What Is Bitter Melon?

Description: Cucumber’s ugly stepsister, the bitter melon (or bitter gourd) is an edible fruit pod popular in many Asian countries. It has soft ridges lengthwise and an uneven, pebbly surface. Depending on the type, immature pods can be light to dark green and have an oblong shape with a pointed tip at the blossom end. The white interior is similar to a melon’s with a group of foamy seeds in the center.

Flavor Profile: While other related fruits—cukes, watermelons, cantaloupes—have a light and sweet flavor, bitter melon lives up to its name and is in fact the most bitter among all fruits and veggies. The cutting taste leaves the tongue and the roof of the mouth dry.

Cuisine Connection: Bitter melon is one of the most popular vegetables in China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, and India, where it is popularly known as karela and used in stir-fry or stuffed with garam-masala (tomatoes, onions, green chilies, garlic, and curry leaves).

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Battling the Bitterness: There are several methods for reducing bitterness, like boiling in salt water for five to 10 minutes and then discarding the water or marinating in yogurt for about 30 minutes. If stir-frying, adding a few teaspoons of sugar to the pan helps tame the bitterness too.

Had a Few Too Many? Among the benefits of its many disease-preventing and health-promoting phytochemical compounds, bitter melon juice is purportedly beneficial in the treatment of a hangover.   

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