Hai Sai! Welcome to my Blog.

Hello, my name is Tom Corrao and I am the blogger behind the Okinawaology Blog. I created this blog to share and discuss all things Okinawan. I’m also the Public Relations Officer and Minkan Taishi to the Chicago Okinawa Kenjinkai. My experience with Okinawa is derived from the time I spent there during the 1980's and 90's (10 years) when serving in the United States Air Force. I've also been married to an Okinawan woman for 30 years now and have been immersed in many things Okinawan through both friends and family. I do not claim to be all knowing about everything Okinawan but I try hard and study the history and culture. I welcome everyone that is interested in Okinawa and hope that I can provide useful information to those uchinanchu that may be curious about their culture and heritage. I also welcome those who are not of Okinawan heritage but have experienced, or are experiencing, the islands culture while stationed there with the United States Military. Comments are welcomed and will be published as long as they are in good taste and on track with the purpose of this blog. My hope with this blog is to bring Uchinanchu people around the world a little closer to their cultural roots by expressing information that has started to fade in light of a more modern world. We should never forget our culture or the people who came before us and through the Blog my intentions are to meld the old with the new and implant knowledge that will help maintain the traditions and culture of an island people.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Bitter Melon / Gourd (also known as Momordica Charantia)

What is Goya? (Bitter Melon)
Goya is one of the most famous vegetables used in Okinawan cuisine. It is the key ingredient in goya champuru a signature dish in Okinawa which embodies the very essence of the Okinawan diet. Normally composed of stir fried goya, tofu and eggs, Goya champuru can include a variety of other vegetables and even meat. The dish is well known for its health aspects due to its high vitamin and anti-oxidant content. However, It is also known for its bitter taste so proper preparation is a must when using this vegetable for cooking. 
Goya Fruit
My wife and I have been growing goya bitter melon in our backyard garden for several years now here in Wisconsin with varying success. The vegetable requires at least 90 days of hot weather to produce a quality gourd. So with our northern climate having both hot and cool summers we have had mixed results from year to year.

The English names for the plant and its fruit include bitter melon or bitter gourd. In China it is known as pinyin or kugua. The Philippines calls it Ampalaya and in Japan it is called Goya and in India it is known as Karela. It can also be found in South America and the Caribbean where its also known as Balsamino or Saraseed.

The varieties will vary between locations due to different growing conditions and mutations of the plant. Colors range from very light almost pastel green to the richest deep green you can imagine. Our plants were looking a bit on the yellow side until I discovered that the soil here in Wisconsin is iron deficient in many areas. I added an iron supplement from our local gardening center and now our plants are a deep rich green.

The plant itself is a tropical climbing vine with delicate yellow flowers and tender, deeply lobed leaves. They love all the sun and humidity they can get and require regular watering. We grow them using a trellis that is built into our fence and it works well. I built it so once the vine reaches the point it wants to go over the top of the fence we can move it to an angled trellis where the fruit can hang beneath the large green foliage.

Its oval and long, textured green fruits are as crunchy as a cucumber  but extremely bitter to the taste buds. They are known for their medicinal properties, the bitter melon is easy to grow and cultivate, even in the backyard.

Step 1
Prepare a garden site that has good rich soil with lots of compost worked into it. Bitter melons can be a host to fungal diseases, so it helps to keep the ground surface dry. Place a strong trellis or support system into the ground that will allow the bitter melon to grow about 6 feet high. Augment the garden soil with compost or dried manure. Add iron suplement to sweeten the soil if you live in an area like us with moderate iron levels in the soil. This will promote that bright green tone in the fruit and leaves of the plants. Bitter melon prefers soil that is rich but drains well. Make sure the location receives six to eight hours of sunlight every day.
Step 2
Purchase your seeds from a reputable seller. They have been distributed in other countries for centuries but have not been as available in the United States. Thanks to the Internet, bitter melon seeds can now be easily ordered online. I would recommend someone like Kitazawa Seed company which deals in Oriental vegetable seeds.
 Harvest the fruits within two weeks after the flowers open. Young fruits ready for harvest are bright green, firm, juicy and crunchy. Fruits become more bitter and spongy as they mature.
Single Climbing Vine
Step 3
Germinate the seeds by soaking them in water for 24 to 48 hours or until they swell up. Peel off the outer coating with a sharp paring knife and plant the seed about 3/4 of an inch deep into moist potting soil. Keep the soil most until a green shoot or cotelydon pops through the soil, which should take about five to seven days.

