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Monday, August 04, 2014

How to Make Bitter Melon Less Bitter

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 1

Every few years, I attempt to eat Canh O/Kho Qua Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup) again, hoping that this time, it'll grow on me. And every other time, the bitterness of bitter melon is just too much, but I keep trying because it's pretty much the only Vietnamese food that I can't eat.

So I thought I'd try to lessen the bitterness. Not remove it completely, but at least tone down it enough that I can eat it. I figured if I parboiled the bitter melon and dumped the bitter brew before making it into soup, that might reduce the bitterness a little.

I turned to my Wandering Chopsticks Facebook page to ask if any of my readers had tried that and whether it worked and received another tip to salt it as well. So here you go, two ways to lessen the bitterness of bitter melon.

The first method of parboiling bitter melon is best used if you're making bitter melon soup.

Cut the bitter melon into sections and scoop out the insides with a spoon. I like using a serrated grapefruit spoon for ease.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 2

Set a pot of water to boil while you finish cleaning sections of bitter melon.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 3

When the water boils, add the bitter melon and turn the heat down to medium. Let it parboil for no more than 5 minutes, or slightly less if you can handle the bitterness. Pour into a colander to drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. At the 5-minute mark, the bitter melon had just started to change color and was getting a little too soft to stuff.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 4

The second method comes from Wandering Chopsticks reader Gabriel Ocasio who suggested salting bitter melon to reduce its bitterness. This method is best if you intend to stir-fry the bitter melon. You can also parboil the bitter melon slices too if you don't want to salt them.

Slice the bitter melon in half length-wise and scrape out the insides. Then thinly slice.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 5

Liberally salt the bitter melon. I used kosher salt so you can see the grains more easily. Mix thoroughly and let rest for about an hour.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 6

Then thoroughly rinse the bitter melon. Now, you can use it in such dishes as O/Kho Qua Xao Trung (Vietnamese Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Eggs) or Chinese Bitter Melon Stir-Fry with Ground Pork and Black Bean Sauce.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 7

Both methods worked really well. There was still a slight hint of bitterness. The bitter melon flavor was still there, only the overwhelming bitterness was much reduced. The reduced bitterness of the bitter melon meant that I could even eat a four-course bitter melon dinner, which I could have never imagined doing so before.

How to Remove the Bitterness from Bitter Melon 8

Other cooking tips can be found in Peek in My Kitchen.

Some bitter melon recipes:
Canh O/Kho Qua Nhoi Thit (Vietnamese Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup)
Chinese Bitter Melon Stir-Fry with Ground Pork and Black Bean Sauce
Dib Iab Ntim Nqaij Hau Ua Kua (Hmong Stuffed Bitter Melon Soup with Ground Pork, Cilantro, and Scallions) 
Goya Champuru (Okinawan Bitter Melon Stir-Fry with Pork Belly, Tofu, and Eggs)
Vegetarian Goya Champuru (Okinawan Bitter Melon Stir-Fry with Tofu and Eggs)
O/Kho Qua Xao Trung (Vietnamese Stir-Fried Bitter Melon with Eggs)

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7 years ago today, Cherry Lattice-Crust Pie.


  1. yes to this. i've always just par-boiled it, whether i was making the soup or stir-frying it.

    i have yet to make anything with bittermelon for dw. i have a fear he won't like it! that would put it on the very short list of foods he hates, which right now just has fermented tofu (which breaks my heart)

  2. Lan,
    Is it too soft to stir-fry if you parboil it? I liked the salting method to retain the crunch. It's taken me so many attempts to even be able to eat bitter melon! So I guess it depends on if he gives foods more than one shot? How did you cook the chao? It's such a strong flavor. That's why I only use a few cubes for a whole pan of stir-fry. Maybe start with just a little bit and increase from there?

    1. it's been so long since i've made it, i don't even remember!
      he does give foods more than one shot, he's good like that. the first time he tried fermented tofu was when i had it as a dip to boiled cabbage, i told him it was peasant food that my gma would make when she didn't feel like cooking and it was more a nostalgia thing than a taste thing. that was a full punch in the face experience for him. the next time was when i made your mapo tofu dish, i didn't put a lot but he detected it. he still ate it but it's just not something he likes.

  3. Longtime lurker, delurking. I've found that fully cooking the bitter melon makes a difference. There's two dishes I do, one with salted egg and one with fish sauce and garlic. Both start with an 8-10 minute pan fry, stirring and flipping to get both sides. I've tried par-boiling, but I think I still don't quite get it cooked enough. I'll try it next time for a bit longer (but not till it's too soft, haha).

  4. Ting,
    So fully cooking it makes it less bitter? Because it still tastes awfully bitter to me unless I discard the initial bitterness.

    1. I think so and so does my husband, who does not like bitter melon. At least, the bitterness somehow becomes more palatable fully cooked.

  5. Was just at the market with my mom and she pointed out the "regular" bitter melon versus the VN or Indian version -- much darker green, smaller bumps, and apparently terrifically bitter. We walked away from those! As for debitterizing, my mom takes the same measures you do.

  6. Nikki,
    I've heard the Indian bitter melon are super bitter! I haven't tried it myself though since, like you, the extreme bitterness scares me.

  7. I did something different this time. After salting the bitter melon, I dropped it into boiling water with vinegar added. I tasted it after a couple of minutes and it was awfully bitter. So I added some baking soda, mixed it through; it bubbled and fizzed as it neutralized the acid and bitterness. Then I let it sit overnight. The next day I rinsed the bitter melon several times. Some bitterness remained but when added to a stir fry of sweet red bell pepper, tomato, shallot, garlic, a bit of coconut sugar along with some home made Thai chicken stock...I had a perfect dish! Served on rice with cilantro, green onion, and ngo om garnish. Ngo om worked great with the bitter melon. Btw, I eat the seeds of bitter melon. I don't find them bitter even when fresh out of the melon!I'm weird, I know.

  8. Paizley,
    I could see the baking soda as a neutralizing agent. Are the bitter melon seeds bitter? I bought some bitter melon leaves at the farmers' market once and tried stir-frying them. Too bitter!


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