Bitter gourd is a seasonal vegetable and, as the name suggests, is very bitter in taste. It is a rich source of phosphorous. It purifies blood, activates spleen and liver and is highly beneficial in diabetes. Now let us have a look why this amazing vegetable needs our attention.
Bitter gourd belongs to the family cucurbitaceae and genus momorodica. It is believed to have originated in tropics since ancient times and is widely distributed in China, Malaysia, India and tropical Africa. It is one of the most commonly used medicinal herbs in West Indies, tropical Mexico and South America. It is grown as an ornamental plant in the USA, the UK and France.
Health benefits of bitter gourd
1. Bitter gourd stimulates easy digestion and peristalsis of food through the bowel until it is excreted from the body. Thus, it helps in relieving indigestion and constipation problems.
2. It contains phytonutrients (chemical compounds that occur naturally in plants) and polypeptide-
P, a plant insulin known to lower blood sugar levels in humans. In addition, it comprises hypoglycaemic agent, called charantin, which increases glucose uptake and glycogen synthesis in the cells of liver, muscle and adipose tissue. Bitter gourd is very low in calories. Its pods are rich in phytonutrients such as dietary fibre, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants.
4. It is a good source of niacin (vitamin B3), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), vitamin B6 and minerals such as iron, zinc, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
5. Even though bitter gourd has several health benefits, it may still contain alkaloid substances such as quinine and morodicine, resins and saponin glycosides, which may be intolerable for some people. The nutritive value of bitter gourd has been provided in Table I.
Nutritive Value ofBitter Gourd per 100gm
Lutein and Zeaxanthin
Cultivation of bitter gourd in India
Bitter gourd is grown extensively throughout India. In terms of area and production, Andhra Pradeshranks first followed by Odisha, Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, respectively. The total area under this crop during 2012-13 was 78.12 thousand hectares and the productionwas about 883.69 thousand metric tonnes. Table II shows data on area and production of bitter gourd in Indiaduring 2012-13.
Different varieties of bitter gourd
Bitter gourd can be grown in all types of soil. Several varieties are available for cultivation in India. The old variety Coimbatore Long, which is whitish green in
colour, is preferred by the South Indians and not by the North Indians. The other varieties are VK1 and Priya, both of which are suitable for South India. The fruits are extra long, round and weigh more than 200gm. Apart from these, Pusa Do Muasmi and Pusa Vishesh varieties are also grown in India. The latter is dwarf- and dehydration. Theother varieties are PunjabBG 14, NDBI, Phule BG6, Kaliyanpur Sence, KBG-16 and Priya.
Harvesting and marketing
Harvesting is done when fruits are still young and tender. On ripening, the fruit changes its colour from green to yellow and orange. Immature fruits are least bitter and their bitterness rises as the pods mature. The marketing of this is normally done by the producers themselves. However, the involvement of middlemen is common. The weekly and daily local markets are the main marketing centres for bitter gourd.
Problems with bitter gourd
1. Problem of insects, pests and diseases in its cultivation
2. Underutilisation of bitter gourd in producing value addition products
3. Poor marketing facilities
4. Non-availability of storage facilities
To overcome the problems associated with bitter gourd and to increase its production, the following measures are essential:
1. Need of proper production system management for enhancing productivity
2.Crop health management
3. Attention to post-harvest aspects and value addition.
4. As bitter gourd is one of the most nutritive and commercially imported cucurbit vegetable and has several medicinal properties, efforts are needed to increase its production and value addition. There is also the need to identify the external markets for this much valued vegetable.