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Similarities and Differences between Bitter Melon and Cucumber

Updated on January 5, 2017
beverley byer profile image

Beverley has a degree in Science. She's also a published author off- and online. Topics include health, food, inspiration, and religion.

bitter melon
bitter melon | Source

Bitter melon and cucumber look alike especially if you disregard bitter melon’s bumpy skin. Green, cylindrical, belonging to the gourd family, Cucurbitaceae, and being discovered in Asia centuries ago might have something to do with it. Both plants also favor posts and trellises since they are vines and tropical climates since they are sun-lovers. Their fruits taste best when young and are crunchy despite the water content which is especially huge in cucumbers (ninety to ninety-five percent of the cucumber is water). Both have whitish flesh, edible seeds, and are used in salads and soups. Certain people even categorize bitter melon as a variety of cucumber.

Similarities in Nutrition and Health

Bitter melon and cucumber have no fat or cholesterol, are low in calories, and loaded with vitamin A, minerals potassium and calcium, and fiber. They help regulate weight; lower the risk of certain cancers; control blood sugar (important for diabetics) and blood pressure; treat digestive ailments, kidney and liver disease, and reduce inflammation.

Differences in Nutrition and Health

Bitter melon is loaded with vitamins B1, B2, and B3 and the minerals iron and phosphorus. It is helpful in treating ulcers, colitis, constipation, fever, and psoriasis; detoxifying the body, and boosting the immune system. Proven adverse effects include abortions in animals and serious negative reactions in people with glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency due to certain chemical compounds in the seeds. Pregnant and breast-feeding women as well as patients on cancer and diabetes medication should consume cautiously, or perhaps not at all and definitely consult their healthcare provider.

Cucumbers are rich in vitamins B6, folic acid, C, and K and the minerals magnesium and silica. They reduce swelling; treat gout, arthritis, bladder issues, eczema and other skin conditions; promote healthy hair, gums, and teeth, and act as a diuretic. Adverse effects are mainly due to the amount of water the fruit contains. It can cause electrolyte imbalances when used as a diuretic.

Culinary Differences

Young bitter melons are used in stir-frys, stuffed, or fried and salted on the side the way I recall eating them in the Caribbean. They are also used to make tea. Young cucumbers are common ingredients in sauces, curries, dressings, yogurt dip, or pickled. Seventy percent of the American varieties are pickled.

Historical Differences

Bitter melon is also known as bitter gourd, bitter cucumber, Balsam apple, Balsam pear, ku gua, Karela, Korila (as it is called in the Caribbean), and scientifically, Momordica charantia. The two main varieties found in the United States are the Indian karela, and the Chinese ku gua. The karela is bitterer and has bumpier skin with deep-ridges. When bitter melon ripens, the skin turns yellow; the flesh around the seeds turns bright red-orange and is sweet. The overall fruit loses its crispiness.

Cucumber, commonly called cukes and scientifically, Cucumis sativas, has a number of varieties which are distinguishable by shape, size, and color. They are a result of late 1800s interbreeding. Varieties include indoor or greenhouse, outdoor or ridge, American dill, and gherkins. Spanish explorers introduce cukes to the Americas in the late 15th century. Prior to that, the Romans took them to Greece from India and then to Europe and China. When cucumbers ripen, they turn yellow and wrinkly.


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