Bitter melon might not sound like a fruit you’d want to chow down on, but this warty little cucumber is actually a worldwide favorite, both as food and as medicine. If you’re reading this post, you’re probably wondering how bitter melon might be useful in your life. Fortunately, whether you love the taste or are simply interested in exploring some of the potential bitter melon benefits hinted at through science and tradition, there is much to be enjoyed in this hot-weather perennial fruit.
Bitter Melon Benefits – Medicinal
It’s important to note when discussing the potential medical potential of fruit like bitter melon, that this is a complex plant that is not completely understood by science. Unlike many medications which are isolated chemicals that can be researched with great specificity, bitter melon has many alkaloids and compounds, so it can be difficult to say that X effect definitely comes from Y cause. Still, research is ongoing, and much of it seems to validate traditional medical uses of bitter melon that have been passed down through history.
In the past, bitter melon has been used for stomach complaints, and recent studies have recorded observations about its effect on human digestion. This may occur because of the body’s reaction to the fruit’s bitter flavor, surprisingly enough. When people taste bitter flavors, saliva production increases. So does the production of stomach acid and various digestive enzymes. It’s unknown whether or not there are also chemicals within bitter melon that have a direct mechanism of action in stimulating digestion, but the flavor is a sure thing.
Perhaps of more value in the medical world, bitter melon has also been shown to help maintain blood sugar already within the normal range. It is interesting to note that this action was suggested by pre-science medical traditions, and is now better understood as a result of studies performed in labs.
These are the two most well understood potential bitter melon benefits from a medical perspective. Others have been suggested, so the interested reader is encouraged to research the matter to learn more about other possible benefits.
Bitter Melon Benefits – Culinary
Bitter melon is eaten in many countries around the world. Depending on where you look, you’ll find it eaten raw in salads, fried whole, sauteed with vegetables, pickled, dehydrated, juiced, and countless other preparations for dishes which depend on its characteristic bitter taste.
Sometimes the gourd’s bitter qualities are not preferred or they’re desired at a diminished level. In these cases, bitter melon may be soaked in water, boiled, or otherwise rid of its characteristic flavor. At various stages of ripeness, bitter melon may exhibit flavor variations, at times tasting sourer or demonstrating astringent effects. Both of these characteristics are used in dishes of various types throughout Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, and South America. Because bitter melon is a newer addition to the American gardener’s canon, people within the United States are starting to sample these dishes, as well as developing variations of their own.
Finally, bitter melon is commonly prepared as a tea, either from dried slices, powders, or from fresh-cut slices straight from the garden. Bitter melon tea may be taken for its flavor, for its purported medical effects, or for a combination of both characteristics.
As you can see, bitter melon may be used in many different ways, for many different purposes. This green fruit is striking in appearance, so it’s no wonder that ancient cultures took an interest to it and sought out its many use cases. Today we continue to benefit from this knowledge, so if you’re interested, try bitter melon today!