According to the yakuzen/medicinal food theory, taking bitterness is encouraged in summer not from medicine but from anything edible that can work for our health and beauty as an adjuster to maintain our balance.
Which ingredients do you think of when you are asked to picture any bitter ingredients? I would think of kale, mulukhiya (Jew’s mallow), green peppers, and bitter gourds. Bitter gourds? You asked yourself, probably. “What are they?” could be your question.
When I lived in the U.S., I had never seen “bitter gourds” at farmers markets or regular markets in the area I lived. Or bitter gourds might be secretly popular. At least, in my country, bitter gourds are getting famous and popular in spite of their bitterness. So this is it as for bitterness in summer. There is nothing but this vegetable which can be the representative of summer taste. Have you seen bitter gourds in your countries, readers?
Bitter gourds, also known as bitter melons (Goya or Nigauri in Japanese), don’t look like they are edible at first sight. Bitter gourds have rough surface with deep or light green skin and have thick thorns. I guess it is about 20cm to 25cm long and flat seeds inside.
Bitter gourds originally came from East Asia and Okinawa is the best and leading producer of bitter gourds. As you might know, Okinawans are famous in the world for having a long life. Population over 100 years old in Okinawa is three times as much as other prefectures. This is the greatest news and if you ask the reason why they live longer, Okinawans would answer like this, “Bitter gourds do!”
Of course, bitter gourds contain so many powerful nutrients: vitamin C and B1, β carotene, potassium, and momordica charantia (bitter taste). 100g of bitter gourds contains 76mg of vitamin C which is a lot! Vitamin C in bitter gourds is more than three times as much as lemons. Also, a regular vitamin C in other ingredients tends to be broken when heated. One in bitter gourds, however, would retain its vitamin even when heated for a short time.
Seeds are also nutritious. They have peptide P, anti-cancer substance, and linoleic acid, which is good for going on diet. I have never tried but have heard that drinking a cup of bitter gourd seeds tea is so easy to get all of the nutrition in bitter gourds by boiling seeds and leaves in water for 5 minutes.
Momordica charantia is actually bitter gourds’ official name as plants. But it is also used as a name of nutrition for their bitterness. Yes, very bitter. When I was a kid, I was not able to eat bitter gourds because of bitterness and looking! The appearance of bitter gourds reminded me as a kid of some kind of ghosts, I don’t even know now why as an adult. Now, I love it, though.
Momordica charantia is the element that produces original bitterness of bitter gourds. Bitter gourds are the first one to be found that contains this nutrition. In general, the more green, the more bitter. This bitterness works just so great on our health: making the stomach strong, making appetite increase, and making our spirit rise when feeling down.
(Partial Reference: Wikipedia)
There has been a rumor when it comes to get rid of the bitterness, “Wash bitter gourds with salt thoroughly before cook.” This was so wrong! We believed that washing them with salt makes bitterness go away so that we could eat more of gourds easily. However, this way of preparation breaks 30% of vitamin C even before cooking! Wow, what a waste. So the solution is this: just wash bitter gourds with water and cook with a strong heat for a short time! This is the key to preserve vitamin C in bitter gourds even after cooked.
My friend told me that she makes a bitter gourd juice with a little bit of orange juice. She said it is so simple to make: take out seeds, cut bitter gourds in small pieces, and put them in a juicer with orange juice. Citric acid in orange juice stops a breakdown enzyme of vitamin C work and preserves every vitamin in a juice. I definitely try this bitter gourd juice someday this summer while bitter gourds are still in season!
Also, bitter gourds reminded me of memories with my grandmother who passed away when she was so young, 64. She used to cook bitter gourds almost every day in summer. Honestly, as a kid, I was so tired of eating bitter gourds. What a shame. Now, the dish she used to made is taken over by my mother. I have tried her recipe couple of times but mine is just not the same as my grandmother’s. I want to be a master of the bitter gourds dish invented by my grandmother someday, hopefully.