The most bitter of all fruits, bitter melon has been used for centuries in Asia and Africa as a powerful remedy for lowering blood sugar and healing infections.
What is bitter melon?
Bitter melon is a tropical and subtropical vine that originated in India. In the 14th century, it was introduced in China, and after that, it became very popular in other Asian countries. Due to this popularity, it has been known as Goya (indigenous language in Okinawa) and Karavella (Sanskrit); for English speakers, as Bitter squash or Bitter gourd. Momordica charantia is an edible fruit of the family Cucurbitaceae.
This fast growing, climbing vine can reach up to 5 meters, but because of its thin stems, it requires a trellis for support. The leaves are 4 to 12 centimeters long, with separate lobes. One can see distinctive yellow flowers, yet separate male and female flowers. The immature pods are light to dark green, and have oval and oblong shapes. People usually eat them green, when their flesh is watery and crunchy in texture, similar to cucumber. When they mature, the color turns yellow or orange and splits into segments and the flesh becomes more bitter and tougher, in a word, too distasteful. At the same time, the pitch becomes sweet and red and it can be eaten uncooked.
There are several varieties of bitter melon; one can recognize two distinctive forms: Chinese and Indian bitter melon.
Nutritional Properties of Bitter Melon
One of the best fruits that are very low in calories, yet rich in precious nutrients, is bitter melon. For instance, 100 grams of bitter melon contain only 17 calories. When fresh, bitter melon is a source of folates that help reduce incidence of neural tube defects in the newborn. This fruit is source of phyto-nutrient called polypeptide – P therefore excellent fruit for lowering blood sugar level. Another component responsible for lowering blood pressure is called charantin. This component increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the cells of liver, adipose tissue and muscles. As a good source of ß-carotene, α-carotene, lutein, and zea-xanthin, bitter melon also contains potassium, calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and copper.
As for vitamins, vitamin C is the most powerful antioxidant that bitter melon contains; 100 grams of raw pod provides 140% of RDI. In addition, it is an excellent source of pyridoxine (vitamin B – 6), niacin (vitamin B – 3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B – 5) and vitamin A.