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Bitter gourd (melon) nutrition facts

Bitter gourd (melon) is perhaps the secret vegetable of the Okinawan islander’s longevity!  Although the bitterness of Bitter melon might turn some people away, it can really sweeten your health because of its disease preventing and health promoting phyto chemical compounds.

Botanically it belongs to the family of Cucurbitaceous, of the genus: Momordica and is a member of the same family of squash, watermelon, cantaloupes, cucumber etc. Scientific name: Momordica charantia. Some of the related varieties are balsam pear, cundeamor, la-kwa etc.

Bitter melon is the immature pod vegetable, popular in many Asian countries. This widely grown as edible pod is, in fact, among the most bitter of all culinary vegetables.

Bitter melon is temperate /tropical vegetable probably originated in South-East Asia.  Like other members of the cucurbitaceae family, this plant is a fast-growing, trailing or climbing vine with thin stems and tendrils and requires trellis to support the climbing vine.

The pods are characterized by smooth lengthwise ridges and uneven pebbly surface. Depending upon the cultivar type, immature pods are light to dark green in color and have oblong or oval shapes with pointed tip at the blossom end. Internally, the flesh is white with rough edged seeds, somewhat similar to ridge gourd seeds. As the fruits begin to mature, they gradually turn yellow or orange.

Health benefits of Bitter gourd

  • Very low in calories provides only 17 cal per 100g. The pods are rich in phytonutrients like dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins and anti-oxidants.

  • Bitter melon notably contains phyto-nutrient, polypeptide-P; a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels. In addition it also contain hypoglycemic agent called charantin. Charantin increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the cells of liver, muscle and adipose tissue. Together, these compounds are thought to be responsible for reduction of blood sugar levels in the treatment of type-2 diabetes.

  • Fresh pods are an excellent source of folates; contains about 72 mcg/100g (Provides 18% of RDA).  Folate helps reduce incidence of neural tube defects in pregnant mothers when taken during early pregnancy.

  • Fresh bitter melon is an excellent source of vitamin-C (100g of raw pod provides about 140% of RDI). Vitamin-C, one of the powerful natural antioxidant, helps body scavenge deleterious free radicals one of the reasons for cancers development.

  • The vegetable also an excellent source of health benefiting flavonoids such as b-carotene, a- carotene, lutein, zeaxanthins. It also contains good amount of vitamin A. These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging, cancers and various disease processes.

  • Bitter melon stimulates digestion and peristalsis which can be helpful in relieving indigestion and constipation problems.

  • The vegetable is also good source of Niacin (vitamin B-3), Pantothenic acid (vit.B-5), Pyridoxine (vit.B-6) and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium.

  • Early laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection.

Principle Nutrient Value Percentage of RDA
Energy 17 Kcal <1%
Carbohydrates 3.70 g 3%
Protein 1.00 g 2%
Total Fat 0.17 g 0.5%
Cholesterol 0 mg 0%
Dietary Fiber 2.80 g 7%

Folates 72 mcg 18%
Niacin 0.400 mg 2.5%
Pantothenic acid 0.212 mg 4%
Pyridoxine 0.043 mg 3%
Riboflavin 0.040 mg 3%
Thiamin 0.040 mg 3.5%
Vitamin A 471 IU 16%
Vitamin C 84 mg 140%

Sodium 5 mg <1%
Potassium 296 mg 6%

Calcium 19 mg 2%
Copper 0.034 mg 4%
Iron 0.43mg 5%
Magnesium 17 mg 4%
Manganese 0.089 mg 4%
Zinc 0.80 mg 7%

Carotene-ß 190 mcg --
Carotene-? 185 mcg
Lutein-zeaxanthin 170 mcg --

Selection and storage

Fresh pods are available in the markets year around. When you buy bitter melons, look for the fresh pods that feature dark green color, without any cuts, or blemishes on their surfaces. Choose young looking immature pods. Immature fruits are least bitter; and the bitterness rises as the pods become more mature.

At home fresh pods are placed in the plastic zip pouch and stored in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator, where they stay fresh for up a week.

Culinary uses

Wash bitter gourds thoroughly in the running water before cooking. Fresh pods as well as young leaves of can be used for cooking. Bitterness can be reduced by marinating in salted spice mixture and then dried in sunlight. There are several local traditional methods to reduce bitterness like boiling in salt water for 5-10 minutes and then discarding the water or marinating in yogurt for about 30 minutes.

Although advised to avoid due to higher alkaloid contents, pith and seeds are also eaten in some Asian regions without any reservations.

Here are some serving tips:

  • In India where it is popularly known as karela used in variety of recipes either stir-fried or stuffed with garam masala, tomato, onions, green chilies, garlic and curry leaves.

  • Goya chanpuru, an Okinawan stir fry with bitter melon, onion, tofu, pork, eggs is a special preparation of health conscious islanders.

  • Known as ampalaya in Philippines, it has been widely used in special dishes like Pinakbet Ilocano, prepared with shrimp paste and mixed with vegetables like eggplant (aubergine) and okra.

  • Dried and grounded whole bitter gourd has been used in the preparation of iced or whole milk tea in some East Asian region.

  • Bitter gourds also been used in the preparations of pickles.

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