How to Reduce the Bitterness of Bitter Gourd

17 Feb

Bitter Gourd Slices

Bitter gourd (karela in Hindi) is an acquired taste perhaps – most people don’t relish its bitterness. One friend famously likes bitter gourd only in the form of bharwa karela (stuffed bitter gourd): she eats the filling and discards the shell.

I have never disliked bitter gourd; rarely will I put it through pre-cooking treatment to reduce its bitterness. Most of these steps make the karela lose not just bitterness but also nutrients. Still, if you must, here are a few tips to reduce the bitterness of bitter gourd:

A. Scrape the rugged surface smooth.

Reduce the Bitterness of Bitter Gourd

In the picture above (left to right): Bitter gourd unscraped, bitter gourd scraped, and peeler with scrapings.

Note: Don’t throw away the scrapings – use them in your paratha dough. When distributed in dough, the bitterness is a lot more palatable.

Paratha with Bitter Gourd Peel

In the picture above: Bitter gourd scrapings added to wheat flour + gram flour (atta + besan), carom seeds and salt, ready to be kneaded into parathas.

B. Remove the big seeds before cooking.

Bitter Gourd, Cut

In the picture above: Bitter gourd slices with the big seeds taken out.

C. Slice, rub the slices with lots of salt and keep aside for 30 minutes before cooking.

The salt draws out the bitter juice from the slices.

Bitter Gourd Slices with Salt

In the picture above: Salted bitter gourd slices.

Squeeze out the juice, wash the bitter gourd under running water and squeeze again. Don’t discard the squeezed out juice – use it to knead the dough for chapatis.

Bitter Gourd with Bitterness Removed

In the picture above (left to right): Bitter gourd slices ready for cooking, squeezed-out bitter gourd juice to be used for kneading chapati dough.

Even after washing and squeezing with all your might, salted bitter gourd slices tend to retain quite a bit of salt. You may not need additional salt during cooking.

D. Add jaggery to the bitter gourd dish towards the end of cooking.

Before taking the bitter gourd dish off the heat, stir in jaggery (a teaspoon of jaggery to about 500grams of bitter gourd), to balance out its bitterness. Remember that this will turn your dish somewhat sweet.

Bitter Gourd with Jaggery

In the picture above: Jaggery sprinkled over nearly-done bitter gourd stir fry.

E. Combine bitter gourd with another neutralizing vegetable.

Cook the bitter gourd in combination with another neutralizing vegetable such as potatoes and onions. Recipes: bitter gourd fry with onions, bitter gourd, potato and onion sabzi.

In Summary

To reduce the bitterness of bitter gourd, follow the 5S routine: scrape, slice, salt, stand and squeeze.

The simplest crunchy bitter gourd recipe…

Take two large (or three medium) bitter gourds. Do the 5S routine.

Heat half a tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan. When hot add a pinch of turmeric powder and immediately tip in and mix the bitter gourd slices. Cook covered over medium flame for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Uncover, mix red chilli powder to taste. Continue to cook for another few minutes till the bitter gourd slices are crisp. Set heat to high. Add a teaspoon of jaggery. Cook for another two minutes, stirring continuously, till the jaggery has melted and coated the bitter gourd slices.

Serve with rice and dal. This is as bitter-less as it gets!

Crunchy Bitter Gourd


Recipes to try out after reducing the bitterness of bitter gourd? Here are a few: bitter gourd onion fry and bitter gourd, potato and onion sabzi.

7 Responses to “How to Reduce the Bitterness of Bitter Gourd”

  1. Rajani August 27, 2011 at 4:28 PM #

    Great Tips :)

    • S August 27, 2011 at 4:46 PM #

      Thanks Rajani. I hope this inspires you to start cooking bitter gourd :P

  2. vidhya September 2, 2012 at 12:17 PM #

    I actually put jackfruit seeds cut in to small pieces along with bitter guard, but i dont have jackfruit seeds nw , so thanks for the valuable reply.I added jaggery.


  3. Srijana October 11, 2014 at 10:55 AM #

    Tq u so mch..

  4. Saqib April 10, 2016 at 3:06 PM #

    The easiest way:
    1: cut a small portion of the bitter guard at each end.
    2: Rub the cut ends with the pieces you already removed in clockwise or anticlockwise direction.
    A small white type paste will start accumulating at the end.
    3: Continue till no further paste is formed.
    4: Repeat the same for the other end.
    5. Wash the bitterguard and eat as you wish.
    It would have lost its bitterness. :)

    • S April 10, 2016 at 8:51 PM #

      Hi Saqib, Are you sure you aren’t mixing up your cucumber with your bitter gourd? :-)

  5. Azar the chef September 17, 2017 at 11:39 AM #

    You can also soak the sliced bitter gourd in lemon juice for 15 mins

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