Inspired By a Bitter Taste

Bitter melon is perhaps the most bitter of vegetables. A member of the squash family native to southern China, being easily recognized by its shiny, fleshy and peculiar warty-looking surface, irregular ridges and bumps run the length of the fruit.

The vast majority of Americans who have tried bitter melon probably found the experience quite unpleasant, not something they would ever want to repeat. But really, bitter melon is a delicious vegetable – when cooked right – and moreover, it is immensely nutritious.

Bitter melon has long been thought to have medicinal value. It is rich in iron, calcium, potassium, vitamins C and B1 to 3, phosphorus and good dietary fiber, believed to be food for liver, and has been proven by western scientists to contain insulin, act as an anti-tumor agent, and inhibit HIV-1 infection.

Though indisputably good bitter medicine, Asians like bitter melon because they are fond of the taste. In the Orient, a healthy well-balanced diet includes the bitter taste, supplied by bitter greens, fruits, herbs and roots. The bitter flavor may initially take some getting used to, but can become addictive once a taste for it is acquired.

In one well-known Chinese recipe bitter melon is stuffed with pork, garlic, and mashed black beans, and steamed. It is also a common ingredient used in many of the easy and quick stir fry dishes. In Chinese cooking it is seldom cooked with strongly flavored ingredients, since this will neutralize the bitterness.

Bitter melons are less bitter when they have fully ripened. A ripe melon will be light green in color with tinges of yellow or light orange on the outside. Besides, although bitter melons are known in the Orient to be very nutritious and medicinal, it should be taken with caution. Patients with diabetes should always take bitter melon under the supervision of a medical or herbal professional. Also, if too much bitter melon juice is taken, it can cause mild abdominal pain or diarrhea.

Scrambled egg with bitter melon.

Chicken & bitter melon soup.