Nov 2007

Vegetation Profile: Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown for edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all vegetables. English names for the plant and its fruit include bitter melon or bitter gourd (translated from Chinese: 苦瓜; pinyin: kǔguā), in Jamaica it is generally known as cerasse. The original home of the species is not known, other than that it is a native of the tropics. It is widely grown in South and Southeast Asia, China, Africa, and the Caribbean.

The fruit has a distinct warty looking 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. Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The typical Chinese phenotype is 20 to 30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface.

Bitter melon or khổ qua is a staple in down home Vietnamese cooking. I have encountered it stuffed with ground meat at com binh dan establishments and simmered in a soup at my grandma’s sister’s house. I’ve even seen it stuffed with meat and simmering in a soup simultaneously. Regardless of the style of preparation, bitter melon seems to be an acquired taste that just doesn’t vibe well with me. The melon’s texture is pleasant, but its flavor is way too harsh.

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10 thoughts on “Vegetation Profile: Bitter Melon

  1. i really don’t know how some people can eat this. my mom usually stuffs it with the ground pork for my dad. but there have been times that she used it to stir-fry with meat. but we call it muop dang.

  2. Muop dang is an entirely different species…but yeah, tried kho qua stuffed with a ground pork in soup a couple of times…definitely not my cup of “soup” 🙂

  3. It’s a shame that not many people can enjoy it. For those who do, its true taste isn’t bitter but sweet. The sweetness is subtle and hidden inside the bitterness.

  4. Pizza man – I’m gonna keep eating bitter melon at every opportunity until I discover the subtle sweetness ;-).

    James and Angel – what’s muop dang?

  5. well my family always called bitter melon- muop dang. so i am not sure what james is referring to.

  6. Cut it into small peaces, deep fry it. Add sufficient amount of salt and chilly powder. It will be good to eat.

  7. Cathy,
    My mom makes gỏi mướp đắng (bitter melon) that isn’t bitter at all. There is a way to enjoy this wonderful and medicinal vegetation after all! Ingredients: young bitter melon with the guts and membrane removed, thinly slice the bitter melons into “rings” and then cut the rings in half. The thinner the slices, the less bitter. Put the half rings in the freezer to keep them fresh and crunchy while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Thịt heo luộc thái chỉ. Lots of cilantro. Rau răm. Right before serving mix the pork, sliced melon, rau răm, cilantro with nước mắm chua ngọt and top off with crushed roasted peanuts. This is basically gỏi ngó sen but with thinly sliced bitter melon instead of ngó sen. Nước mắm chua ngọt really brings out the mild sweet of bitter melon. It’s a sweet, spicy and refreshing summer salad. Yum!!

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