Young Plant After Transplanting
Step 4
Transplant the plant once it has grown at least two real leaves and when the temperature outside has reached an average of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In our area we plant between mothers day and memorial day when the threat of frost has diminished. Do not disturb the soil around the roots when transplanting it, if at all possible. Place the plant into a hole the same size as the dirt ball. Gently pat the plant into the soil. Ideal spacing between plants is around 2 feet apart along a row to allow sunlight to reach the lower branches.

Our Plants Between Spring Peas
Step 5
Water the bitter melon vine in the mornings until the vines are well established. This will allow the heat of the day to dry the soil after watering. Another technique used in growing gourds and cucumbers is to place straw or hay around the base of the plant. This will help retain moisture in the soil without the vine resting in damp conditions.

Fruit hanging from Trellis
Step 6
Train the vine to grow up your support system, using cotton string or plant ties if necessary. The vines will have small grabber shoots that will come out of the vine and grab on so if you mind the plants as they grow training your plants should be easy. Just move your vines without breaking off the grabbers and they will grab on by the end of the day to where you put them. The fruits will grow straight if they are hanging as opposed to laying on the ground. You can prune overreaching or wayward growths on the vines to control the shape of the plant and encourage development of new stems, which will bear more fruits. Typically the growing time for melons is 80 to 90 days, but it may vary for your area and growing conditions.
Trained Vines on the Trellis
Step 7
Allow some fruits to over ripen. Once they have turned yellow harvest their seeds for the next crop. This should save you some money the following year.

This One Got A Bit Too Ripe

Here is a little bit about the Health benefits of eating bitter melon.

Bitter Melon helps support healthy blood sugar levels with compounds called charantin and momordicin.
Bitter Melon helps achieve positive sugar regulating effect by suppressing the neural response to sweet taste stimuli.

Compounds present in Bitter Melon, such as vicine, peptides, and polypeptide-p (plant insulin), work together to give Bitter Melon its potency.

Bitter Melon helps maintain a normal level of triglycerides and cholesterol in the liver and blood.

Several clinical trials have shown that bitter melon extract and juice lower blood sugar in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It contains several phytochemicals that appear to act in ways similar to sulfonyurea drugs, without the side effects. If you are taking medication for your blood sugar levels, talk to your doctor before trying the fruit, and keep a close eye on your blood sugar. The easiest place to find bitter melon is an Asian food market. Bitter melon can be taken in whole fruit form or as a momordica extract, tincture, or juice. 

Well that is it for today. I will follow up tomorrow with some receipes for cooking Goya Bitter Melon. I hope this has inspired some of you to try it.


  1. Very interesting! I have long heard about the health benefits of Goya. Please do post some recipes (especially authentic ones!) I will give them a try.

  2. Thank You. I'll be posting some recipes soon. The wife made me Goya Champuru for my bento tonight. The flavor was unbelievable when I tried it. Not very bitter at all.

  3. thank you for your practical advice on growing,I live in North africa and hope to grow karela,as we indian call this wonderful veg,i am avid eater of this veg ,n swear by it,by the way i am diabetic 2 and my sugar level is always below 100,due to this wonderful veg.
    thanks agin
    rohit patel

  4. Bitter Gourd/Bitter Melon/Karela Also Know as Insulin Plant.
    It contains a high dose of "Plant Insulin" it lowers the blood sugar levels Effectively.
    Having The Juice of 3 to 4 Karela early morning on a empty stomach.
    As a vegetable, too it can be taken on a regular basis .

  5. since we moved from Japan to Germany recently, my hubby is craving japanese dishes every day! Since japanese stuff is really expensive here, I started thinking about using the space on our balcony to grow some easy vegetables.. Goya is one of our favourite and after finding your "tutorial" I guess I might give it a try. Just hope the german weather (mostly cold) will allow a good harvest..
    thank you for this post!

  6. Thank You, for posting this Blog. In your experience with growing Goya,will allowing a fruit to fully mature for seed, inhibit production of of new fruit ? Should one wait until near the end of the season for seed ?

  7. In my personal experience allowing fruits to mature does not inhibit production of new fruit. So there is no need to wait till the end of the season.
    I have harvested seeds from goya bought in the market, real large ones. I sprout them in the spring, which can be tricky, and grow the seedlings in little pots to be transplanted when temperatures rise.