Bitter Melon

Momordica charantia, known as bitter melon, bitter gourd, bitter squash, or balsam-pear, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit.  Its many varieties differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.  Bitter melon originated in India and was introduced into China in the 14th century.  It is widely used in East Asian, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cuisine.

The fruit has a distinct warty 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.  The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow.  At this stage, the fruit’s flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but bitter.  The skin is tender and edible.  Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.

As the fruit grows, the flesh (rind) becomes somewhat tougher and more bitter, and many consider it too distasteful to eat.  On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some Southeast Asian salads.

When the fruit is fully ripe, it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp.

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