Goya Bitter Melon: Benefits + Recipes

Goya is one of natures finest, but little known, vegetables. Whether you make soups, stir fry’s or even smoothies, adding some goya bitter melon can bring some health benefits.

It is a member of the squash family and is extremely bumpy. It can range from light to dark green and is oblong in shape. As it begins to ripen it will turn an orange yellow color. The more ripe it becomes the more bitter it will become, so you should use it while it is still green.

What is Goya?

Goya is most commonly found in Japanese markets and is also sometimes called “bitter melon” or sometimes even “bitter gourd”.

Goya is a vegetable (though, some also call it a fruit) commonly used in Okinawa. It is known for its unique, bitter flavor which some people love, and others don’t.

Goya is a great vegetable to eat for its numerous vitamins and health benefits, and although it gets some getting used to as far as the flavor goes, goya is an under appreciated vegetable that deserves some recognition!

While it is pretty popular in Asian countries, goya does not find much ground in US or European soil. But hopefully that can change since it is so good for us and really brings a unique flavor to dishes it is used in.

Goya Health Benefits

For diet-goers, this vegetable is for you! With just 17 calories per 100 grams (about 3.5 ounces), goya is super flavorful and packs a crunch without a ton of calories!

And the crunch isn’t the only thing that goya packs in.

It has a great amount of dietary fiber, minerals, anti-oxidants, and, of course, vitamins like A. B, and C.

The most notable nutrient that goya possesses is a phyto-nutrient called polypeptide-P, which has charantin in it which helps blood glucose levels.

According to scientific experiments on mice, bitter melon, or bitter squash, could help prevent the growth and the spread of cancerous tumors.

Medicinal Uses

Bitter melon has been used in countries like India, Asia, and even Africa as a medicinal option. These countries believe this vegetable can help with some of the following:

  • Skin infections
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Constipation
  • Ulcers
  • Regulate blood flow
  • Heart issues
  • Anti-aging
  • Digestion

Bitter Melon Research

Originally from the state of Kerala, in southern India, bitter melon spread from the 14th century with Chinese exports and then to regions of Africa and the Caribbean. In Asia, it not only very popular in cooking, but it is also lent many medicinal properties, including against diabetes. Professor Ratna Ray of the University of St. Louis in Missouri (USA), who grew up in India, therefore wondered about possible anti-cancer properties of this plant.

She and her colleagues decided to use a bitter melon extract on various types of cancer cells. Laboratory tests showed that the extract prevented these cells from replicating. Meaning it could possibly be used to effectively prevent the spread of cancer.

Then, using the extract of the plant on mice, they discovered that it was able to reduce the occurrence of tongue cancer too.

Then, Ratna Ray and her team studied the action mechanism of the bitter melon and preventative effects over cancer cells. Using mice again, the researchers found that the extract interacts with molecules that allow glucose and fat to move around the body, in some cases feeding cancer cells and allowing them to grow.

By interfering with these pathways, bitter melon extract stopped the growth of cancer tumors and even led to the death of some cancer cells. ” All the studies we have conducted on animal models give us similar results, which is about a 50% reduction in tumour growth, ” says Professor Ray.

“Our next step is to conduct a pilot study in (people with cancer) to see if bitter melon has clinical benefits and if it is promising, there will be additional therapy measures applied to current treatments,” she continued, convinced that the plant is nevertheless very beneficial to human health.

“Some people take one apple a day, and I would eat one bitter melon a day. I really like the taste” ” she says. And to conclude: “natural products play an essential role in the discovery and development of many drugs for the treatment of various types of life-threatening diseases, including cancer. Therefore, the use of natural products as preventive medicine is becoming increasingly important.”

In particular, it has been proven that the Mediterranean diet, characterized by abundant consumption of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, herbs, olive oil, fish and dairy products, moderate consumption of eggs and wine, and low consumption of meat, would be beneficial against breast cancer.

But unfortunately, studies showing associations between diet and cancer often contradict each other. For example, there is a big controversy about soy consumption and breast cancer. While some scientists assure that this is harmful to the sick, others are convinced on the contrary that it decreases the risk of cancer and disease recurrence.

In addition, goya or bitter melon is beneficial in aiding digestion and also eliminating dangerous free radicals that cause cancerous tumors in the body. Some lab tests are also being conducted that suggest that goya can be effective towards treating HIV. If I ever heard of a super food, this is one of them!

WARNING: Pregnant woman should avoid goya, as there have been cases that goya induces the menstrual cycle, which can abort the baby.

What Does Goya Look Like?

Goya come in all shapes and sizes, but the two most common ones are those from China and India.

The Chinese-type goya features a smooth, but bumpy looking skin. It is pale green compared to the other popular variety.

The Indian goya, is jagged on the outside with sharp edges. These goyas can be green to white in color.

Goya is picked when it is in green, and will be consumed when it is this color or at its early yellowing stage. When it becomes too ripe, the goya bursts open and the seeds inside spill out. This often makes it much more bitter and difficult to eat.

Goya ripens pretty fast, so try to always cook it the day of or store in the fridge for a couple of days.

Bitter Melon Recipes

One of the beautiful things about goya is the ability to use it in so many ways. Whether you love a good stir fry or the warmth and comfort of a bowl of soup, bitter melon can bring the flavors.

Because people do complain about the bitterness of this vegetable, most people will slice it very thinly and salt for a little bit to try and extract the bitter juices before using it in a dish.

Below are some popular Goya bitter melon recipes you may want to try.

Goya Champuru

Goya champuru is a delicious stir fry featuring goya, pork (or vegan substitute), shiitake mushrooms and tofu.

Canh Khổ Qua

If you are a soup lover, then Canh Khổ Qua may be a great option. It features bitter melon stuffed with pork (or vegan substitute), mushrooms and mung bean noodles.


Pinkabet comes from the northern regions of the Philippines and is another type of stir fry featuring goya, vegetables, shrimp (or vegan substitute), pork belly (or vegan substitute) and spices.

Karele ka Achaar

Pickled goya mixed with a variety of spices.

Have you given the bitter melon a chance? We would love to hear about your experiences and of course, any tips are always welcome on how to use this vegetable!