Call it bitter gourd, bitter melon or Karela, this bright green, super bitter vegetable is perhaps the least favourite of many around the world. Try offering dishes made from ‘Karela’, to your family or friends, chances are high you would invite ‘it’s eww...’ ‘yucky’ sort of reactions even as the taste buds turn repulsive against this not-so-popular veggie.
Despite being turned away for its bitter, pungent taste, Karela has always managed to stay as an indispensable vegetable in the Indian cuisine owing to its amazing health benefits. If you remember your mother or grandmother lecturing about the goodness of Karela when you were a child, well, they were right in many ways.
Widely known as Karela in many parts of India, Kakarakaaya in Telugu, Pavakkayi in Tamil it is in fact a vegetable-fruit, belonging to the family of Cucurbitaceae veggies like cucumber, zucchini, that goes with the botanical name Momordica charantia. Bitter gourd is also known as balsam apple, balsam pear, bitter apple, lakwa, margose, wild cucumber and bitter cucumber. (Also Read: Eat Cruciferous Vegetables for a Healthy Heart)
Biologists believe that the origins of Bitter Gourd were first found in Kerala and later introduced to China in 14th century, making it a staple vegetable across cuisines in Southeast Asian, South Asian and East Asian countries.
Bitter gourd grows on a tendril vine, which means the stem, leaves possess threadlike shape, climbing up to 16 feet in length. The leaves are separated by three to seven lobes while the plant bears both male and female flowers that look bright yellow in colour and it is a perennial climber.
In India, Karela is available in both large and small sizes, green in colour, exhibiting warty, triangular ridges, with tapering ends on the exterior and is oblong in shape. Inside, the seed cavity can be found filled with flat seeds, pith and little amount of flesh. The Karela is harvested while it is still green in colour. As it ripens, it turns yellow in colour, with tender skin and loses its bitterness.
Bitter gourd is a powerhouse of various vital nutrients including iron, magnesium, potassium. A rich source of dietary fibre, bitter gourd contains twice the amounts of calcium available in spinach, broccoli. It in fact has twice the amounts of potassium than in a banana and is an amazing source of Vitamin C, Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B9.
Medicinal Properties Of Karela:
The therapeutic benefits of bitter gourd are widely prized in various traditional medicinal practices. Ayurveda, Chinese and ancient medicinal practitioners in the middle eastern countries vouch by its healing properties especially in dealing with stomach issues. It is strongly endorsed as a wonder medicine for those suffering from type -1 and type - 2 diabetes, thanks to those hypoglycemic properties available in the extracts of bitter gourd.
It is also referred as a stomachic which means that it improves appetite, serves as a laxative, antibilious, emetic in cases of stomach wash, antiparasitic and is also recommended for treating cough, respiratory ailments and for managing rheumatism.
The extract of bitter gourd when applied on wounds, skin infections provides instant relief from itching, redness and soothes the skin further.
Studies confer the medicinal values of Karela to the presence of high amounts of antioxidants, phenols, isoflavones, flavonoids, glucosinolates and various other components.
In fact, the leaves of the vine are also found to be rich in medicinal properties with ample amounts of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorous.
Karela In Ayurveda:
The goodness of Karela is widely endorsed by Ayurvedic practitioners and is known as Karavellaka or Karelli in Sanskrit. Ayurvedic scriptures like Dravyaguna Vignana describe Karela as tikta or bitter in taste, with dry qualities and hot potency.
It is a tridoshic which means it can fight all imbalances related to vata, kapha and pitha doshas. According to Ayurveda, it is in fact the bitter taste of Karela and its leaves that offers a wide range of health benefits and the texts prescribe consuming Karela as a juice or as a recipe at least twice a week to fight against various ailments.
The traditional medicine vouches by the therapeutic properties imbibed in the bitter taste and its unique characteristic of penetrating deep into the fat, blood, nervous system thus offering a great cleansing from within. It naturally flushes out toxins, improves digestive functions, boosts metabolism and contributes to the immense health of liver, pancreas, spleen and other vital organs.
