|Posted on January 5, 2012 at 12:50 AM|
Momordica Charantia, called Bitter Melon in English, is also known in parts of the Caribbean as Cerasee. In this article, my name of choice is Cerasee, as is customary in my homeland, Jamaica. Cerasee, widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean for its edible fruit, and drink, is among the bitterest of all fruits. Cerasee is very common here in Central Florida, but very few people really know the value of this very important herb. This herb may hold the key to a lot of the health problems we face. Above is a picture of the Cerasee plant in my back yard. There are many varieties that differ substantially in the shape, and bitterness of the fruit.
This is a plant of the tropics, but its original native range is unknown. The fruit has a distinct warty exterior, and an oblong shape. It is hollow in cross-section, with a relatively thin layer of flesh surrounding a central seed cavity, and filled with large flat seeds and pith. The fruit is most often eaten green, or as it is beginning to turn yellow. At this stage, the fruit's flesh is crunchy and watery in texture, similar to cucumber, chayote or green bell pepper, but is very bitter. The skin is tender and edible. Seeds and pith appear white in unripe fruits; they are not intensely bitter and can be removed before cooking.
As the fruit ripens, the flesh becomes tougher, bitterer, and may be too distasteful to eat. On the other hand, the pith becomes sweet and intensely red; it can be eaten uncooked in this state, and is a popular ingredient in some Southeast Asian salads.
When the fruit is fully ripe it turns orange and mushy, and splits into segments which curl back dramatically to expose seeds covered in bright red pulp, as seen below.
Cerasee comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The China phenotype is 20–30 cm long, oblong with bluntly tapering ends and pale green in color, with a gently undulating, warty surface. The Cerasee more typical of India has a narrower shape with pointed ends, and a surface covered with jagged, triangular "teeth" and ridges. It is green to white in color. Between these two extremes is any number of intermediate forms. Some bear miniature fruit of only 6–10 cm in length, which may be served individually as stuffed vegetables. These miniature fruit are popular in India and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.
Cerasee can be consumed in two ways, sauteed or boiled, and drink as tea, or chilled, and serve as a refreshing drink. The young shoots and leaves of Cerasee may also be eaten as greens.
Cerasee is often used in Chinese Cuisine for its bitter flavor, typically in stir-fries (often with pork and douchi), soups, and also as tea. It has also been used in place of hops as the bitter ingredient in some Chinese beers.
It is very popular throughout South Asia. In Northern India, it is often prepared with potatoes and served with yogurt on the side to offset the bitterness, or used in sabji. In North Indian cuisine it is stuffed with spices and then cooked in oil. In Southern India it is used in the dishes thoran/thuvaran (mixed with grated coconut), theeyal (cooked with roasted coconut) and pachadi (which is considered a medicinal food for diabetics). Other popular recipes include preparations with curry, deep fried with peanuts or other ground nuts, and pachi pulusu, a soup with fried onions and other spices. In Tamil Nadu a special preparation in Brahmins' cuisine called 'pagarkai pitla' is a kind of sour 'Koottu' , variety is very popular. Also popular is ' kattu a curry stuffed with onions,cooked lentil and grated coconut mix, tied with thread and fried in oil. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, Cerasee is often cooked with onions, red chili powder, turmeric powder, salt, coriander powder, and a pinch of cumin seeds. Another dish in Pakistan calls for whole, unpeeled Cerasee to be boiled, and then stuffed with cooked ground beef, served with either hot tandoori bread, naan, chappati, or with khichri (a mixture of lentils and rice).
Cerasee is a significant ingredient in Okinawan cuisine, and is increasingly used in mainland Japan. It is popularly credited with Okinawan life expectancies being higher than the already long Japanese ones.
In the Philippines, Cerasee may be stir-fried with ground beef and oyster sauce, or with eggs and diced tomato. The dish pinakbet, popular in the Ilocos region of Luzon, consists mainly of Cerasee, eggplant, okra, string beans, tomatoes, lima beans, and other various regional vegetables altogether stewed with a little bagoong-based stock.
In Trinidad and Tobago, Cerasee are usually sautéed with onion, garlic and scotch bonnet pepper until almost crisp, while in Jamaica it is consumed exclusively by drinking.
Cerasee has been used in various Asian and African traditional medicine systems for a long time. In Turkey it has been used as a folk remedy for a variety of ailments, particularly stomach complaints. The fruit is broken up and soaked in either olive oil or honey.
The plant contains several biologically active compounds, chiefly momordicin I and II, and cucurbitacin B. The plants contains also several bioactive glycosides (including momordin, charantin, charantosides, goyaglycosides, momordicosides) and other terpenoid compounds (including momordicin-28, momordicinin, momordicilin, momordenol, and momordol). It also contains cytotoxic (ribosome-inactivating) proteins such as momorcharin and momordin.
In 1962, Lolitkar and Rao extracted from the plant a substance, which they called charantin, which had hypoglycaemic effect on normal and diabetic rabbits. Another principle, active only on diabetic rabbits, was isolated by Visarata and Ungsurungsie in 1981. Cerasee has been found to increase insulin sensitivity. In 2007, a study by the Philippine Department of Health determined that a daily dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight is comparable to 2.5 mg/kg of the anti-diabetes drug glibenclamide taken twice per day. Tablets of Bitter Melon extract are sold in the Philippines as a food supplement and exported to many countries.
Other compounds in Cerasee have been found to activate the AMPK, the protein that regulates glucose uptake (a process which is impaired in diabetics).
Cerasee also contains a lectin that has insulin-like activity due to its non-protein-specific linking together to insulin receptors. This lectin lowers blood glucose concentrations by acting on peripheral tissues and, similar to insulin's effects in the brain, suppressing appetite. This lectin is likely a major contributor to the hypoglycemic effect that develops after eating Bitter Melon.
Cerasee is traditionally regarded in Asia as useful for preventing and treating malaria. Tea from its leaves is used for this purpose also in Panama and Colombia. In Guyana, Cerasee are boiled and stir-fried with garlic and onions. This popular side dish known as corilla is served to prevent malaria. Laboratory studies have confirmed that species related to Cerasee have anti-malarial activity, though human studies have not yet been published.
Researchers at Saint Louis University claims that an extract from Cerasee, commonly eaten and known as karela in India, causes a chain of events which helps to kill breast cancer cells and prevents them from multiplying.
Cerasee has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, (no ideas please) for birth control, and to help childbirth.
In Togo the plant is traditionally used against viral diseases such as chickenpox and measles. Tests with leaf extracts have shown in vitro activity against the herpes simplex type 1 virus, apparently due to unidentified compounds other than the momordicins.
Laboratory tests suggest that compounds in Cerasee might be effective for treating HIV infection. As most compounds isolated from Cerasee that impact HIV have either been proteins or lectins, neither of which are well-absorbed, it is unlikely that oral intake of Cerasee will slow HIV in infected people. It is possible oral ingestion of Cerasee could offset negative effects of anti-HIV drugs, if a test tube study can be shown to be applicable to people.
Studies in mice indicate that Cerasee seed may have a cardio protective effect by down-regulating the NF-κB inflammatory pathway.
Cerasee has been used in traditional medicine for several other ailments, including dysentery, colic, fevers, burns, painful menstruation, scabies and other skin problems. It has also been used as abortifacient, for birth control, and to help childbirth.
The seed of Cerasee contains vicine, and therefore can trigger symptoms of favism in susceptible individuals. In addition, the red arils of the seeds are reported to be toxic to children, and the fruit is contraindicated during pregnancy.
However, I have been drinking Cerasee from I was a child, and sucking the seeds, which I find to be very tasty. I have never had an adverse reaction.