Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Ethnocultural Vegetables in Canada Part II Resource Guides
Bitter Melon

October 7, 2016  By Fruit & Vegetable

This “miracle melon” is known by many names, including bitter gourd (Chinese), karela or karella (India), cerasee/cerasse (Caribbean) and nigauri (Japanese). It is a member of the cucurbit family and is widely grown in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean for its fruit, considered the bitterest fruit in the world.

Bitter melon comes in many shapes, sizes and varieties. The Chinese variety is oblong with blunt, tapered ends and is pale green with a bumpy surface. The South Asian variety is narrow with pointy ends, green to white in colour, and has a jagged surface.

Bitter melon is a tropical/subtropical vine plant that can grow to 16 feet in length. Each plant produces both male and female flowers that flower in June or July in the north. The plants typically begin to produce fruit in September or October. The fruit has a waxy exterior and is oblong in shape, similar to a cucumber but wavy or bumpy. It is hollow inside with a thin layer of flesh surrounding the seedpod.


The fruit is typically picked and eaten at the green stage or just as it’s beginning to turn yellow. The fruit’s flesh is crunchy and watery, similar to a cucumber or green bell pepper. The seeds are usually removed before cooking.

Bitter melon is used in Chinese cooking in stir-fries, soups and teas. In India, it is stuffed with spices and fried in oil, or used in curries or deep-fried.

The crop earns its “miracle” designation due to its use in Asian and African medicine. In these areas, it is used as a digestive aid, anti-malarial treatment, to treat diabetes, as an antiviral treatment and for the prevention and treatment of cancer. How effective it is as a treatment is currently being tested.

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