Bitter gourd, – also called karela in Hindi, pavakkai in Tamil and kakarakaya in Telugu – is an Indian squash.
The word ‘squash’ is a derived
American-Indian askoota squash. In
winters the squash stays well for many days if stored in a cool, dry place. But
in warm climates the green vegetable turns yellow and the seeds become
blood-red within the two or three days after harvest. Thus it is absolutely
necessary to store it in a refrigerator.
For many, bitter gourd botanically called “Momordica charantia”, is unpalatable but in our house this vegetable is liked
even by kids if its curry is made with jaggery. Of all the vegetables
this is the only one which is bitter all over and inside unlike some varieties
of cucumbers which have only the skins tasting bitter. But whereas skins of
cucumbers are peeled so as to avoid the bitter taste of the dish, this unique
vegetable when cooked loses most of its bitterness.
The vegetable needs to be cut into small pieces and cooked
in boiling water. After it is well cooked it has to be fried in cooking oil.
Fried chana dal and urad dal may be added for enhancement of taste. For those who like a
bitter-sweet taste, jaggery is added.
Chips of bitter gourd are also tasty. The vegetable is cut
crosswise and the round parts are boiled in water. After this these are fried
in oil and later salt and mirchi powder
are added to them. If the vegetable is fried along with the seeds, the seeds also
get fried and the whole of the chip is tasty. Some prefer to remove the seeds
and fry. Pickles are made out of bitter gourd. After the boiled vegetable is
soaked in preferably gingelly oil, mirchi powder
and salt are added to the mixture. It preserves well for a few months if
Owing to its bitter taste and probably dictated by
superstitions it is not prepared during festive occasions. But it is an
important menu item during the lunch served on the occasion of demises in the family,
especially in Hindu households.
The medicinal properties of bitter gourd far exceed those of
numerous medicinal herbs. Albeit it is a universal plant, it is overwhelmingly
cultivated in the Indian sub-continent and parts of Asia. Plant scientists are
now deeply engaged in exploring the possibilities of developing injectable
insulin from bitter gourd to keep the blood sugar levels under check.
Bittergourd doesn’t have many calories.
It contains a variety of vitamins, trace elements and minerals, apart from
dietary fibre that keeps the body in good shape, not causing obesity. It
contains the elements iron, phosphorous, zinc, magnesium, calcium, potassium
The juice of bitter gourd is extremely good for those having
skin ailments of any type. It’s considered best for rashes, itches, ringworms, blood-boils,
scabies and psoriasis. The striking quality of bitter gourd is the presence in
it of a chemical called Ê»momordicinÊ¼ which reduces
the blood glucose level. Not only for diabetes, it is also prescribed for blood disorders and digestive problems. It’s also a good immune
The juice of this remarkable vegetable should not, however,
be consumed in excessive quantities. A woman in the family way is advised not
to take this juice as it may lead to miscarriage.
Benefits of Bitter Gourd
For obtaining clear eyesight this juice is good. For taste,
some lemon juice may be added to it. This should be taken on an empty stomach.
Many persons take it daily in the morning to maintain their general health,
skin tone and texture.
Bitter gourd possesses other medicinal virtues also. It is
an antidotal, antipyretic and also antibilious.
As it has vitamins A, B1, B2, C and iron, its regular intake
prevents complications like hypertension eye problems and neuritis. It
increases the body’s resistance against numerous infections.
Our ancient ayurvedic scriptures mention the use of
bitter gourd as a versatile medicine for diabetic patients. Recent researches
by a team of doctors from Oxford University in the UK had established that it
contains a hypoglycemic or insulin-like principle designated as Ê»plant insulinÊ¼ which has
been found to be immensely beneficial in lowering BP and urine sugar levels.
International teams from India, Tanzania and Thailand are now
very active in unraveling the chemical mystery of bitter gourd to find whether
the belief of our forebears that it is really quite useful to fight to the finish
diabetes is correct or not. Over the years this vegetable had lost much of its
anti-diabetes property owing to the commercial hybrids which had scaled down
the bitterness and pungency of the vegetable.
Different varieties of bitter gourds are grown in different
regions of the country. Pusa Mausam is grown in and around Delhi. Arka hari is from Rajasthan.
In Gujarat there are cultivars called Pride of Surat and Pride of Gujarat, each
fruit weighing eight to 10 grams. There is a variety in Bihar called Satpura which is a hermaphrodite in sex (creature or plant
having both male and female organs) and it produces smaller fruits. Pusa nasdar grown in Madhya
Pradesh is an early-maturing variety producing 15 to 20 club-shaped fruits per
Coimbatore long, grown in the region of the textile city of
Tamil Nadu, Coimbatore or Kovai are tender, bearing
10 to 12 fruits that are very long. VK-1-Priya grown in Kerala is extra-long
bearing 50 fruits.