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How to prepare bitter melon

Updated on February 3, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

What Is Bitter Melon?

Bitter melon is a tropical, vining vegetable that is popular in Asian cooking. It is not a melon at all but actually an edible gourd, a member of the squash family, that imparts a unique bitterness to foods.

Oddly, the pith of the melon will become red and sweet when it is fully ripe and can be eaten this way, although the flesh becomes very tough. It is, however, most often used green and in it's unripe bitter state in cooking.

The flesh is watery and crunchy, rather like a cucumber or a green pepper. The bitterness comes from a large amount of quinine which occurs naturally in the bitter melon. It has been used in the countries in which it grows as a cure for Malaria long before quinine was officially found to be an antidote for the symptoms of Malaria.


Cooking With Bitter Melon

This vegetable is rarely mixed with other vegetables because of the overpowering bitterness. It is typically used with meats as part of a stir fry or soup. The bitterness of it is an acquired taste, but one that many people around the world are beginning to love to the point of addiction.

Bitter melon can be parboiled before using to reduce the bitterness. Parboiling will change the texture, however, so try it without parboiling as well to see which way you like it. It need not be peeled, but just washed and added to various recipes as directed.

How To Cook Bitter Melon

Stuffed Bitter Melon Recipe

  • 1/2 lb pork, ground or minced

  • 2 cans water chestnuts

  • 1 ts minced fresh ginger root


  • 2 tbs minced scallion

  • 2 tbs dry sherry

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 Egg, lightly beaten

  • 1 tsp cornstarch

  • 2 bitter melons, about 1 lb


  • 2 tbs peanut oil

  • 2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tbs fermented black beans
  • 1 tbs dry sherry

  • 3/4 c chicken broth

  • salt to taste

  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch mixed with 1 -teaspoon cold chicken broth

  • 1 tbs sesame oil

Combine the stuffing ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.

Cut the bitter melon into 1-inch slices.Discard the end pieces.

With a knife, cut out the flesh. Lift the pieces out, leaving a thick wall. Stuff the cavity of each slice with a generous spoonful of stuffing.

Arrange the stuffed pieces of vegetable on a plate and set the plate on a trivet in a wok over enough hot water to come within 1 inch of the plate but not touch it.

Cover the wok and steam 20 minutes. Remove.

In a separate wok or pan, prepare the sauce.

Heat 2 tablespoons peanut oil.

Add the garlic and fermented black beans, stir for a minute, then add the sherry, chicken stock and salt.

Add the liquid that results from the steaming of the melon. Bring the mixture to a boil. Thicken with the dissolved cornstarch and flavor with sesame oil.

Pour the sauce over the bitter melons and serve.

Chicken and Bitter Melon Soup

I lb chopped chicken breast (raw)

1 bitter melon, chopped

2 leaved pickled cabbage

1 can water chestnuts

6 cups chicken stock

2 tsp soy sauce

2 eggs, beaten

Simmer chicken and melon in broth for 15 minutes, until cooked. Add cabbage, water chestnuts, and soy sauce. Bring to just under a boil and stir in the beaten egg just until it cooks. Remove from heat and serve.

Some Cautions

People with hypoglycemia should avoid bitter melon as the combination of the drugs used for that condition and bitter melon could reduce the blood sugar to dangerously low levels.

Intake of large amounts of bitter melon can result in stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Despite those cautions, bitter melon is a vegetable that can be safely eaten and that more and more people are trying and enjoying.


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    • midnightbliss profile image

      Haydee Anderson 6 years ago from Hermosa Beach

      bitter melon is very common in Asia and it has lots of health benefits, i've even know some people who loves the bitter taste and eat them raw.

    • PaperNotes profile image

      PaperNotes 7 years ago

      If you want to lessen the bitterness of the bitter melon in your dish, soak the sliced vegetable in a salt and water solution for a few hours before cooking it.

    • nicko guzman profile image

      nicko guzman 8 years ago from Los Angeles,CA

      My mom made tea out of the leaves and I hated it.For some reason she likes it.

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 10 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      I've had bitter melon once but never knew how to prepare it, Thanks for the know how and recipes.

      Great HUB

      regards Zsuzsy

    • firefly07 profile image

      firefly07 10 years ago from UK

      great recipes - I've never heard of bitter melon, but will definitely try to find it.

    • livelonger profile image

      Jason Menayan 10 years ago from San Francisco

      Nice suggestions!!! Thanks.