Whether you call it bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, bitter cucumber, goya, karela, balsam pear, or one of its many other names, there's one thing to know for sure about this underrated fruit: you should be eating more of it.
Never heard of it? Don't let its funky appearance or bitter taste deter you: bitter melon is wildly popular in India and Asian countries — and for good reason.
When it comes to health benefits, many cultures eat bitter melon or take it in supplement form as a traditional "medicine" to treat diabetes. While more research is needed, early studies are promising and show that over time bitter melon can improve blood sugar levels. It's also used to treat a variety of issues like constipation, kidney stones, the skin condition psoriasis, and liver disease. And when combined with ginger, lemon, and honey, it makes a wicked hangover tonic.
Plus, bitter melon is an ideal food for weight loss since it's a low-calorie and high-fiber food — and it's high in vitamin C, folate, and vitamin A.
So how do you get more of this medicinal wonder into your diet? Here's what you need to know:
You can find bitter melon in most Asian markets and many grocery stores — just look out for the vibrant green, spiky-looking gourds, about the size of English cucumbers. While they may be available year-round, their peak season is April through September. According to the National Bitter Melon Council, you'll want to choose greener melons for maximum bitterness and yellow-orange melons for a more mild flavor. You can store the fresh fruit in the refrigerator for three to five days.
Prep Like a Pro
To reduce its bitterness before cooking with it, you can either salt it or blanch it. To salt it, slice the melon in half and core the fruit, cover in salt, and let sit for at least 10 minutes. Then, rinse off the salt and use as desired. To blanch, core and slice the melon and boil it in lightly salted water for two minutes, then dunk the slices in ice water to halt the cooking.
Once it's been salted or blanched, you can use it just as you would zucchini or green peppers: it's fabulous steamed, roasted, stuffed, or used in stir-fries, curries, scrambled eggs, and soups. It's also popular in smoothies and juices. The National Bitter Melon Council recommends pairing it with other flavors such as garlic, chili peppers, and coconut milk.