Drinks of the gods: Bitter Melon

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I was chugging on a drink this afternoon, one of many that I normally imbibe on throughout my day, and I figured I might as well share it with you guys since it’s something I’ve known about all my life but never bothered to say much about because you know, if it’s common knowledge, who is gonna be interested in hearing more about it, right?

That’s like saying, sheesh, everybody knows that kim châm hoa treats Thrombocytopenic purpura, right?  And I would get a blank stare, so I have to then say something along the line of, well it’s an immune disorder in which the blood doesn’t clot normally because your platelets are being destroyed by your immune system.  So when you get internal bleeding from small tears in your blood vessels and other organ linings, the bleeding doesn’t stop.  You end up with mottled bruising on your skin without knowing how it happened.

More blank stares.  And I be like…. never mind.  😀

brunette42This is what you get for living in the home of a family who has some idea what Asian herbs can do because that was what our ancient family did for a living.  We were herbal medicine people for thousands of years.

Of course I am going to pick up things here and there, throughout my childhood.  I try not to say too much because then I get the sad reputation for being a miss know-it-all.

But this blog is different, dammit!  This is the one place I can go to and share my thoughts with those who don’t judge or think I’m being proud and boastful about what I know or don’t know.  So without any apologies, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite fruit-gourds, the bitter melon, or as we call it, mướp đắng ̣(aka khổ qua). 

By the way:  This is the second in the series of Drinks of the gods.  The first one was an inadvertent one called My Precioussssssssssssssssss Cupa Java.

Bitter melon is actually a fruit.  But you know.  Fruit is this. strawberries

and bitter melon is this

bitter-melon

And who am I to argue with the masses who say to the bitter end that it’s a bitter gourd.  So I’m gonna call it a gourd.

Medicinal Qualities

It has quite a bit of medicinal value.  Bitter melon is said to act as an antioxidant and to contain anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, antibacterial, anti-obesity, and immunomodulating properties.  However, when you ask most health experts from the western world, they will tell you bitter melon’s effects on diabetes may be overstated.  They will also post warning signs about bitter melon’s possible side effects.

Here they are.

  • Abdominal pain and diarrhea (with bitter melon juice, several times more than the recommended amounts)
  • Headache, fever, and coma (with excessive ingestion of the seeds)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

I will agree that if you eat a ton of these seeds, you can get pretty sick…but that’s why we Viets NEVER eat the seeds.  We just cut the gourds open and remove all seeds, and then we make yummy dishes with the fleshy parts of the fruit.

In fact, to my knowledge, I have never seen or heard anybody do anything with the seeds except dry them and stick them back into the ground to grow more bitter melon plants.  But that’s just us Viet peeps.  You guys know better than we do anyway, about bitter melons, so you do you, and we do us.

Also, if you are a diabetic, hypoglycemia is the least of your worries.  I’m always more worried about too much sugar in my blood, not too little, because that’s easily solved by eating a piece of candy.

I will also agree that if you overeat this fruit, you will get some not-so-good side effects.  How much is too much?  The same article states: There is not enough evidence to determine an appropriate dose or range of doses for bitter melon.

chewing

So how is a person to know what the recommended amounts would be?  Well I can tell you that.  It’s quite simple.

This fruit is damn bitter.  I can eat bitter, but sometimes, it’s even too bitter for my bitter ass to take, so this is how us Viet peeps do it.  We cook the fresh fruit/gourd into our foods.

Bitter Melon Recipes

We make sauteed bitter melon with scrambled eggs.

huong-dan-cach-lam-muop-dang-xao-trung-1

We make stuffed bitter melon soup:

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We make an amazing bitter melon shrimp salad that will curl your toes, it’s so good:

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We saute them with beef:

cach-lam-thit-bo-xao-muop-dang

We stuff and bake them:

nhoi

Medicinal Food

And we call all these:  Medicinal Food that you eat with other ‘regular’ food so you get a holistic combination that works together to target everything that is not quite right in your body.

That’s how herbal medicines work.  The best of them can be used directly with food, so they don’t taste horrible, or the dosage is an unknown factor.   If you eat these dishes alongside rice or noodles, and other veggies and meats, you are getting the health benefits without any worries about how much is too much.

Your stomach can only hold so much, and if it’s fresh, you are not getting concentrated dosages that drying them or converting them into pill form will cause.  You’re getting them in quantities that your body can handle.  We Viets have been eating this gourd for thousands of years.  We even give them to little kids, who make faces when they eat them, but then eventually grow to love them just as much as we do.

food

Does that make sense at all?

Drink of the gods

As for the diabetic who need a bit more concentrated dosages, this is my recommendation (disclosure, I am a taobabe, not a doctor.  I know about this stuff only because my grandfather was an herbal medicine doctor, but I personally am not an herbal medicine woman).

As a fruit, it is roughly about $2 a pound at the Asian supermarket.  That’s pretty cheap, in the grand scheme of things.  When it’s in season, summertime, it can be almost free (less than a dollar a pound).  You buy as much of this stuff as you can.  Bring them home and cut them in half lengthwise.  Then you remove the seeds and slice them into pieces like this.

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Then you dry them in a dehydrator or an oven.

Here is directions for oven drying.

  • You preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Then, you lay the bitter melon slices in a single layer on a baking tray.
  • Once the oven hits 400 degrees, you stick it in for 20 to 30 minutes. The pretty green flesh will shrivel and get darker but that’s ok. It’s still good.
  • Let it cool and store it in something airtight like a heavy-duty ziplock bag or a plastic container with lid.
  • You want to keep it away from sunlight, so somewhere inside a dark cupboard is good.

Making the tea

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Making the tea is the easy part.

  • I usually use a personal sized thermos for this purpose.  I’m not pushing this product, it just happens to be the one I use because it’s cute and it’s not leaky.
  • A small handful of the dried bitter melon is all you need.  Drop that into the thermos, then fill it to the top with boiling water.
  • Let steep for a few minutes, and then carry it around and drink it all day long.
  • If you run out of liquid, add more hot water.  I do this around 3 times, and then the dried rind is done.  I throw that out and then I’m done for the day.

And that, my friends, is how I do Bitter Melon Tea.  Next up in this Drink of the Gods series: Green Tea.

3 thoughts on “Drinks of the gods: Bitter Melon

  1. Some of those recipes look amazingly delightful, that beef dish clearly begs to be eaten. Having recently started learning medicine, acupuncture, herbs, ect… Delightful to get a point of view like that. Passed by this one a good few times, so ill have to try some tea.

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  2. These are all time-tested recipes that I have made quite often in my kitchen so I can vouch for their authenticity and great taste. Bitter melon is not the only medicinal plant we use in our cooking. As I stated at the beginning of this post, we also use Kim Châm Hoa to make many dishes that are very tasty. In fact, if you have ever eaten Chinese hot and sour soup, kim châm hoa is one of the main ingredients in it, alongside cubed tofu and other such delights.

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  3. I’ve heard about this but I’m glad to learn more, especially medicinal properties. I like this series and am looking forward to the next entry about green tea.

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