Bitter Melon

Bitter melons being fried in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.Image via Wikipedia

Botanical Name :Momordica charantia
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Momordica
Species: M. charantia
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Cucurbitales

Common Names:Bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash or balsam-pear  in English, has many other local names. Goya  from Okinawan and karela from Sanskrit are also used by English-language speakers.

Habitat :  Momordica charantia is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown for edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables. English names for the plant and its fruit include bitter melon or bitter gourd (translated from Chinese: ??; pinyin: kugua). The original home of the species is not known, other than that it is a native of the tropics. It is widely grown in India, South Asia, The Philippines, Southeast Asia, China, Africa and the Caribbean.

Also known as Ku gua, the herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4-12 cm across, with 3-7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers.

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Description: 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…..CLICK & SEE

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 somewhat tougher and more bitter, and many consider it 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.

The fruit has a distinct warty looking 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. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits, ripening to red; they are intensely bitter and must be removed before cooking. The flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper. The skin is tender and edible. The fruit is most often eaten green. Although it can also be eaten when it has started to ripen and turn yellowish, it becomes more bitter as it ripens. The fully ripe fruit turns orange and mushy, is too bitter to eat, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.

Varieties:
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The cultivar common to China 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 Bangladesh, India (common name ‘Karela’), Pakistan, Nepal and other countries in South Asia. The sub-continent variety is most popular in Bangladesh and India.

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Bitter Gourd comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The typical Chinese phenotype is 20 to 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. Coloration is green or white. 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 Southeast Asia as well as India.(Its Indian name is Karala)

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Bitter melon is commonly used as a vegetable in tropical areas such as East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. The plant gets its name from the bitter taste of its fruit and juice; however, cooking it with the appropriate spices can reduce the bitterness. In addition to being a food source, bitter melon is employed as an herbal remedy in many parts of the world. While the seeds, leaves and vines of bitter melon may all be used, the fruit is used most often for medicinal purposes.

At lease three types of compounds in bitter melon are believed to lower blood sugar, which can benefit people with diabetes mellitus. It is still unclear whether these compounds work together or individually, but several controlled clinical studies have confirmed that bitter melon is beneficial in controlling the symptoms of diabetes.

Test-tube studies have also shown that two proteins found in bitter melon — alpha-momorcharin and beta-momorcharin — inhibit the AIDS virus. However, these studies have not been conducted in humans.

Culinary uses:
Bitter melons are seldom mixed with other vegetables due to the strong bitter taste, although this can be moderated to some extent by salting and then washing the cut melon before use.

Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea.

It is also a popular vegetable in Indian and Pakistani cooking, where it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness. Bitter melon fried in oil and then stuffed with other spicy ingredients is very popular in Andhra Pradesh, a south Indian state.

Bitter melon is rarely used in mainland Japan, but is a significant component of Okinawan cuisine.

In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes.

It is prepared into various dishes in the Philippines, where it is known as ampalaya. Ampalaya may also be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. A very popular dish from the Ilocos region of the Philippines, pinakbet, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.

The young shoots and leaves may also be eaten as greens; in the Philippines, where bitter melon leaves are most commonly consumed, they are called dahon (leaves) ng ampalaya. The seeds can also be eaten, and give off a sweet taste, but have been known to cause vomiting and stomach upset.

Medicinal uses:
Bitter melons have been used in various Asian traditional medicine systems for a long time . Like most bitter-tasting foods, bitter melon stimulates digestion. While this can be helpful in people with sluggish digestion, dyspepsia, and constipation, it can sometimes make heartburn and ulcers worse. The fact that bitter melon is also a demulcent and at least mild inflammation modulator, however, means that it rarely does have these negative effects, based on clinical experience and traditional reports.

Perhaps the best substantiated use to date is that of bitter melon for people with diabetes mellitus. Several preliminary (non-randomized, non-blinded) clinical trials suggest this benefit, though controlled trials are necessary for confirmation . In the Philippines, bitter melon tea is used in blood sugar control for poor people as exemplified in the very successful Operation Diabetes . For a detailed review of studies involving bitter melon and diabetes, see Abascal and Yarnell 2005.

In ayurvedic medicine, bitter melon is popularly seen as a “plant-insulin.” It has been demonstrated that bitter melon contains a protein similar to bovine insulin, sometimes referred to as p-insulin or polypeptide-p (Baldwa, et al. 1977). When purified and injected subcutaneously into patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), it acted very similar to slow-acting animal insulins and was able to sustain patients . One child in this small study who previously had many side effects from bovine insulin was able to use p-insulin exclusively for 5 months with no sign of problems. This represents the potential for a vegetarian alternative to animal insulin for patients with IDDM, as well as a potentially more sustainable source of insulin, and should be further developed. It is not possible to substitute eating bitter melon for taking insulin.

Though it has been claimed that bitter melon’s bitterness comes from quinine, no evidence could be located supporting this claim. Bitter melon is traditionally regarded by Asians, as well as Panamanians and Colombians, as useful for preventing and treating malaria. Laboratory studies have confirmed that various species of bitter melon have anti-malarial activity, though human studies have not yet been published .

Laboratory tests suggest that 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 glycosproteins (lectins), neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of bitter melon will slow HIV in infected people. It is possible oral ingestion of bitter melon could offest negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if a test tube study can be shown to be true in people . In one preliminary clinical trial, an enema form of a bitter melon extract showed some benefits in people infected with HIV (Zhang 1992). Clearly more research is necessary before this could be recommended.

The other realm showing the most promise related to bitter melon is as an immunomodulator. One clinical trial found very limited evidence that bitter melon might improve immune cell function in people with cancer, but this needs to be verified and amplified in other research . If proven correct this is another way bitter melon could help people infected with HIV


How much bitter melon should I take?

For those who can withstand the bitter taste, many herbalists recommend eating one small melon; 100 millileters of a bitter melon decoction; or two ounces of fresh bitter melon juice per day. For people who cannot stand the taste, some practitioners recommend bitter melon tinctures (five millileters, two or three times per day).

What forms of bitter melon are available?

Fresh bitter melon and bitter melon juice can be found at many specialty stores and Asian markets. Bitter melon extracts and tinctures can be found at some health food stores.

What can happen if I take too much bitter melon? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Excessive amounts of bitter melon juice may cause abdominal pain and diarrhea. In addition, patients with hypoglycemia should avoid bitter melon, because it could theoretically worsen their condition.

At present, there are no well-known drug interactions with better melon. However, make sure to consult with a health care provider before taking bitter melon (or any other dietary supplement).

Disclaimer:
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.

Source:ChiroFind.com and  en.wikipedia.org

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