Bitter melon

Bitter melon
Bitter melon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Cucurbitales
Family: Cucurbitaceae
Genus: Momordica
Species: M. charantia
Binomial name
Momordica charantia

Momordica charantia, called bitter melon or bitter gourd in English, is a tropical and subtropical vine of the family Cucurbitaceae, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, which is among the most bitter of all fruits. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape and bitterness of the fruit.

This is a plant of the tropics, but its original native range is unknown.



Ripe fruit

This herbaceous, tendril-bearing vine grows to 5 meters. It bears simple, alternate leaves 4–12 cm across, with 3–7 deeply separated lobes. Each plant bears separate yellow male and female flowers. In the Northern Hemisphere, flowering occurs during June to July and fruiting during September to November.

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 ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, more bitter, and 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.


Bitter melon comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The China phenotype is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The bitter melon more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes are any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

China phenotype
Sub-continent phenotype
Indian variety
China phenotype Sub-continent phenotype Indian variety

Culinary uses

A small green bitter melon (front) and a scoop of Okinawan stir-fried gōyā chanpurū (back)
Bitter gourd (boiled, drained, no salt)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 79 kJ (19 kcal)
Carbohydrates 4.32 g
- Sugars 1.95 g
- Dietary fiber 2.0 g
Fat 0.18 g
- saturated 0.014 g
- monounsaturated 0.033 g
- polyunsaturated 0.078 g
Protein 0.84 g
Water 93.95 g
Vitamin A equiv. 6 μg (1%)
Thiamine (vit. B1) 0.051 mg (4%)
Riboflavin (vit. B2) 0.053 mg (4%)
Niacin (vit. B3) 0.280 mg (2%)
Vitamin B6 0.041 mg (3%)
Folate (vit. B9) 51 μg (13%)
Vitamin B12 0 μg (0%)
Vitamin C 33.0 mg (40%)
Vitamin E 0.14 mg (1%)
Vitamin K 4.8 μg (5%)
Calcium 9 mg (1%)
Iron 0.38 mg (3%)
Magnesium 16 mg (5%)
Phosphorus 36 mg (5%)
Potassium 319 mg (7%)
Sodium 6 mg (0%)
Zinc 0.77 mg (8%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database
A soft drink made from bitter melon.

Bitter melon is generally consumed cooked in the green or early yellowing stage. The young shoots and leaves of the bitter melon may also be eaten as greens.

Bitter melon is often used in Chinese cooking for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea. It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some Chinese beers.

It is very popular throughout South Asia. In Northern India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, or used in sabji. In North Indian cuisine it is stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and pachi pulusu (కాకరకాయ పచ్చి పులుసు), a soup with fried onions and other spices.In Tamil Nadu a special preparation in Brahmins' cuisine called 'pagarkai pitla' (பாகற்காய் பிட்லா) a kind of sour 'Koottu' (கூட்டு) variety is very popular. Also popular is ' kattu pagarkkai' (கட்டு பாகற்காய்) a curry stuffed with onions,cooked lentil and grated coconut mix, tied with thread and fried in oil. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, bitter melon is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled bitter melon to be boiled and then stuffed with cooked ground beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).

Bitter melon is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.

In Indonesia, bitter melon is prepared in various dishes, such as gado-gado, and also stir fried, cooked in coconut milk, or steamed.

In Vietnam, raw bitter melon slices consumed with dried meat floss and bitter melon soup with shrimp are popular dishes. Bitter melons stuffed with ground pork are served as a popular summer soup in the South. It is also used as the main ingredient of "stewed bitter melon". This dish is usually cooked for the Tết holiday, where its "bitter" name is taken as a reminder of the poor living conditions experienced in the past.

In the Philippines, bitter melon may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of bitter melons, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.

In Nepal, bitter melon is prepared as a fresh pickle called achar. For this the bitter gourd is cut into cubes or slices and sautéed covered in oil and a sprinkle of water. When it is softened and reduced, it is minced in a mortar with a few cloves of garlic, salt and a red or green pepper. It is also sauteed to golden-brown, stuffed, or as a curry on its own or with potatoes.

In Trinidad and Tobago, bitter melons are usually sauteed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until almost crisp.

