Bitter melon, also known as bitter gourd or bitter cucumber, fulfills it’s name. Like a witch’s nose, it is long, green and warty and has a bitter taste to it (not the nose, the melon!). Normally, many people try to reduce the bitterness of the gourd to make it more palatable. One method is by blanching them so that some of the bitterness dissipates. Another method is through salting the bitterness out. Either way, the seeds inside the melon need to be removed first in order to achieve less bitterness!
So why do people succumb to torturing themselves eating this bitter gourd? Well, for one there are lots of nutrients and benefits to eating it (no pain, no gain). Secondly, it arouses any jaded tongue with a swift kick to the taste buds. It’s not often we come across eating something bitter. I remember as a child, I hated eating bitter melon but as an adult I learned to appreciate it (I like to awaken my taste buds every now and then!).
Growing up, my mother prepared bitter melon by adding some salty black bean sauce, chicken, soy sauce, oyster sauce and sugar to counteract some of the bitterness (in addition to blanching it first). However, I have also had battered and fried bitter melon too. Normally, we buy them from the grocery store but this year one of our neighbours grew some in their garden and were kind enough to give some to us.
This is the first time I have ever experienced fresh bitter melon right out of a garden and I must say, a super fresh bitter melon tastes completely different from the store bought kind. It even looks different. The green colour seems more lively and vibrant and the inside of the melon mimics the colour of a pumpkin. However, what was shocking to me was the red seeds. You never find those in grocery store bought bitter gourds. Moreover, these red seeds are edible. Don’t make the mistake I did by chewing on the whole thing, you’re only supposed to eat the red skin around the seed! It has a subtly sweet taste to it and it’s not bitter at all. Cooking the bitter melon itself also renders a sweeter version with less bitterness. Who knew?
It was definitely an eye-opener. It makes me ponder how far removed we are from true, fresh produce when we purchase them at the grocery store. Based on our experience, we decided to scrape the seeds and dry them out. Hopefully we can use them to grow some fresh ones on our own next year. Have you ever tried bitter melon?