Bitter melon is the fruit of a fast growing vine usually found in subtropic climates. The name comes from its bitter taste – it is considered the most bitter of all edible vegetables. The fruit is oblong in shape with varying undulations – or warts – on its exterior. It is the tender young fruit, usually 4″-6″ long, green to white in color, that are used in a wide variety of culinary dishes and medicinal applications. As the fruit ripens, the rind becomes tougher and is too bitter to eat. (http://bittermelon.org/)
As a culinary ingredient, bitter melon is an acquired taste. While in the same botanical family as a cucumber, it’s definitely different and much sharper on the tongue. Why use such a bitter ingredient to cook with? Probably because its such a unique and memorable flavor component. Many Asian culinary traditions, not to mention those in Central and South America, embrace bitter melon. The Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Thai, Vietnamese, Filipino, and so forth, counter the bitterness of the fruit with spicy, sweet, or savory components. (http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2010/07/seriously-asian-bitter-melon-stir-fry.html)
In medicinal applications, Bitter melon is promoted as a remedy for diabetes, cancer and various infections. For centuries, Ayurveda has recommended the use of bitter melon (Momordica charantia) as a functional food to prevent and treat human health related issues.
A few studies have indicated that it may be effective in reducing blood sugar levels (a hypoglycemic effect) and treating type II diabetes. Reductions in blood sugar after taking bitter melon can be seen quickly—as soon as 30 minutes—with the greatest reduction occurring at 4 hours and lasting for 12 hours. (http://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/article_content.asp?edition=1§ion=3&article=371 , http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21211558).
Studies have also shown some effectiveness of using bitter melon in the treatment of breast cancer- one of the most common cancers in women- and prostrate cancer – the second leading cause of cancer deaths for men. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20179194, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21911444).
One approach to controlling cancer is prevention through diet, and the anti-tumor activity of bitter melon has recently begun to emerge. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20198408)
One of the health risks of taking bitter melon is that it may work too well. Combining it with standard drugs can create an additive effect, reducing blood sugar levels too low. If you are already taking drugs for diabetes, you should your physician before adding bitter melon to your diet. (http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=21580)
Bitter melon can be found in most Indian and Asian grocery stores.
Superpower Morning Smoothie
1 large handful roughly chopped kale, spinach, collards, or a combination
1 frozen peeled banana, cut into several pieces
1 cup pure unsweetened coconut water
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tablespoon flax oil
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Place all ingredients in a blender and puree until completely uniform in color and all the bits of green are pulverized. Serve immediately.