Local names

In some English texts the plant or the fruit may be called by its local names, which include kugua (Chinese: 苦瓜, pinyin: kǔguā, "bitter gourd"); parya (Ilokano), pare or pare ayam (Javanese and Indonesian), Pavayka or Kayppayka (Malayalam:പാവയ്ക്ക, കയ്പ്പക്ക ), goya (Okinawan: ゴーヤー) or nigauri (Japanese: 苦瓜; although the Okinawan word goya is also used in Japanese), paakharkaai (Tamil: பாகற்காய்), "Hāgalakāyi" (Kannada: ಹಾಗಲಕಾಯಿ), "Kaakarakaya"(Telugu), Korola (Bengali), ampalaya (Tagalog), muop dang (Vietnamese: mướp đắng) or kho qua (Vietnamese: khổ qua). It is also known as caraille or carilley on Trinidad and Tobago, carilla in Guyana, and cerasee or cerasse elsewhere in the Caribbean and parts of South America (although if known in Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking areas, will most probably be know by the Okinawan or Japanese names). It is karela in Hindi- and Urdu-speaking areas. In Suriname, it is known as sopropo. The fruit is called Kudret Narı in Turkey.

Medicinal uses

Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African traditional medicine systems for a long time.[1][2][3] In Turkey it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints.[4][5] The fruit is broken up and soaked in either olive oil or honey.

Active substances

The plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin I and II, and cucurbitacin B.[6] The plants contains also several bioactive glycosides (including momordin, charantin, charantosides, goyaglycosides, momordicosides) and other terpenoid compounds (including momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol).[7][8][9][10][11] It also contains cytotoxic (ribosome-inactivating) proteins such as momorcharin and momordin.[12]


Bitter melon is used as a folk medicine in Togo to treat gastrointestinal diseases, and extracts have shown activity in vitro against the nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans.[2]


Bitter melon is traditionally regarded in Asia as useful for preventing and treating malaria.[citation needed] Tea from its leaves is used for this purpose also in Panama and Colombia. In Guyana, bitter melons are boiled and stir-fried with garlic and onions. This popular side dish known as corilla is served to prevent malaria. Laboratory studies have confirmed that species related to bitter melon have anti-malarial activity, though human studies have not yet been published.[13]


In Togo the plant is traditionally used against viral diseases such as chickenpox and measles. Tests with leaf extracts have shown in vitro activity against the herpes simplex type 1 virus, apparently due to unidentified compounds other than the momordicins.[2]

Laboratory tests suggest that compounds in bitter melon might be effective for treating HIV infection.[14] As most compounds isolated from bitter melon that impact HIV have either been proteins or lectins, neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of bitter melon will slow HIV in infected people. It is possible oral ingestion of bitter melon could offset negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if a test tube study can be shown to be applicable to people.[15]


Studies in mice indicate that bitter melon seed may have a cardioprotective effect by down-regulating the NF-κB inflammatory pathway.[16]


In 1962, Lolitkar and Rao extracted from the plant a substance, which they called charantin, which had hypoglycaemic effect on normal and diabetic rabbits.[17] Another principle, active only on diabetic rabbits, was isolated by Visarata and Ungsurungsie in 1981.[18] Bitter melon has been found to increase insulin sensitivity.[19] In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined that a daily dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day.[20] Tablets of bitter melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries.[20]

Other compounds in bitter melon have been found to activate the AMPK, the protein that regulates glucose uptake (a process which is impaired in diabetics).[21][22][23][24][25]

Bitter melon also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its non-protein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating bitter melon.[citation needed]


Two compounds extracted from bitter melon, α-eleostearic acid (from seeds) and 15,16-dihydroxy-α-eleostearic acid (from the fruit) have been found to induce apoptosis of leukemia cells in vitro.[26] Diets containing 0.01% bitter melon oil (0.006% as α-eleostearic acid) were found to prevent azoxymethane-induced colon carcinogenesis in rats.[27]

Researchers at Saint Louis University claims that an extract from bitter melon, commonly eaten and known as karela in India, causes a chain of events which helps to kill breast cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying.[28]

Other uses

Bitter melon has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.[2]


The seeds of bitter melon contains vicine and therefore can trigger symptoms of favism in susceptible individuals. In addition, the red arils of the seeds are reported to be toxic to children, and the fruit is contraindicated during pregnancy.[29]

