Pare is scientifically named in Latin as Momordica charantia. Internationally this plant is known as bitter melon or bitter gourd. Another name for this plant is balsam apple or balsam pear. In China this plant is known as ku gua, goya in Japan, balsambirne in Germany, achochina or balsamina in Spanish-speaking areas, ampalaya in Tagalog in the Philippines and kakara or karela in Hindi in India (Julissa Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2022).
In Indonesia, this plant has many names according to the local language. In Java, this plant is known as pare, pariah or pepareh. Prieu, peria, foria, pepare or kambeh in Sumatra, paya, truwuk, paita, paliak, pariak or pania in Nusa Tenggara and poya, pudu, pentu, paria belenggede or palia in Sulawesi (Dhau et al., 2018) .
The genus name comes from the Latin mordeo meaning to bite, possibly referring to the serrated edges of the seeds. Meanwhile, charantia comes from ancient Greek which means beautiful flower. According to Schaefer and Renner (2010) the genus Momordica consists of 59 species distributed in warm tropical areas, mainly in Africa and around 12 species in Southeast Asia (Julissa Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2022).
The origin and beginning of the domestication of this plant cannot be ascertained until now due to the lack of archaeological evidence. However, nowadays its cultivation is spread in several areas with tropical and subtropical climates throughout the continent, especially as a food crop in Asia, including Indonesia (Java, Kalimantan and Sumatra), Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and China (Greece), Australia and Africa.
Bitter melon has also been naturalized in North, South, and Central America as well as on several islands in the Pacific Ocean. There is also the possibility that bitter melon as a plant actually originates or is native to the African and Australian continents (Julissa Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2022).
However, a report written by Susanne S. Renner in 2020 stated that the initial domestication of bitter melon occurred 6,000 years ago, followed by the further separation of cultivars 800 years ago. Through a study conducted using the method of comparing taxonomic elements and genetics with the conclusion of divergence through mutation time between bitter melon which geographically originates from Africa and Asia, it was discovered that the domestication of bitter melon first occurred in Asia.
Shape Description and Growth
Bitter melon is an annual plant with twining and creeping growth or extending in an upright position with the help of tendrils with a height that can reach up to 2 to 3 meters. The leaves have a simple shape and are arranged alternately singly along the stem with a length of 3 to 5 cm. Meanwhile, the leaves can reach up to 4 to 10 cm in length with a rounded shape and have an unpleasant odor when squeezed.
Although bitter melon is a close relative of vegetables like cucumber and is widely consumed like a vegetable, it is classified as a fruit. Generally, there are two main types of bitter melon. Namely, Chinese bitter melon which looks like a wilted cucumber with a shape densely covered with warty bumps, and Indian bitter melon which is dark green and stout, with a pointed tip and spiny skin.
Meanwhile, in Indonesia, as reported by Jenriani Cornesa Dhau and colleagues in a scientific report in 2018, bitter melon plants are known to have three types. That are:
1. Taiwanese bitter gourd or chu mi. This type of bitter melon comes from Taiwan and is characterized by its oval, slightly round, and large shape. There are two types of colors of Taiwanese bitter melon, namely white and green. So to call it, it is divided into white chu mi and green chu mi. The taste can also be said to be not too bitter.
2. Pare lard or bitter melon butter. The color is yellowish-white with large spots on the surface of the fruit. The length of the fruit can reach up to 30 to 50 cm with a rather slender shape. The flesh is quite thick so the fruit can grow to weigh 250 to 500 grams.
3. Chicken bitter melon or green bitter melon. The color is green with the fruit being smaller and shorter. The part that contains lots of seeds is rounded, so that the base is often slim but the bottom is round.
The immature fruit is green with white seeds. It will turn orange when ripe and split from top to bottom to produce bright red seeds.
Bitter melon is known for its bitter taste. Although it can be consumed fresh or steamed, people generally cook the fruit with other spices to overcome its bitter taste.
As a plant, bitter melon does not need full sunlight so it can grow in shady places. The seeds will take 5 to 7 days to germinate. Depending on the variety, it may take 50 to 60 days to mature (Coolick, “The Health Benefits of Bitter Melon,” 2023).
Bitter melon plants can be irrigated every 10 days in the cool dry season and every week in the hot dry season. Drip irrigation is an efficient method to supply water and nutrients through fertilization (Julissa Rojas-Sandoval and Acevedo-Rodríguez, 2022).
Ingredients and Other Benefits of Bitter Melon for Health
Bitter melon is said to be rich in vitamins A and C as well as other nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron. Based on research that has been carried out, it is also known that bitter melon through fruit extraction contains several chemical ingredients that have health benefits, namely saponins, flavonoids, polyphenols, alkaloids, triterpenoids, momordisin, cucurbitacin glycosides, charantin, 13-butyric acid, palmitic acid, linoleic acid. and stearic acid (Dhau et al., 2018).
Traditionally, bitter melon is consumed to help treat diabetes. The juice is applied externally to treat skin disorders and the juice is taken as a remedy for arthritis, rheumatism, and asthma. Other studies also show that eating the fruit can help lower blood glucose levels (“NParks | Momordica Charantia”, 2023). The beta-carotene content in bitter melon is said to help prevent cancer.
However, according to registered dietitian Beth Czerwony, RD, LD, bitter melon should not be consumed by pregnant women because it has been linked to abnormalities in embryos in a non-human study. He also said that bitter melon has been linked to cases of diarrhea, gastric bleeding and ulcers, irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), severe kidney damage, stomach discomfort, and vomiting (Coolick, “The Health Benefits of Bitter Melon” , 2023).