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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. It is sometimes known by names loaned from Asian languages. 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.
In Chinese cuisine, bitter melon is valued for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, dim sum, and herbal teas (See Gohyah tea). It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some beers in China
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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.
In Chinese cuisine, bitter melon is valued for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, dim sum, and herbal teas (See Gohyah tea). It has also been used in place of hops as the bittering ingredient in some beers in China and Okinawa.
Bitter melon is very popular throughout India. In North Indian cuisine, it is often served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, used in curry such as sabzi or stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil.
In Thai cuisine, the Chinese variety of green bitter melon, is prepared stuffed with minced pork and garlic, in a clear broth. It is also served sliced, stir fried with garlic and fish sauce until just tender.
In South Indian cuisine, it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), mezhukkupuratti (stir fried with spices), 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, a soup with fried onions and other spices.
Traditional medicinal uses
They are in use since a very long time in Hindu medicine or Ayurveda. Bitter melon has been used in various Asian and African herbal medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey, it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. In traditional medicine of India different parts of the plant are used as claimed treatments for diabetes (particularly Polypeptide-p, an insulin analogue), and as a stomachic, laxative, antibilious, emetic, anthelmintic agent, for the treatment of cough, respiratory diseases, skin diseases, wounds, ulcer, gout, and rheumatism.
Momordica charantia has a number of purported uses including cancer prevention, treatment of diabetes, fever, HIV and AIDS, and infections. While it has shown some potential clinical activity in laboratory experiments, "further studies are required to recommend its use". In 2012, the germplasm and chemical constituents, such as momordicin within several varieties of the gourd were being studied.
For cancer prevention, HIV and AIDS, and treatment of infections, there is preliminary laboratory research, but no clinical studies in humans showing a benefit. In 2017 the University of Peradeniya researchers revealed that bitter gourd seeds can be potentially used to destroy cancer cells and was successfully administered to patients in Kandy General Hospital Cancer Unit.
With regard to the use of Momordica charantia for diabetes, several animal studies and small-scale human studies have demonstrated a hypoglycemic effect of concentrated bitter melon extracts. In addition, a 2014 review shows evidence that Momordica charantia, when consumed in raw or juice form, can be efficacious in lowering blood glucose levels. However, multiple reviews have found that Momordica charantia does not significantly decrease fasting blood glucose levels or A1c, indicators of blood glucose control, when taken in capsule or tablet form.Momordica charantia may be beneficial in diabetes, however the effects seem to depend on how it is consumed. More studies need to be performed in order to verify this effect. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center concludes that bitter melon "cannot be recommended as a replacement therapy for insulin or hypoglycemic drugs".
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