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Momordica charantia, known as bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash or balsam-pear in English, has many other local names. Goya from the indigenous language of Okinawa and karela from Sanskrit are also used by English-language speakers.
It is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is extremely bitter. Its many varieties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.
Bitter melon originated on the Indian subcontinent, and was introduced into China in the 14th century. 
This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 m. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm across, with three to seven deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.
The fruit has a distinct warty exterior and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity filled with large, flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.
As the fruit ripens, the flesh (rind) becomes tougher, more bitter, and too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some Southeast Asian salads.
When the fruit is fully ripe, it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.
Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The cultivar common to China is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India (common name 'Karela'), Pakistan, Nepal and other countries in South Asia. The sub-continent variety is most popular in India.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||79 kJ (19 kcal)|
|Dietary fiber||2 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.||
|Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.
Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and herbal teas. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some Chinese and Okinawan beers.
It is very popular throughout South Asia. In North Indian cuisine, it is often served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, used in sabzi or stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India, it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), mezhukkupuratti (stir fried with spices), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and Pachi Pulusu (కాకరకాయ పచ్చి పులుసు), a soup with fried onions and other spices. In Tamil Nadu, a special preparation called pagarkai pitla (பாகற்காய் பிட்லா), a kind of sour koottu (கூட்டு), variety is very popular. Also popular is kattu pagarkkai (கட்டு பாகற்காய்), a curry that involves stuffing with onions, cooked lentil and grated coconut mix, tied with thread and fried in oil. In Konkan region of Maharashtra, salt is added to finely chopped bitter gourd and then it is squeezed, removing its bitter juice to some extent. After frying this with different spices, less bitter and crispy preparation is served with grated coconut.
In Pakistan and Bangladesh, bitter melon is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled bitter melon to be boiled and then stuffed with cooked minced beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).
Bitter melon is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.
In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the south. It is also used as the main ingredient of "stewed bitter melon". This dish is usually cooked for the Tết holiday, where its "bitter" name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.
In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.
In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this, the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and sautéed covered in oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sautéed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.
In some English texts, the plant or the fruit may be called by its local names, which include kugua (Chinese: 苦瓜, pinyin: kǔguā, "bitter gourd"); parya (Ilokano), pare (Javanese and Indonesian), pavayka or kayppayka (Malayalam), yeoju (Korean: 여주), goya (Okinawan: ゴーヤー) or nigauri (Japanese: 苦瓜; although the Okinawan word goya is also used in Japanese), paagharkaai (Tamil: பாகற்காய்), hāgalakāyi ma'reah (Khmer: ម្រះ), mara (Thai: มะระ), kaakarakaya(Telugu: కాకరకాయ), করলা (korola) (Bengali), (Kerela) (Assamese), ampalaya (Tagalog), muop dang (Vietnamese: mướp đắng) or kho qua (Vietnamese: khổ qua). It is also known as caraille or carilley in Trinidad and Tobago, carilla or karela in Guyana, cundeamor is a small variety very common in Puerto Rico (actually is the Momordica balsamina), "asorosi" or assorosie" in Haiti, and cerasee or cerasse in Jamaica and elsewhere in the Caribbean, including parts of South America (although is known in Portuguese as melão de São Caetano - and Spanish-speaking areas, however is known by the Okinawan or Japanese names in others regions). It is karela in Hindi- and Urdu-speaking areas, कारले (karle) in Marathi. It is known as तीते करेला (tite karela) in Nepali, tite means bitter and karela is the fruit. In Suriname,and the Dominican Republic it is known as sopropo. It is "ကြက်ဟင်းခါးသီး(/kje' hin: ga: thi:/)" in Burmese, Myanmar (formally known as Burma). The fruit is called kudhreth narhy (kudret narı) in Turkey, faaga in Maldives, and karavila කරවිල in Sri Lanka(Sinhala). Additional local names include hagala kayi(ಹಾಗಲ ಕಾಯಿ) in Kannada, karla in Marathi, karela (કારેલા) in Gujarati. It is kayppayka in Malayalam spoken in Kerala State, kakarakaya (కాకరకాయ) in Telugu, paagarkaai (பாகற்காய்) in Tamil, and kalara "କଲରା" in Oriya. "Changkha" (in KUKI/Manipur/North East India)
Traditional medicinal uses
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Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African herbal medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey, it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. In traditional medicine of India different parts of the plant are used to relieve diabetes, as stomacache, laxative, antibilious, emetic, anthelmintic agent, for the treatment of cough, respiratory diseases, skin diseases, wounds, ulcer, gout, and rheumatism.
According to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, Momordica charantia has a number of purported uses. While it has shown some potential clinical activity in laboratory experiments, "further studies are required to recommend its use". Several animal studies and small scale human studies have demonstrated a hypoglycemic effect of concentrated bitter melon extracts.
