Indian Bitter melon is known in India by its Hindi name, Karela. It looks somewhat like a cucumber with tapered ends and small spikes and knobs along its rough exterior. It is shorter and a darker green than the bitter melon that grows in China. As the name implies, Indian Bitter melon is rather bitter in taste. Because of the high water content in members of the Cucurbitaceae family, overripe Indian Bitter melon will get soggy when it starts to turn a yellowish-green to yellow color.
Indian Bitter melon is available all year-round.
Indian Bitter melon is more well-known for its medicinal qualities than for its mass culinary appeal. The extract of momordica charantia is currently being studied at Saint Louis University in the US for its ability to halt the growth of cancer cells. The relative of watermelon, squash and cucumber is also known as bitter cucumber or bitter gourd in English, peria in Indonesia and ampalaya in the Philippines.
Indian Bitter melon has compounds that can aid in gastrointestinal diseases/disorders by killing toxic substances in the gut that harm good bacteria. The properties in Bitter melon have also been shown to treat diabetes and malaria.
The seeds and pith of Indian Bitter melon are very bitter and should be removed prior to preparing. Peeling is unnecessary; slice melon lengthwise and scoop out seeds and pith with a spoon. Soaking sliced Indian Bitter melon in salt water for up to twenty minutes before cooking can ease the bitter taste in a dish. Bread and fry Indian Bitter melon or mash it with potato for a side dish. The bitter fruit is also used in curries and Moong dal.
In some African territories and Asian cultures, Bitter melon is used for stomachaches and is soaked in honey or olive oil.
Bitter melon originated in India and was later carried into China in the Fourteenth century. The variety referred to as Indian Bitter melon is more widely grown in India, especially in the northeastern Bengali region. It is a staple in Bengal cooking. Bitter melon preparations are traditionally served at the beginning of a Bengali meal to help get the digestive juices flowing before a meal. Bitter melon grows best in tropical climates similar to India, China, Africa and the Caribbean. The Chinese version of Bitter melon is more widely known in the US than the Indian variety.