South Indian cuisine is rife with superfoods (turmeric, cardamom, ginger, and lentils are cornerstones of the Tamil kitchen), but karela, also known as the bitter gourd or bitter melon, stands alone in its reverence. Extolled for its numerous virtues, the brutally bitter fruit is seen as a cure for everything from cholesterol to cancer, HIV to hemorrhoids, and beyond.
The bitter gourd looks like a cucumber with a horrible case of the hives. Its skin is dark green and covered in knobs, warts, horns, or generally pointy and unfriendly-looking protrusions. The inside pith is white, lightly seeded, and bitter beyond belief. Seasoning karela is somewhat of a futile cause, but mothers around the world try desperately to mask its flavor in hopes of tapping into its health value.
Often, the gourd is cut into rings or thin strips and deep fried, or pan fried with chili, garlic, ginger, onions, and salt. Karela juice has also become somewhat of a health food phenomenon, after clinical trials showed that the gourd’s naturally-occurring polypeptide-p had insulin-like effects on blood sugar levels.
The bitter melon, or bitter gourd, looks like a cucumber with a horrible case of the hives. Its skin is dark green and covered in knobs, warts, horns, and generally pointy and unfriendly-looking protrusions. But behind this nightmarish appearance lies a fruit with serious healing potential.