The health benefits of karela (bitter-gourd) are greater than those of
Karela's bitter taste is generally attributed to the quinine it
bitter gourd stimulates the appetite, cleanses the liver, purifies
the blood, and provides many other benefits.
Grown in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Asia, Africa, and South
America, karela (aka bitter-melon, kaakarakaya) is unsavory
yet very nutritious and healthy. Karela comes in many different
varieties and is similar in shape to a cucumber. In the Indian grocery
stores in the US, you'll find the the
Indian, dark green, spiky variety, while in the Asian stores, you'll
find the lighter-green bitter-melons that are larger with a bumpy peel.
really delicious type of karela is kantola or kakrol (aa-kaakarakaya).
These are small, round or oval with tiny, prickly spikes, and are not
bitter at all or only
slightly bitter. These taste great
sliced into thin chips and either stir-fried or deep-fried. Fresh
kantola are a rare sight in the US but are widely available frozen.
In South India, karela and kantola, are soaked overnight in
brine or buttermilk and sundried, and then deep-fried as needed, and
like pappadums, served as crunchy accompaniments or added to soups and
stews. These vadiyams or
vadams are available in Indian grocery stores.
Karela and Health
In Indian medicine, such as ayurveda, bitter-gourd juice (from the
gourd or leaves) has long been used as a remedy for diabetes and liver
problems. Karela juice is
also used to treat skin problems like psoriasis, and is generally good
for skin health as it purifies blood.
Ayurvedic doctors also prescribe bitter-gourd juice for digestive
problems and to boost immunity. A glass of karela juice with a dash of
lemon, taken on an empty tummy, is supposed to improve general health
as well as skin
Karela contains a chemical called charantin which reduces high blood
glucose levels, and hence the best home remedy for diabetes (as a curry
Pregnant women are advised to avoid this vegetable as it can cause
Along with fiber, karela contains several vitamins,
minerals, and trace
elements like vitamin C, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and
phosphorus. Like most vegetables, karela is low in calories, and as
such great for weight-loss. Studies show that bitter-melon
help prevent breast cancer.
It makes sense to include karela in your diet as it offers so many
Use tender, green karela for best taste. Though the
bitterness varies depending on the variety, usually, tender karela are
less bitter. If using tender karela, you can use them with the pith and
seeds; otherwise, remove the pith and seeds.
To reduce the bitterness, cut the karela and rub salt
and/or lime juice on the pieces and let sit for 1-2 hours; squeeze out
the water before cooking.
To reduce bitterness, add tamarind, jaggery, grated
coconut, lime/lemon juice to the curries or combine with beans and
legumes like chickpeas.
them more palatable, stir-fry, deep-fry, or stuff with potatoes and
spices, or add them to lentil and vegetable soups and stews.
Wrap the karela in plastic and store in the
refrigerator to keep them fresh for upto a week.