See also


The plant

Dishes and other uses


  1. ^ J. K. Grover and S. P. Yadav (2004), Pharmacological actions and potential uses of Momordica charantia: a review. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, volume 93, issue 1, pages 123–32 PubMed doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.03.035
  2. ^ a b c d Nadine Beloin, Messanvi Gbeassor, Koffi Akpagana, Jim Hudson, Komlan de Soussa, Kossi Koumaglo and J. Thor Arnason (2005), Ethnomedicinal uses of Momordica charantia (Cucurbitaceae) in Togo and relation to its phytochemistry and biological activity. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, volume 96, issues 1-2, pages 49-55. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.08.009
  3. ^ Ananya Paul and Sarmistha Sen Raychaudhuri (2010), Medicinal uses and molecular identification of two Momordica charantia varieties – a review. Electronic Journal of Biology, volume 6, issue 2, pages 43-51.
  4. ^ "Kudret Narı Faydaları". Beslenme Desteği. Retrieved 2011-10-03. 
  5. ^ Semiz, A, Sen A. (February 2007). "Antioxidant and chemoprotective properties of Momordica charantia L. (bitter melon) fruit extract". African Journal of Biotechnology 6 (3): 273–277. 
  6. ^ Majekodunmi Fatope, Yoshio Takeda, Hiroyasu Yamashita, Hikaru Okabe, and Tatsuo Yamauchi (1990), New cucurbitane triterpenoids from Momordica charantia. Journal of Natural Products, volume 53, issue 6, pages 1491-1497.
  7. ^ Sabira Begum, Mansour Ahmed, Bina S. Siddiqui, Abdullah Khan, Zafar S. Saify, and Mohammed Arif (1997), Triterpenes, a sterol, and a monocyclic alcohol from Momordica charantia. Phytochemistry, volume 44, issue 7, pages 1313-1320.
  8. ^ H. Okabe, Y. Miyahara, and T. Yamauci (1982). Studies on the constituents of Momordica charantia L. Chemical Pharmacology Bulletin, volume 30, issue 12, pages 4334-4340
  9. ^ Yumiko Kimura, Toshihiro Akihisa, Noriko Yuasa, Motohiko Ukiya, Takashi Suzuki, Masaharu Toriyama, Shigeyasu Motohashi, and Harukuni Tokuda (2005). Cucurbitane-type triterpenoids from the fruit of Momordica charantia. Journal of Natural Products, volume 68, issue 5, pages 807-809. doi:10.1021/np040218p
  10. ^ Chi-I Chang, Chiy-Rong Chen, Yun-Wen Liao, Hsueh-Ling Cheng, Yo-Chia Chen and Chang-Hung Chou (2008). Cucurbitane-type triterpenoids from the stems of Momordica charantia. Journal of Natural Products, volume 71, issue 8, pages 1327–1330. doi:10.1021/np070532u.
  11. ^ Toshihiro Akihisa, Naoki Higo, Harukuni Tokuda, Motohiko Ukiya, Hiroyuki Akazawa, Yuichi Tochigi, Yumiko Kimura, Takashi Suzuki, and Hoyoku Nishino (2007), Cucurbitane-type triterpenoids from the fruits of Momordica charantia and their cancer chemopreventive effects. Journal of Natural Products, volume 70, pages 1233-1239. doi:10.1021/np068075p
  12. ^ Marcelo Ortigao and Marc Better (1992),[ Momordin II, a ribosome inactivating protein from Momordica balsamina, is homologous to other plant proteins]. Nucleic Acids Research, volume 20, issue 17, page 4662.
  13. ^ Waako PJ, Gumede B, Smith P, Folb PI (May 2005). "The in vitro and in vivo antimalarial activity of Cardiospermum halicacabum L. and Momordica foetida Schumch. Et Thonn". J Ethnopharmacol 99 (1): 137–43. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.02.017. PMID 15848033. 
  14. ^ Jiratchariyakul W, Wiwat C, Vongsakul M et al. (June 2001). "HIV inhibitor from Thai bitter gourd". Planta Med. 67 (4): 350–3. doi:10.1055/s-2001-14323. PMID 11458453. 
  15. ^ Nerurkar PV, Lee YK, Linden EH et al. (August 2006). "Lipid lowering effects of Momordica charantia (Bitter Melon) in HIV-1-protease inhibitor-treated human hepatoma cells, HepG2". Br. J. Pharmacol. 148 (8): 1156–64. doi:10.1038/sj.bjp.0706821. PMC 1752016. PMID 16847441. 
