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Anyone here eat bitter melon?

 
pioneer
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Location: Sydney, Australia. Subtropics
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Although virtually non existent in western cuisine, bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is extremely common all throughout the world, especially in asian cultures... so I gave it a try to see what all the fuss was about.

I cooked it in a curry and found it unpleasantly bitter. I understand you can develop your taste buds to tolerate it in the same way you can for spicy foods, but I couldn't help but wonder if I did something wrong in the cooking process. I removed the seeds and the flesh surrounding the seeds, but not all of it. Next time i'll cut it length ways and scrape out the insides with a spoon. I also heard stories of people getting sick from bitter tasting fruits of the cucurbitaceae family and wonder why they are poisonous but not this vegetable?
 
Posts: 46
Location: Lexington, KY
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Hi Ben. I used to work with a Chinese man who told me all the time that I needed to be eating bitter melon. He was so convinced that I needed bitter melon that he shared some of his seeds with me. He had been saving them for years in his backyard garden and claimed that his variety was much better than the ones you find in the grocery store. I grew them and, just like you, found them to be repulsive. I knew they were going to be bitter, but nothing quite prepares you for bitterness like that. I asked him how he prepares them, and he told me that he scoops out the seeds and core then slices them very thin. Then he sprinkles salt on them and lets them soak in water for 10-15 minutes. Supposedly soaking removes some of the bitterness. After that he adds them to pork stir fry where they are cooked at a very high heat for a short time.

I went home and tried preparing the bitter melon just as he said, and they were more palatable, although still very bitter. Unexpectedly I found that I came to enjoy them in my stir fry and almost craved having that small pop of bitter in there. Supposedly bitter melon is great for diabetes. I do have some blood sugar issues, so maybe he was onto something. I'm glad you reminded me about bitter melon. I need to go ask him for more seeds and actually save some this time.

I now work at a different job with a different Chinese man. We were talking about gardening a while back and I asked him if he was familiar with bitter melon. He said, "Oh yeah, you eat that in pork stir fry." So perhaps try it that way!
 
gardener
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Location: South of Capricorn
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I love bitter melon. Learned to eat it in Japan (called nigauri up where I was, or goya in the south of the country), then found it was used in other cuisines, especially Indian (karela). In most cases it is soaked in saltwater after slicing, which does tone down the bitterness. There are various types, different colors and different degrees of "wartiness". It is still bitter, I think, for the American palate, over a couple of years I cultivated my love for bitter foods and I came to love it. It is indeed supposed to be great for diabetes. I wish I could grow it but it needs more heat than I have (i get a few frosts a year, it is enough to be too cold for them).
(I usually slice it into maybe 1 cm thick rings and saute it with miso, garlic, and a splash of Chinese wine).
This might be informative. https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/07/seriously-asian-bitter-melon-stir-fry.html
I know we have also talked about eating bitter foods here, as well as dangers from eating bitter cucurbits (in asia, bitter melon has been eaten forever, and when you eat it people generally say "YES SO HEALTHY" as opposed to noting that it can make you sick, which happened to me with pretty much everything else I ate, so I am [perhaps naively] assuming the dangerously bitter cucurbits are something else)
 
Joseph hackett
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Thanks that's really helpful. I've been eating the chinese variety so i might try the indian spikey variety next time.
 
pollinator
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I like to cook bitter melon stir fried, thinly sliced with black bean sauce. However, it could also be down to your genetic makeup whether you love or loathe the taste https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/ptc/
 
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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Yes, when I first tried bitter gourd I thought "How could people eat this?!" but then one year living in Nepal I started to like the slightly bitter green leafy vegetables (mustard?) commonly cooked as a saag. I don't remember exactly how or when, but I remember the year that the switch flipped, and I started to love bitter gourd. "Craving" is the word! The first year that I liked it, I'd eat it almost compulsively; now I've calmed down and like to have it once in a while. Exposure is not sufficient to start liking it though -- my (South Indian) housemate's mother forced him to eat it as a kid, so he can tolerate it but dislikes it. (In India it's called karela in Hindi and bitter gourd in English, same thing as bitter melon in China).

Sliced thin and deep fried till crispy is compulsively yummy. In curries is good. A fancy way is stuffed karela, where you slice it in half, scoop it out, cook the insides with minced meat and onions etc, then stuff it back in, tie it up with string and fry the whole thing. I've also improvised spicy oily Indian pickles with karela, and my karela-loving friends loved it.

The seeds are nice and satisfying, and I prefer not removing them. I don't think the pulp around the seeds is more or less bitter, either; but if the pulp is hot pink it's too ripe and generally not eaten or you scrape it out. Salting before cooking is said to reduce the bitterness but I think once your switch flips and you like the bitterness then you won't need that, and if you hate the bitterness, then you won't eat it at all. I don't salt it and my Indian friends don't, I think, though i have heard it suggested. Oh and I've seen recipes suggesting scrape the bumps off the outside --- What? No! That's pointless, the bumps are soft and tender. Eat the whole thing except the stem!

Yes, in India it is considered incredibly healthy and some people even drink its juice or smoothies!

Teresa, it's not perennial, it just needs a long hot summer, like other gourds and squash, so your few frosts a year shouldn't be a problem.

Where I live now we have a long cold winter so we dry a lot of vegetables, and bitter gourd is one of the few vegetables that reconstitutes and cooks up exactly like fresh.
 
Posts: 49
Location: Zone 3 Thunder Bay Ontario Canada
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Oh yeah, it's bitter. And I love it. Cooked the Chinese way with pork as people are mentioning, delightful. I've had it with beef too. Yum. I'm one of those people who absolutely craves it at times. And I've watched other people spit it out in disgust.

You do have to get used to it. And maybe some people never will as already noted. Genetics, yeah, makes sense.

There's also: If you look at Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM bitter goes with heart. Along the same lines, there are the Ayurvedic reasons for eating bitter melon.

You can also look at bitter as Digestives.

I so wish I had a longer growing season to grow. I can get it from a grocery store here, but with little life left in it. Oh, Zone 3 for growing. Maybe if/when I get a hoop tunnel greenhouse.

Interesting book on the topic: Bitter: A Taste of the World's Most Dangerous Flavour with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan. The book notes that even people growing up with bitter can dislike bitter melon. But those who like it usually love it!
 
Posts: 51
Location: SW Ohio, 6b, heavy clay prone to hardpan
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I guess it's a love or hate thing.  I can't stand the flavor.  But I do know some folks who enjoy it.
I eat quite a lot of strong-flavored vegetables, I love sea kale and apios americana, but bitter melon is a huge "NO" for me.
 
Tereza Okava
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Rebecca Norman wrote: it just needs a long hot summer, like other gourds and squash, so your few frosts a year shouldn't be a problem.  


Thank you, this is SO good to know. I have been trying to grow it forever, with no success, and just assumed it was a cold thing. The seeds all come from my uncle who lives a few hours north (officially tropical, whereas we are subtropical). One of these years it will work- loofa happened this year, so I know it`s possible.
 
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Location: 7b desert southern Idaho
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It makes a great dish to feed people on April 1st.
 
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