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Ku Gua (Bitter Melon/Squash)

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  • Ku Gua (Bitter Melon/Squash)


    Has anyone ever tried Ku Gua, a chinese vegetable? My parents often cook it and, as the name suggests, I dislike the taste. Out of curiosity, are there any health benefits in terms of Chinese medicine? Maybe this newfound information will give me an incentive to eat it with joy...


  • #2
    mama knows best

    Hi Stephen,

    I agree that bitter melon lives up to its name. On the other hand, people wanting to clear up or prevent the accumulation of "heat" and "damp" in their bodies probably think it's worth it. Here's some info I found using google. There's plenty more out there.

    Bitter Melon Mormordica Charantia L.

    With thanks to Reagan Kate Ribbet (ShiZhen)

    When enjoying a meal in a Chinese restaurant, particularly in a Cantonese style establishment, it is rare that bitter melon will not be included in the wide array of dishes on offer. I have often enquired about the use of this pungent ingredient, and the response from my Chinese colleagues is always the same: it's an integral part of the Chinese diet, and its ability to counteract the effect of greasy, rich foods necessitates its inclusion in any Chinese banquet.

    Bitter melon, or Ku Gua, is a curcubit vine native to Asia with Eastern India and southern China proposed as the centres for its domestication. It was introduced to the West Indies in the time of the slave trade and is now widely cultivated throughout the world for the immature and ripe fruits. Often quoted as one of the most popular vegetables in China, it is widely cultivated in southern China. Like many Chinese melons, this is not a fruit but a vegetable, like the marrow or gourd. The Chinese term "gua" includes everything in the Cucurbitaceae family: melon, marrow, gourd, pumpkin, cucumber, squash etc.

    There are many varieties of bitter melon, ranging from 10cm. to 30cm. long; its shape varies from pear shaped to oblong. All share the same odd-looking warty skin - one of several other names for it is "leprosy grape" because of its skin. The fruits are usually dark green, bitter and firm-fleshed when unripe, turning yellowish green then orange, and becoming slightly sweet and soft as it ripens.

    Bitter melon is traditionally used in Indian, West Indian and Chinese cuisene, and may be found in Oriental and Indian supermarkets. The immature fruits are stuffed, pickled and sliced into various dishes. Bitterness is one of the five basic flavours of Chinese cooking, which has implications in the value of this vegetable as a medicinal agent as well. There is an old Chinese saying that "the more bitter the taste, the better the medicine" (similar to the English adage: "Bitter makes you better").

    Although bitter melon is not generally used in Chinese herbal dispensaries, its use is recorded in many medical classics. Li ShiZhen's <Ben Cao Gang Mu> lists Ku Gua under the category of heat clearing herbs. Ku Gua is bitter in taste, cold in property and acts on the Lung, Heart and Stomach channels. It works to clear heat and drtoxify as well as disperse pathogenic factors from the Large Intestine.

    This includes "summer heat" varieties of fever and choleraic symptoms. Ku Gua also brightens the eyes, clears the skin and revives the mind and body. It also helps the digestion; its bitter essence improves the appetite, opens the stomach and invigorates the Spleen.

    In recent years, a considerable amount of research has been carried out on bitter melon, both in experimental animal and human diabetic subject. Much of the research has focused on its hypoglycaemic or insulin-like potential, designated as "plant insulin". This interest was partly inspired by its traditional use in India, Sri Lanka, Central America and the West Indies, where consumption of all three varieties of bitter melon by diabetic patients is common practice. The majority of studies document that oral administration of Ku Gua lowers blood and urine glucose levels and improves glucose tolerance. It could therefore be included liberally in the diet of the diabetic.

    Other promising research is being conducted on bitter melon's anti-tumour properties, particularly in Japan where Ku Gua is a popular foodstuff. In one study, where mice implanted with malignant cancer cells were fed with melon extract, the development of tumours was significantly inhibited (1).

    Further investigations have focused on MAP 30, a plant protein extracted from bitter melon. Both natural and synthesised versions of MAP30 have exhibited potent anti-tumour activity against human cancer cell lines and inhibition of viral replication in HIV-infected cells (2, 3). Its potential for treating HIV and cancer seems promising. Furthermore, it appeared that the effects of bitter melon were limited to tumour-transformed or viral infected cells and showed no adverse effects on normal cells.

    In short, bitter melon is gaining due recognition in the West for its value in medicinal dietary therapy. The bitter principle, for which the fruit is named is due to the presence of quinine and the alkaloid momordicine. It is also rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, C and minerals like calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper and potassium. Other compounds include bitter glycosides, saponins, reducing sugars, phenolics, oils, free acids and 17 amino acids (including the previously mentioned MAP 30).

    Dingle Acupuncture Clinic offers high quality organic bitter melon tea (called Ku Gua Cha), sliced and dried without any preserving agents. The melons used have been specially cultivated in Jiang Nan, southern China, an area renowned for its abundance of natural treasures and fertile soil. Ku Gua Cha is the most effective and convenient way to take bitter melon; the tea can be made by pouring boiling water over a few pieces, or some slices can be added to green tea.
    Taken from here

    When I think of bitter melon it reminds me of EE Beng's Vegetarian Restuarant in Penang where Lauren and I first sampled its bitter taste. If we had to name our two favourite vegetarian restaurants from all our travels, EE Beng's would be on the list, along with Woodlands, also in Penang (little India).

    Btw, eating bitter melon, might just help with acne! see here

    Best regards,
    Jeffrey Segal


    • #3
      Sorry guys,


      (especially in chicken soup with rice like my mom used to make!)


      I pay homage to all the great masters of the past and the present


      • #4
        Hi Divineshadow,

        You certainly aren't alone in your enjoyment of bitter melon. As was the case with Durian (which doesn't taste anything like bitter melon as I'm sure many of our forum members would be well aware ), after repeated tastings I developed quite a liking for bitter melon.

        That chicken soup sounds good. It sounds a bit like something one of my uni classmates was telling me about (she's from Hongkong).
        Jeffrey Segal


        • #5
          Wow, thank you Jeffrey for the great information! I guess I'm lucky my parents cook it on a daily basis.