  16. ^ Gadang, V; Gilbert, W; Hettiararchchy, N; Horax, R; Katwa, L; Devareddy, L (2011). "Dietary bitter melon seed increases peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ gene expression in adipose tissue, down-regulates the nuclear factor-κB expression, and alleviates the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome". Journal of medicinal food 14 (1–2): 86–93. doi:10.1089/jmf.2010.0010. PMID 21128828. 
  17. ^ M. M. Lolitkar and M. R. Rajarama Rao (1962), Note on a Hypoglycaemic Principle Isolated from the fruits of Momordica charantia. Journal of the University of Bombay, volume 29, pages 223-224
  18. ^ N. Visarata and M. Ungsurungsie (1981), Extracts from Momordica charantia L. Pharmaceutical Biology, volume 19, issue 2–3, pages 75–80. doi:10.3109/13880208109070580
  19. ^ Sridhar MG, Vinayagamoorthi R, Arul Suyambunathan V, Bobby Z, Selvaraj N (2008-04-01). "Bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) improves insulin sensitivity by increasing skeletal muscle insulin-stimulated IRS-1 tyrosine phosphorylation in high-fat-fed rats". British Journal of Nutrition 99 (4): 806–12. doi:10.1017/S000711450783176X. PMID 17942003. 
  20. ^ a b "Ampalaya tablets out soon for diabetics". GMANews.TV. March 27, 2007. Retrieved August 12, 2010. 
  21. ^ Tan, Min-Jia; Ji-Ming Ye, Nigel Turner, Cordula Hohnen-Behrens, Chang-Qiang Ke, Chun-Ping Tang, Tong Chen, Hans-Christoph Weiss, Ernst-Rudolf Gesing, Alex Rowland, David E. James, and Yang Ye (21 March 2008). "Antidiabetic Activities of Triterpenoids Isolated from Bitter Melon Associated with Activation of the AMPK Pathway". Chemistry & Biology 15 (3): 263–73. doi:10.1016/j.chembiol.2008.01.013. PMID 18355726. 
  22. ^ Virdi J, Sivakami S, Shahani S, Suthar AC, Banavalikar MM, Biyani MK. (September 2003). "Antihyperglycemic effects of three extracts from Momordica charantia". J Ethnopharmacol 88 (1): 107–11. doi:10.1016/S0378-8741(03)00184-3. PMID 12902059. 
  23. ^ Shetty AK, Kumar GS, Sambaiah K, Salimath PV (September 2005). "Effect of bitter gourd (Momordica charantia) on glycaemic status in streptozotocin induced diabetic rats". Plant Foods Hum Nutr. 60 (3): 109–12. doi:10.1007/s11130-005-6837-x. PMID 16187012. 
  24. ^ Krawinkel MB, Keding GB (July 2006). "Bitter gourd (Momordica Charantia): A dietary approach to hyperglycemia". Nutr Rev. 64 (7 Pt 1): 331–7. PMID 16910221. 
  25. ^ Miura T, Itoh C, Iwamoto N, Kato M, Kawai M, Park SR, Suzuki I (October 2001). "Hypoglycemic activity of the fruit of the Momordica charantia in type 2 diabetic mice". J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 47 (5): 340–4. PMID 11814149. 
  26. ^ Masuko Kobori, Mayumi Ohnishi-Kameyama, Yukari Akimoto, Chizuko Yukizaki and Mitsuru Yoshida (2008) α-Eleostearic Acid and Its Dihydroxy Derivative Are MajorApoptosis-Inducing Components of Bitter Gourd. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, volume 56, issue 22, pages 10515–10520. doi:10.1021/jf8020877
  27. ^ H. Kohno, Y. Yasui, R. Suzuki, M. Hosokawa, K. Miyashita, T. Tanaka (2004), Dietary seed oil rich in conjugated linolenic acid from bitter melon inhibits azoxymethane-induced rat colon carcinogenesis through elevation of colonic PPAR γ expression and alteration of lipid composition. International Journal of Cancer, volume 110, pages 896–901.
  28. ^ Ratna Ray "Possible Cancer Cure in 'Karela', also known as Bitter Melon", The Chakra, 26 February 2010.
  29. ^ "About Herbs: Bitter Melon". Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Retrieved 2007-12-27. 

Further reading

  • Abascal K, Yarnell E (2005). "Using bitter melon to treat diabetes". Altern Complemen Ther 11 (4): 179–184. doi:10.1089/act.2005.11.179. 
  • H.K.Bakhru (1997). Foods that Heal: The Natural Way to Good Health. Orient Paperbacks. ISBN 81-222-0033-8. 
  • Baldwa VS, Bhandari CM, Pangaria A, Goyal RK (1977). "Clinical trial in patients with diabetes mellitus of an insulin-like compound obtained from plant source". Upsala J Med Sci 82 (1): 39–41. doi:10.3109/03009737709179057. PMID 20078273. 

External links

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