The practitioners of traditional medicine believe by its hypolipidemic activity, which means it effectively reduces the amounts of LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood. Interestingly, both Ayurvedic practitioners and modern medical experts agree in unison, that regular intake of this incredible vegetable fights against various types of cancers like lymphoma, melanoma, breast cancer, skin and prostate cancer due to its presence of monomer components. (Also Read: Top 8 Ayurvedic Formulations That Can Bolster Your Immunity)
However, it is also widely recommended to drink Karela juice in the morning to derive its benefits to the fullest.
How To Make Karela Juice?
Drinking bitter gourd juice offers vast benefits from purifying blood naturally to providing nutrients. Consuming it on empty stomach helps in managing the levels of blood sugars, cleanses liver and aids in weight loss.
2 tender, medium size bitter gourds
2 tsp lemon juice
¼ cup of apple juice or any clear juice of your choice
Salt to taste
1 tsp of either honey, (or) jaggery powder, (or) ginger, (or) pepper (optional)
Scrape the Karela and cut in to halves.
Scoop out the flesh and seeds. Cut the vegetable in to tiny pieces.
Add Karela pieces into a juicer along with salt and lemon juice. Blend and add water.
You can add either apple juice, honey, jaggery powder, ginger to reduce the bitter taste.
What Is The Best Time To Drink Karela Juice?
It is usually recommended to drink it on empty stomach in the morning as it can be easily absorbed by the body. Being an emetic in nature, it can make you feel nauseous. So, to start with try sipping on smaller quantities. (Also Read: Fruit Juice: Is It Good Or Bad For Diabetics?)
Benefits of Karela Juice:
Brings Down LDL Cholesterol:
Low Density Lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol in layman terms forms plaque in arteries leading to atherosclerosis, heart attack and various other coronary heart problems. Karela juice exhibits anti-inflammatory properties and helps in lowering the levels of LDL. In addition, being rich in iron, it strengthens the immunity and protects heart.
Maintains Blood Sugars:
A glass of bitter gourd juice daily in the morning is greatly recommended for the diabetics. The vegetable is rich in Polypeptide-P that can prevent sudden spike in sugar levels. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe at least 2 ml of thick bitter gourd juice mixed with water daily to significantly bring down sugar levels. According to various studies, it is also reported that regular intake of this juice improves glycemic control. However, if you are one of those suffering from low sugar levels, talk to your doctor before consuming this juice.
Bitter gourd juice is emetic in nature, which means it can induce nausea and cleanse the system from within. If you have had too much alcohol, hoping to flush it out and maintain healthy liver, all you have to do is to sip on this juice on empty stomach. The antioxidants strengthen the liver, prevent its failure and avoid intoxication caused due to alcohol.
Karela juice is a wonder ingredient to fight infections especially in winter. It also aids in indigestion, constipation and other gut issues that are quite common in this season. The huge presence of antioxidants in bitter gourd prevent free-radical damage that can lead to various chronic conditions and cancers.
Good For Vision:
Being rich in Vitamin A and Beta Carotene, regular intake of Karela juice improves eye sight and prevents vision related conditions like cataract, macular degeneration etc. It is also recommended for the children who develop nearsightedness at a young age as it helps in restricting the further decline in the sight.
More Benefits of Bitter Gourd:
And if drinking Karela juice looks impossible for you, do not worry. Adding this super vegetable to your diet regularly also helps in deriving similar benefits.
Various studies reveal that bitter gourd is quite beneficial in treating various digestive and stomach disorders including constipation, intestinal worms and ulcers. Being a great source of dietary fibre, adding this vegetable to your daily diet improves bowel movements, soothes tummy and prevents the formation of stomach ulcers.
Boosts Liver Function:
Eating Karela as a subzi or stew will prove quite beneficiary for the liver. The antioxidants in the vegetable flush out the toxins and stimulate the secretion of bile acids, essential for various bodily functions like digestion to metabolizing fat.
