There are many popular dishes in Chinese cuisine that use bitter melon as a staple ingredient. It is not only priced for its bitter flavour in Chinese culinary uses, it is also valued for its medicinal properties in Traditional Chinese Medicines. Some popular Chinese dishes are Bitter Melon and meat (beef, chicken or pork) stir-fried with fermented black bean sauce; Braised Chicken and Bitter Melon; Steamed Stuffed Bitter Melon with minced pork; Bitter Melon and Egg stir-fry, and even added to salads, pickled and boiled in soups. It can also be dried and made into herbal tea. While another popular dish using bitter melon is stuffed tofu (Yong Tau Foo) in Malaysia. Although bitter melon can be an acquired taste at first for some, for many who grew up with eating bitter melon, it is not only delicious but nutritious too. For my easy weeknight dinner recipe, I have used sliced chicken pieces and bitter melon stir-fried in a ginger, garlic, dry sherry, honey and coconut amino sauce that is gluten free and soy free. I have added honey to reduce the bitterness but this is optional if you like the bitter taste of the melon like me. This recipe is also low carbs, dairy free, egg free, nut free, refined sugar free, allergy friendly and paleo without the rice. For paleo, serve with cauliflower rice instead.
History of Bitter Melon
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is the edible fruit of a tropical and subtropical annual plant that is part of the Cucurbitaceae family, just like cucumber, pumpkins and watermelons. Other common names used are bitter gourd, bitter apple, bitter cucumber, bitter squash, balsam pear, karela, goya. It originated in India and subsequently brought to China during the 14th century. It is extensively used in Asia and particularly in India and China for cooking and for medicinal purposes. Today, bitter melon is widely grown in Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean. Traditional Chinese medicines and Ayurvedic medicine have used bitter melon for hundreds of years to treat diabetes as it is a natural hypoglycemic and as a remedy for other ailments like digestive problems, respiratory diseases, skin disorders, injuries, gout and rheumatism. With promising and affirmative research in recent years, bitter melon is now included in many different types of dietary supplements like capsules and green powder sold in pharmacies and health food stores. There are also many bitter melon recipes for juices and smoothies promoted on the internet, claiming to help prevent diabetes and lower blood sugar. Bitter melon is even made into face cream for treating acne and skin irritations.
Nutritional values and Health Benefits of Bitter Melon
Bitter melon is low in calories and high in dietary fiber. It is packed full of essential vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and other bioactive compounds like alkaloids, steroidal saponins, polypeptide and aromatic volatile oil. The main components of bitter melon are charantin, momordicine and p-insulin which are steroidal saponin, alkaloid and polypeptides correspondingly. Momordicine and charantin are primarily accountable for the health benefits and the bitterness of bitter melon. Bitter melon is particularly rich in vitamin C and also an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin K plus a good source of folate and potassium. In addition, bitter melon also has some zinc and iron.
Health benefits of bitter melon include: help lower blood sugar level; prevention and management of diabetes; decrease bad cholesterol level; reduce blood pressure; lower risks of cardiovascular diseases; decrease blood cholesterol levels; assist in weight loss; support healthy digestive system; promote radiant skin and hair; help treat skin disorders like acne, psoriasis and eczema; prevent growth of cancer cells in the pancreas, liver, colon , prostate or breasts; detoxify the body; support healthy eye sights and boosts the immune system. In addition, research also demonstrated that bitter melon could help relief the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation during the treatment of cancer. Furthermore, bitter melon has antiviral, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It contains a protein called MAP30 and may help in the treatment of HIV and AIDS as well as herpes, but more human research is required.
Choosing and Storing Bitter Melon
The most common kind of bitter melon available in Asia and Asian groceries stores as well as specialty fruits and vegetables stores in the Western countries is the Chinese variety that is light green in colour with uneven and bumpy skin. Typically, Chinese bitter melons are around 7 to 12 inches long. Another type of bitter melon that can be found on the markets are the Indian variety that is darker green in colour, with coarser texture and narrowing ends. Indian bitter melons are around 6 to 10 inches in length. Some countries like Taiwan, typically sells the white type of bitter melon. Both the skin and the flesh are normally eaten with the seeds and white pith in the middle removed. When shopping for bitter melon, look for those that are firm, with no blemished or darkened spots. The darker green bitter melons are more bitter than the lighter green bitter melons. Store bitter melon in the crisper section of the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to five days.
Bitter melon has contraindication with pregnancy and should not be consumed by pregnant or nursing women. It should not be provided to infants and small children because of its hypoglycemic outcomes.
If you are taking diabetic prescription medications, bitter melon can enhance the effects of these medications and cause severe hypoglycemia. Check with your medical professional before consuming if you have diabetes and are taking regular medication.
Consumption of excessive amount of bitter melon juice can trigger minor abdominal pain or mild diarrhea.