EVERY Thai cooks with Bitter Melon for family and friends; and you see Bitter Melon at Thai fresh markets and roadside stalls almost all year round. But you rarely see this healing, natural medicine food in Thai restaurants, despite it being delicious if prepared well.
Ma Ra (มะระ) in Thai. Botanically, Momordica charantia. Called Bitter Melon in English, or sometimes Chinese Bitter Gourd. In Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand, the Chinese variety is widely grown, really cheap and almost always available.
The Indian variety is slightly less common, probably because it is smaller, and has less flesh inside; but I have seen them in the markets occasionally:
I was INSPIRED to highlight this amazing natural Asian medicine vegetable when I curated @papapepper’s Bitter Melon post for @ecotrain on the steem blockchain in the last days. It’s a GREAT post about his first bitter melons grown from seed:
I SMILED when I read his post and realized how normal I think it is to make bitter melon soup at the first sign of a sniffle, and that it’s commonly served in hospitals all over Thailand. So normal to me now as to be unremarkable.
So what is it about this amazing little gourd, that looks like a pimply cucumber?
It has INCREDIBLE properties to control blood sugar and blood cholersterol levels. LOADS of clinical studies out there – Here’s a great summary of the clinical literature, with most of the studies focused on diabetes and blood sugar control.
Nutritionally it’s a great source of all the usual wonderful things you’d expect: Vitamin C, Vitamin A, folate, potassium, zinc and iron. But more than that, Bitter Melon contains catechin, gallic acid, epicatechin, and chlorogenic acid – powerful antioxidants which protect against cellular damage.
Clinical studies have shown concentrated Bitter Melon extract to be effective at killing cancer cells in situ. Studies are underway to examine how Bitter Melon functions as an anti-cancer agent, over time, at normal dietary levels.
Thai people also believe – and there is clinical data to support this – that Bitter Melon helps in weight loss and helps the body to increase fat burning. It does that by stimulating the liver (like most bitter foods) and stimulating bile production.
Bitter Melon is a simple, traditional Thai “go-to” whenever anyone is sick or convalescing, or to prevent illness and stay in great health. So what are the most popular ways to cook, serve and eat it?
The stand-out “normal” in Thai homes and Thai hospitals is in a clear soup. I was quite impressed to see this fancy-schmancy version of stuffed Bitter Melon soup recipe online:
But in almost every Thai village version I’ve had of this dish, the minced pork or chicken is simply floating loose in the clear broth with slices of Bitter Melon, a few shiitake mushrooms and maybe some carrot and fresh coriander. It’s surprisingly yum, not very bitter when the gourd is treated with salt, and just somehow very healing, soothing and comforting.
Bitter Melon is often served as a breakfast stir fry, with eggs and/or finely sliced chicken, over rice. That’s a very standard way to eat Bitter Melon in Vietnam and Southern China too.
How to get Bitter Melon from VERY bitter, to decidedly yummy? Scoop out the seeds, slice and rinse (no need to peel as the skins are much softer than they look) and then SOAK in salted water for about 20 minutes. Rinse again and drain before cooking.
So now you want to GROW this important natural medicine food, don’t you? If you’re in Thailand, India or South East Asia, grab a Bitter Melon from the market, scoop out the seeds, stick them in some soil and wait. Too easy. A beginner-level garden project. When the plants are 6 inches plus, slash a bit of bamboo from the back of the garden and create some lattice for them to climb on. Make sure it’s sturdy, as the vines fruit prolifically and can be HEAVY when fully laden with fruit.
If you’re NOT in Asia, @papapepper is a SEED MAN and can be found through the @homesteaderscoop store. Pepper Family Homestead Seed Store
Bitter Melon is a wonderful natural medicine addition to a healthy diet and really enjoyable when cooked the Thai way.
BlissednBlessed. Feeling Hungry.