Karela is an instant blood purifier owing to its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties. Consume this amazing vegetable at least twice a week to stimulate blood circulation, clear infectants in the blood and flush out toxins. It also works on the metabolism by breaking the fat molecules, that could cause a healthy weight loss.
Relief From Gout:
Gout is a condition under which joints get red, hot and tender causing intense pain due to high levels of uric acid. Karela being a storehouse of iron, potassium, magnesium and other vital vitamins and minerals, provides amazing relief from the pain and also helps in reducing the concentration of uric acid in the body.
Karela For Mental Health:
Despite its intrinsically tart, strong, unpleasant taste, karela or bitter gourd is indeed a powerhouse of essential nutrients and restorative antioxidants, that ensure both, a fit body and sound mind. Prized for its ample vitamin C, vitamin B content, as well as laden with tannins, flavonoids, consuming bitter gourd juice or vegetable dishes as part of regular diet preserves optimal nervous system functions, boosts memory and safeguards the brain from decline due to stress, depression. Read on, to find out the wonderful advantages of bitter gourd for upholding mental health.
Enhances Cognitive Abilities:
Bitter gourd is packed with vitamin C, that not only bolsters immunity, but also confers useful antioxidant effects, to shield the brain cells from oxidative stress and damage due to harmful free radicals. Moreover, the wealth of tannins, flavonoids in bitter gourd promote memory, intellect, concentration, thereby greatly elevating brain power.
Uplifts Mood And Energy:
Bestowed with vitamins B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin), karela supplies vast quantities of energy to the brain, for performing routine activities, staying energetic and mentally active, as well as positively influencing moods. This, in turn, significantly increases productivity at work and home, besides regulating body metabolism.
Alleviates Anxiety And Depression:
Drinking a glass of karela juice regularly is highly beneficial, as profuse levels of vitamins B3 (niacin) and B9 (folate) in bitter gourd ameliorate symptoms of anxiety, depression and enrich brain functions, thinking capacities. This helps to effectively combat mental stress, fatigue and guarantees heightened cognitive abilities, nervous system operations.
Karela For Skin:
We will tell you more reasons to love bitter gourd and this time for beauty. The vegetable may be bitter in taste, but do you know that it is a wonder ingredient for your skin and hair.
The rich antioxidants, vitamins, minerals in Karela is all you need to glow from within. The vitamin A and vitamin C play a vital role in preventing wrinkles and reduce acne, pimples. Apply a thin layer of Karela juice on the face and wash it away after 10 minutes to avert the damage caused by UV rays. (Also Read: 3 DIY Facial Cleansers To Shield Skin From Pollutants In The Air)
Doctors recommend consuming bitter gourd for those suffering from sudden breakout of the skin and psoriasis, ringworm, itching and various other fungal infections. Being a blood purifier, it fights against skin infections from within and its anti-inflammatory properties aid in treating acne.
Eczema is a common condition especially in winter. Application of Karela juice on the affected areas, athletes’ foot can bring immediate relief. Apply the juice at regular intervals for relief from eczema, psoriasis and other itchiness causing skin conditions.
Karela For Hair:
Bitter gourd is beneficial for the hair too. Read on, to know more.
Dandruff is a common problem faced by both men and women. To get rid of dandruff, take a slice of fresh Karela and rub it on the scalp. You can also mix bitter gourd juice with ripe banana and massage it on the scalp for 10 minutes. Wash it with mild shampoo. Repeat it twice every week for better results. (Also Read: 4 Kinds Of Dandruff: Identify Which Type Is Causing Your Scalp To Itch & Flake)
Removes Excess Oil:
Few people suffer from excessive oil production on the scalp and would require frequent washing of the hair. Mix Karela juice and apple cider vinegar in equal amounts and apply it on the scalp. Leave it for 30 minutes and wash with mild shampoo to prevent excess oily hair.
Premature greying is quite a common problem faced by teenagers these days. To prevent sudden greying of hair at the young age, apply fresh Karela juice on the scalp and hair. This will not only stop greying but will also provide shine to the hair and smoothens the texture.
