Chinese: Foo Gwa alt
English: Balsam Pear
Like a light green, fat, pointed cucumber to look at, with a prominently warty skin. When cut open the bitter melon shows bright red seeds. These must be removed before use.
The Bitter Melon is consigned to wholesale markets in 10kg cartons, and the quantity is now becoming significant.
Growing conditions: Tropical and subtropical—Northern Territory and Queensland.
Bitter melon grows in tropical areas, including parts of the Amazon, East Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and throughout South America, where it is used as a food as well as a medicine. It's a slender, climbing annual vine with long stalked leaves producing yellow solitary male and female flowers borne in the leaf axils. The fruit is warty-looking gourd, usually oblong and resembling a small cucumber. The young fruit is emerald green turning to orange-yellow when ripe. At maturity the fruit splits into three irregular valves that curl backwards and release numerous brown or white seeds enclosed in scarlet arils. The generic name "Momordica" comes from Latin meaning "to bite", referring to the jagged edges of the seed which appears as if the leaves have been bitten. The plant lives up to its Bitter Melon name as all parts of the plant including the fruit tastes very bitter.
In the Amazon, local people and indigenous tribes grow bitter melon in their gardens, adding the fruit and/or leaves to beans and soup for a bitter or sour flavor. Sometimes parboiling it first with a little salt will remove some of the bitter flavoring. Medicinally, the plant has a long history of uses by the indigenous people of the Amazon. The fruit juice and/or a leaf tea is employed for diabetes, colic, sores and wounds, infections, worms and parasites, as an emmenogogue, and for measles, hepatitis, and fevers.
In the United States, bitter melon is grown for its immature fruits, which are used in Asian cooking. In other countries, the young leaves are harvested and used as a potherb. The fruit and leaves have a bitter flavor because they contain morodicine, an alkaloid. Alkaloid content can be reduced somewhat by parboiling or soaking fruit and leaves in saltwater. Immature fruit is least bitter. Ripe fruits are extremely bitter, and are reported to be toxic to humans and animals.Substitutes: winter melon (larger, needn't be salted before cooking to remove bitterness)
I couldn't find any mention anywhere about what other food this tastes like. All I found was the substitution above.