Marian Carcache: Loving the bitter fruits

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We are bombarded daily with the latest health fad: a miracle pill or drug that will make us healthier, help us to live longer. It’s easy to pop a pill, but not so easy to put effort behind making dietary and lifestyle changes that might actually help us live healthier.

A couple of years ago, my son discovered an interesting story about the life expectancy on a Japanese island off Okinawa. It has the highest number of people who have lived one hundred years or longer, and also has a very low disability rate.

Upon researching their lifestyles, I found that residents of the Okinawa area eat a small amount of fish and large amounts of various forms of seaweed, a food that is rich in minerals, dietary fiber, and essential fatty acids. In addition, they eat bitter gourd, also called bitter melon or goya (momordica charantia). It stimulates digestion and is high in vitamins and nutrients that promote good health.  Among its other properties, it has been used to lower blood glucose and is sometimes referred to as “vegetable insulin.”

I learned when editing health reports, that studies are always “inconclusive” and “more research” is always required. That’s how “funding” happens.  So it comes as no surprise that those same tired old statements are made about bitter melon. Nevertheless, our Asian Supermarket carries the fruit, and I’ve learned not only to cook it, but also to like it. But then, I am a fan of bitter foods and recognize their health benefits.

My advice to the daring that might want to add bitter melon to their diets is to start by washing it very thoroughly, as the rind is the part you’ll eat. After cutting lengthwise and scooping out and discarding the pulp (I save the seeds to plant), slice it very thin to cut down on the bitterness. Sauté with minced garlic in sesame oil. Add a pinch of salt, a dash of Tamari sauce, and a sprinkling of red pepper flakes. It’s good served as is, or over rice.

Marian Carcache welcomes comments at carcamm@auburn.edu.