Bitter gourd is extensively used in Indian kitchens. In South India, it is mixed with jaggery, added to stew and those crispy fritters are quite popular. Kakarakaya Kaaram, a traditional powder made along with onions, Pagarkayi Pitla, a form of stew, are other staple dishes.
North Indians consume Karela as a subzi or a curry, stuffed with masalas whereas in Maharashtra and Goa, it is served along with grated coconut.
And if you thought, Karela recipes are quite bitter in taste, think again. It is easy to take away the bitterness from the vegetable and dish it into aromatic, tasty dishes.
How To Take Bitterness Out Of Karela?
250 grams big or small bitter gourd
½ tsp turmeric powder
Cut Karela into half. Add it to the boiling water.
Let the pieces soften, remove from the water.
Scoop out the seeds. The turmeric powder removes bitter taste and it is ready to cook.
- 200 grams bitter gourd, thinly sliced
- 4 tbsp rice flour
- 1 tsp gram flour
- 2 tsp corn flour
- 1 tsp red chili powder
- ½ tsp jeera or cumin powder
- ½ tsp coriander powder
- Oil for deep frying
- Salt to taste
Thinly slice Karela and boil it in hot water with turmeric.
Take it out, remove seeds and pat dry.
In a bowl, mix gram flour, corn flour, red chilli, jeera and coriander powder along with salt.
Add water and mix into a thick consistency.
Dip Karela slices in batter and deep fry in oil till crisp.
Serve hot with tomato sauce.
These fritters can be stored for 3 to 4 days in an air-tight container.
Bitter gourd is a rich source of vitamin C, potassium, iron, magnesium and dietary fibre. Gram flour is loaded with protein and iron, while jeera, coriander powders aid in digestion. This is a healthy snack especially for those suffering from diabetes and craving for deep fried stuff.
Masala Stuffed Karela Fry:
- 250 grams bitter gourd
- Salt to taste
- Oil for frying.
For Masala Powder:
- 1 tsp urad dal
- 1 tsp channa dal
- 5 red chillies
- 1 tsp groundnut
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp jeera
- Lemon size tamarind, soaked in water
Make an incision into each bitter gourd. Add to the boiling water with turmeric.
Let the vegetable turn soft, remove from the water.
Scoop out the seeds. The turmeric powder removes bitter taste and it is ready to cook.
Dry roast coriander, cumin, urad dal, channa dal, chillies and groundnut.
Grind into a fine powder.
In a bowl, take tamarind water. Add masala powder and salt
Make it into a paste and fill into the Karela.
In a pan, add oil and fry. Sprinkle salt and mix thoroughly.
This stuffed Karela fry goes well with hot rice.
Bitter gourd subzi is a delicious dish and is rich in dietary fibre. Different types of pulses like channa dal, groundnut are a great source of protein while jeera aids in digestion. Eat this at least once in a week to derive its benefits. (Also Read: UNICEF’s Recommendation: Try These Tasty, Nutritious Desi Recipes For The Health Of Your Children)
Side Effects Of Karela:
Though Karela is hugely recommended for fighting various health issues, it is also advisable take it in moderation. If taken in excess, this bitter vegetable can cause severe stomach pain and diarrhea. Pregnant women in the early months are restricted from consuming bitter gourd as it may induce contractions and lead to vaginal bleeding and abortion. If you had a recent surgery, recovering from fever talk to your doctor if you can eat Karela. Also seek the advice of your doctor if you are on high dosage of diabetic medication as it can interfere with medicines and cause hypoglycemia or low blood sugars.
Karela, bitter gourd or bitter melon is a staple vegetable in many Asian kitchens. It derives its name from bitter taste, but it is a Mother Nature’s gift for fighting various infections, soothing tummy, regulating bowel movements, treating skin infections and to prevent cancers. Drinking Karela juice on empty stomach in the morning is a tried and tested remedy to control sudden spikes in blood sugar levels. Contrary to the belief, that it is bitter in even after cooking, the veggie in fact tastes delicious. However, exercise caution if you are pregnant, feeding mother and an insulin dependent diabetic while consuming Karela.