Bitter Melon: What is that thing?

IMG_4828Yesterday’s chilly weather called for oven-dried tomatoes, so I popped into the Minneapolis Farmers Market for a bucket of Romas. “Just ONE bucket of tomatoes!” I told myself.  Of course I wandered around and ended up purchasing a bunch more produce. I really can’t help myself.

The most exciting find was bitter melon, that bumpy, cucumber looking, vegetable thing that is actually a gourd. In researching recipes, I learned that bitter melon is used widely in Asian cooking, including beverages. The most surprising detail was that it is used in beer as a bittering agent in place of hops in China and Japan. Not surprising, after tasting a raw piece.

Bitter melon - it really is bitter

Bitter melon – it really is bitter

I usually wing it with ingredients, but since I had ZERO reference as to how to use bitter melon or what it tasted like, I needed a recipe. This curry recipe by Raghavan Iver was recommended by the good people of the internet. Works for me!

The bitter melons that I selected were apparently young, which means they are more bitter than those that have smoother bumps and are lighter in color. The recipe called for the gourd to be peeled, seeded, and cubed. The skin was surprisingly thin so I took too much off the first one when using a paring knife. I switched to a peeler which worked well. I am unsure if more mature gourds have tougher skin.

Note – The entire gourd ( including seeds) is edible according to


The texture of the flesh under the bumpy skin is similar to a cucumber with a high water content. The seeds are encased in a spongy center which is easy to remove with a spoon or with your fingers.


Salting the sliced or cubed bitter melon is said to minimize the bitterness. I’ve also read that blanching helps as well.




The final result was this pretty curry served over brown jasmine rice. There is still bitterness (as there should be) but it was quite flavorful and delicious. I will make this again but will add a protein with a little fat to balance the flavors. I bet some coconut milk would go well with it too.


Bitter melon has been on my list of ingredients to try from the market for a long time so am now on the lookout for a new ingredient. Do you have any recommendations for not-so-common ingredients found in farmers markets?

Bitter Melon with Onion and Tomato Recipe

One response to “Bitter Melon: What is that thing?

  1. Pingback: Farmers Market Find: Turkish Eggplant | V in Minneapolis

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