Bitter Melon Leaf
[Dahon ng Ampalayá (Philippine) Momorica charantia]
This green is popular all over Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. It is mildly bitter, similar to the fruit but very much less so. The photo specimens, purchased from an Asian grower at a Los Angeles farmer's market, were from a bundle about 32 inches long. In the lower right quarter you can see a very immature bitter melon fruit. Flowers, if any, are small and yellow.
For information on the fruit see
Bitter Melon. For more on gourds see
Buying: This green can often be found in larger specialty markets serving a Southeast Asian community. It can also often be had from an Asian grower at a local farmer's market. Since most of them grow bitter melon they can easily supply the leaves. Bitter melon leaves can also be purchased frozen in some Philipine markets, as pictured to the left.
Cooking: The leaves and tender tips are used, the main length of the stems being much too tough. The leaves should go into the dish in the last minutes, but they do hold up to longer cooking much better than spinach.
Subst: If you can't get bitter melon leaves, or do not like the mild bitterness, the best substitute is Swiss Chard, preferably the white stemmed variety. Use the leaf parts only and reserve the stems for some other use. Many recipes suggest spinach, but I consider that too tart and it gets too mushy when cooked.
Health & Nutrition: Bitter Melon tastes bitter and medicinal, so it's got to be good for you, right? These gourds and their leaves are considered highly medicinal, particularly effective against type 2 diabetes but also against cancer, HIV and hemorrhoids. These effects have been neither proven nor disproven by scientific investigation. Since this is an inexpensive, commonly available plant usable as-is, the pharmaceutical companies are completely uninterested in sponsoring major research. Smaller studies have tended to support bitter melon's reputed properties.
While bitter melon does not contain quinine, it has been found to have similar anti-malarial properties. Anti-viral and antioxidant properties are also suspected. Bitter melon is high in minerals and vitamin B, but how much is in a form the body can absorb is not known - again, funding for research is needed.
There are also negative effects, mostly noted in small children, particularly hypoglycemic coma. It is also reported able to cause headaches.