease prevention.
However, excessive consumption of bitter melons can lead to infertility in men. The fruit’s antiviral components have made it possible to treat HIV patients. Intestinal worms, constipation, and colitis are among the conditions for which they’ve been used. It has also been found that bitter melons help treat psoriasis and liver disease. The fruits of the melon are stuffed with meat or prawns in dishes. You can also fry them, pickle them, or add them to soups.
Bitter melons should also be soaked in cold or salted water before cooking to eliminate some of their bitterness.
In India, the bitter melon is native.
Type 2 diabetes is also known to be treated by the bitter melon in Chinese folk medicine.
It is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking and a common item in Japanese gardens due to its ability to withstand the intense heat of summer.
Bean meals and soups are enhanced by the addition of bitter melons by Amazonian indigenous groups. The leaves are also used to make a tea that is used to control diabetes, mumps, hepatitis, colds, and to help women start menstruating more regularly, among other ailments.
A paste created from the plant can be used to treat wounds, sores, and other infections.
In Brazil, bitter melon is also used in traditional medicine. As a form of contraception, it can also induce abortions. Aphrodisiacs in Brazil also use the fruit to treat skin conditions such as eczema, leprosy, and rashes.
In Mexico, bitter melon is being used to treat diabetes and dysentery, and the root is also regarded as an aphrodisiac.
As a natural remedy for malaria and inflammation in Peru, the plant’s leaves are commonly used.
To alleviate stomach problems, coughs, cramps, hypertension, and assist in childbirth, bitter melon is commonly used in Nicaraguan cuisine.