Two things work to get rid of the bitterness of ampalaya. Not totally but enough to make eating it less traumatic for people who aren’t fans of its bitterness.
What is bitter gourd?
Bitter gourd is consumed in Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. The scientific name is Momordica charantia. It is a vine that grows in the tropics and subtropics.
Which parts of the plant are edible?
What is cooked as a vegetable is actually the fruit of the plant. It looks similar to the cucumber but the skin is bumpy. The length, girth and color depend on the variety.
The leaves and tendrils, less bitter than the fruit flesh, are also cooked as vegetable.
In the Philippines, it is common practice to scrape off and discard the seeds and pith. According to Wendy Kiang-Spray, author of The Chinese Kitchen Garden, as the bitter bourd matures and the white spongy pith inside turns a goopy red, it also becomes sweet and totally edible so long as you spit out the seeds. She describes the flavor as similar to roasted bell pepper.
How to remove the bitterness
Note that this process does not get rid of the bitterness a hundred per cent. It does, however, remove a substantial amount of bitterness to make the bitter gourd more palatable. If you cook it with other ingredients, the bitterness will be even less pronouced.
Split the bitter gourd vertically into halves, scrape off the seeds and pith in the middle, then slice the flesh. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt.
Massage the salt into the flesh of the bitter gourd then leave for 30 minutes. The salt will draw out the water from the bitter gourd.
Rinse the bitter gourd slices well and drain. With your hands, squeeze out as much of the remaining water as you can without breaking the slices into pieces. Alternatively, place the drained bitter gourd slices in a cheese cloth and wring out the water.
At this point, you can cook the bitter gourd. However, if you want remove most of the salt that the bitter gourd has absorbed (and more of any remaining bitterness), blanch the slices for a few minutes. How long depends on how much crunch you want left in the vegetable.
Recipes with bitter gourd
- Ampalaya (bitter melon) con lechon kawali
- Sauteed ampalaya (bitter gourd / melon) with dried shrimps and eggs
Updated from a post originally published in April 2, 2009