Bittergourd, Bitter Melon, Karela, Bitter Sopropo and Fu-kwa all refer to the same vegetable that just like the cucumber and pumpkin comes from the family of Cucurbitaceae. It is well-known and appreciated in the Asian, Eastern African, South American and the Caribbean cuisine where it is used in curries and stir-fried vegetable dishes.
The fruit differs one region from the other. It can be smooth and prickly, light and dark. What is common for all bittergourds, however, is the bitter taste and the healthy compounds of the fruit: vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, K and the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, manganese and zinc. For centuries bittergourd has been used in Chinese medicine in applications against diabetes.
The vegetable is in general not that well-known in most Western countries such as USA, Europe or Australia. But this seems to change. “Immigrants, looking for their traditional dishes, ask their local vegetables in their new home countries,” explains Marketing Specialist Hans Verwegen. “We see this in the Netherlands, Canada and the UK, for instance, where ethnic shops sell bittergourd. This exotic product, imported from overseas, also triggers the local population to try the ‘new’ vegetable in their dishes. Given the bitter taste it will not get immensely popular fast, like we have seen with sweet pepper some decades ago. However, the interest in health combined with attractive internet posts from Asia, makes it a potential growth crop.”
The demand for bittergourd increases as the young generation of immigrants continue to prepare it. Therefore, the option for local production has been looking into. Some bittergourd varieties, bred for Asian countries, turn out to grow very well in the Dutch greenhouses too. Verwegen: “The Asian population in Europe welcomes this very much. We have started small local pilot productions in the Netherlands this year, distributing the products to ethnic supermarkets and regular retailers. And it even looks like western trends slowly start embracing the bittergourd; new recipes come up in Europe, like bittergourd smoothies. This is very promising for the future.”