Bitter melon is contraindicated in pregnant women because it can induce bleeding, contractions, and abortion.
Dishes and other uses
An Indonesian-style bitter melon dish, cooked with sambal, onion, and red bird's-eye chili peppers
- Momordica balsamina (balsam apple)
- Momordica cochinchinensis (gac)
- Momordica cymbalaria
- Momordica foetida
- "BSBI List 2007" (xls). Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
- Tritten, Travis J. (March 9, 2011). "State Dept. official in Japan fired over alleged derogatory remarks". Stars and Stripes. Retrieved September 12, 2012.
- "karela - WordReference.com Dictionary of English". Wordreference.com. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- Bagchi, Indrani (11 April 2005). "Food for thought: Green 'karela' for Red China". Times of India.
- For example, Goya Dry by Helios brewery of Okinawa
- Lim, T. K. (2013). Edible medicinal and non-medicinal plants. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 331–332. ISBN 9789400717640.
- Grover, J. K.; Yadav, S. P. (2004). "Pharmacological actions and potential uses of Momordica charantia: A review". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 93 (1): 123–132. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.03.035. PMID 15182917.
- Beloin, N.; Gbeassor, M.; Akpagana, K.; Hudson, J.; De Soussa, K.; Koumaglo, K.; Arnason, J. T. (2005). "Ethnomedicinal uses of Momordica charantia (Cucurbitaceae) in Togo and relation to its phytochemistry and biological activity". Journal of Ethnopharmacology 96 (1–2): 49–55. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.08.009. PMID 15588650.
- Ananya Paul and Sarmistha Sen Raychaudhuri (2010). "Medicinal uses and molecular identification of two Momordica charantia varieties – a review". Electronic Journal of Biology 6 (2): 43–51.
- "Kudret Narı Faydaları". Beslenme Desteği. Retrieved 2011-10-03.
- Semiz, A, Sen A. (February 2007). "Antioxidant and chemoprotective properties of Momordica charantia L. (bitter melon) fruit extract". African Journal of Biotechnology 6 (3): 273–277.
- Wang L, Waltenberger B, Pferschy-Wenzig EM, Blunder M, Liu X, Malainer C, Blazevic T, Schwaiger S, Rollinger JM, Heiss EH, Schuster D, Kopp B, Bauer R, Stuppner H, Dirsch VM, Atanasov AG. Natural product agonists of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ): a review. Biochem Pharmacol. 2014 Jul 29. pii: S0006-2952(14)00424-9. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2014.07.018. PubMed PMID: 25083916.
- "Bitter Melon". Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- Wang, B. L.; Zhang, W. J.; Zhao, J; Wang, F. J.; Fan, L. Q.; Wu, Y. X.; Hu, Z. B. (2011). "Gene cloning and expression of a novel hypoglycaemic peptide from Momordica charantia". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 91 (13): 2443–8. doi:10.1002/jsfa.4485. PMID 21626510.
- Lo, H. Y.; Ho, T. Y.; Lin, C; Li, C. C.; Hsiang, C. Y. (2013). "Momordica charantia and its novel polypeptide regulate glucose homeostasis in mice via binding to insulin receptor". Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 61 (10): 2461–8. doi:10.1021/jf3042402. PMID 23414136.
- Chen, Q; Chan, L. L.; Li, E. T. (2003). "Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) reduces adiposity, lowers serum insulin and normalizes glucose tolerance in rats fed a high fat diet". The Journal of nutrition 133 (4): 1088–93. PMID 12672924.
- Abascal K, Yarnell E (2005). "Using bitter melon to treat diabetes". Altern Complemen Ther 11 (4): 179–184. doi:10.1089/act.2005.11.179.
- H.K.Bakhru (1997). Foods that Heal: The Natural Way to Good Health. Orient Paperbacks. ISBN 81-222-0033-8.
- Gas Chromatogrphy- Mass Spectrometry Analysis and Phytochemical Screening of Methanolic Fruit Extract of Momordica charantia
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Momordica charantia.|
- The National Bitter Melon Council
- Bitter Melon Monograph by Harvard Medical School and Natural Standard Research Collaboration
- Detailed botanical description
- "An Acquired Taste." Article about bittermelon in Hana Hou! Vol. 10, No. 1 (February/March 2007).
- Bitter Melon Extract Decreased Breast Cancer Cell Growth
- Antidiabetic effects of Momordica charantia (bitter melon) and its medicinal potency
- Anthelmintic activity of ethanolic and aqueous extracts of fruits peels of Momordica charantia (curcubitaceae)
- Hepatoprotective Potentials of M Momordica charantia