Cookbook | Recipes | Ingredients | Vegetables
Bitter melon, also known as foo qua, balsam pear, and bitter gourd, is a culinary vegetable related to pumpkin and zucchini.
Bitter melons are members of the squash family and resemble a cucumber with bumpy skin. As the name implies, they have a sharp bitter flavor. When first picked, a bitter melon is yellow-green, but it turns a yellow-orange color as it ripens. Typically, the bitterness of the vegetable increases with size. The inside of the melon is filled with fibrous seeds. Bitter melon has lots of potassium and vitamin C. The ripe orange fruit is rich in beta-carotene, and the intensely red ripe seeds are high in lycopene.
Selection and storageEdit
Select firm, unblemished melons that are from 5 to 12 inches in length. Choose melons that are still green for a more bitter flavor and a yellow-orange melon for a milder taste. Store loose in a paper or plastic bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days. Slice the melon immediately before use.
Bitter melon fruit, shoots, and leaves are all edible. It is used in Indian, Nepali, Chinese, Japanese, Burmese, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, and other cuisines. It can be steamed, fried, pickled, blanched, baked, stuffed, stir-fried, juiced, and used in soups. It has been used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for diabetes and to cause abortions.
To prepare, cut the melon in half and discard the seeds and fibrous core. The skin is edible and the melon is not typically peeled. The seeds are also edible, unless very hard, and are included in some recipes.
There are various ways to reduce the bitter taste. Tossing the fruit in salt and letting sit for 30 minutes to an hour can help leach out some of the bitterness. Soaking in cold water or blanching it for 2-3 minutes before further cooking can also reduce the bitterness. Garlic, chili peppers, yogurt, and salty condiments are often added to recipes to offset the bitter taste.
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Bitter melons are available fresh from April to September in most Asian markets and can occasionally be found in larger supermarkets. They are primarily grown in tropical climates, including East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America. Some markets are beginning to carry bitter melons year round. They may also be purchased canned or dried.