If you are diabetic, you probably know that bittermelon is one of the herbal supplements that health food stores recommend for diabetics along with cinnamon. As a child , my memories of bittermelon is that of repulsion. Once a month, my grandmother pick the bittermelon leaf shoots and extract the bitter juice and gives me a tablespoon of the extract as a purgative. Frequently, at least twice a week a bittermelon dish magically appears in the dining table , oh what agony. I developed a taste for it as I aged and prepares a bittermelon dish which my children finds repulsive.
Bittermelon is an Asian gourd. The scientific name is Momordica Charantia. This vegetable fruit is also known as bitter gourd and balsam pear. Other names are karela in India, Foo Gwa or Ku gua in chinese, muop dang or kho gua in Vietnam,Goya in Okinawa ,assorossie in French and ampalaya in pilipino. This fruit vegetable is bitter as the name implies. Bittermelon is a bumpy waxy gourd that range in lenght from 3-12 inches long. Two varieties of bittermelon are sold in the Los Angeles asian markets, the dark and light green varieties. The shape and length is like that of a cucumber . Both varieties are bitter in flavor but the darker variety has a stronger flavor and the preferred ingredients in the preparation of authentic Asian dishes. Some expert’s says that the bumpier,fatter bittermelon is less bitter. Other’s say that mature fruit that is slightly turning yellow is less bitter. I think the degree of bitterness is based on its maturity. The seeds contain vicine that can cause favism in suseptible individuals. Insulin like molecules had been found in the seeds.The red arils of the ripe bittermelon are toxic to children . The plant has been documented to reduce fertiity in both male and female, and is contraindicated to pregnant women as it has been shown to increase intrauterine activity and may result in abortion.
This vegetable fruit is the most bitter of all vegetables. The experience of eating bittermelon for the first time is like that of eating bile. The entire vegetables is edible, from roots,leaves,stems and fruit. The fruit can be harvested in different stages of development,where the immature fruit has the most pronounced bitterness, In Japan it is consumed during the summer months to help overcome the effects of heat and humidity. The Okinawan’s credit their longevity to consuming bittermelon daily.
Here are some of the health claims of bittermelon, 1st it is a rich source of vitamin C, beta carotene, iron,phosphorous, b vitamins: thiamine,riboflavin and niacin, 2nd it helps in digestion and as a purgative . Bittermelon is used as herbal medicine in various part of the world, In Panama it is used to treat malaria and diabetes.The vegetable contains a signifiant amount of quinine.It is also used in the treatment of boils,hemmorhoids,colds ,anemia, use as purgative, taken to lower high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Since not much information is available for the cholesterol lowering ability of bittermelon, this discussion will only focus on Type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes have impaired ability to convert sugar in the blood into glucose in their muscles. They do not produce enough insulin and the fat and muscle cells do not utilize insulin effectively. This phenomenom is called insulin resistance. One of the recommended treatment for type 2 diabetes aside from medication and diet is exercise. Excercise activates the AMPK (a type of protein) this reaction activates the movement of glucose to the cell surface into the tissues of the body where it is absorbed. This is the reason why exercise is part of the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Bittermelon contain 4 compounds that perform a similar function as that of exercise. Although there are well know drugs that could activate AMPK, these drugs has side effects. If you are diabetic and would like to use bittermelon in the form of food,extract,or capsule, make sure you inform your physician . Combining diabetic medication and bittermelon can significantly lower your blood sugar to unsafe level.
In addition bittermelon contain lectin (a type of protein) that has insulin like activity. The insulin like activity is due to its linking together with 2 insulin receptors. Lectin lowers blood glucose concentration by acting on the peripheral tissues,similar to insulin effect on the brain, suppressing appetite.
Growing bittermelon is as easy as growing any annual tropical vine . Seeds will sprout when the temperature is consistently above 70 degF. Plant in fertile soil and provide ample water. It is a fragile vine and need staking . Seeds can be purchased from asian supermarkets or on line. If you are unable to get seeds, buy ripe bittermelon, remove the seeds and dry in newspaper .
When dry,soak overnight then plant in full sun. All parts of the buttermelon is edible except the mature seeds and the arils.
Young fruit with immature seeds can be consumed cooked in its entirety. The leaves can be added to vegetable stews .
Bittermelon can be purchased in health food stores or online in the form of tea,extract,pill or powder form. As for me,I either boil the fresh leaves to make tea and or boil the fruit without the seed and eat it with my favorite sauce.
Heres a vegetarian dish that utilizes the bittermelon leaves:
1 cup mungbean
1 quart water
Combine mungbean and water in a soup pot. Cook until mungbean is soft. ( like cooking beans) Add more water if needed. When cooked,set aside.
Saute 1 tbsp. olive oil, when hot saute 2 garlic cloves (minced) , 1 medium onion(chopped),1 medium chopped tomatoes
When the onions are wilted, add the cooked mungbean( do not drain)
Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
If the mixture is dry,add 2 cups of water and bring to a boil.
When boiling add 1 cup of bittermelon leaves.. Simmer for 1 minute and enjoy.
The leaves of bittermelon is rich in iron, vitamin C and A.