sliced amapalaya starter sisters

Burong Ampalaya (Fermented Bitter Melon)

While common in Asian cuisine, ampalaya is one of those foods that tend to divide people. The English name says it all. Bitter is one of the least popular tastes. 

While sweetness activates pleasure centers in the brain, bitter has evolved as a protective mechanism against toxins. Therefore, bitter is an acquired taste.

Thankfully, the world seems happy to acquire a taste for it as some of the world’s most popular foods–beer, coffee, and chocolate–are bitter. Notice how they’re also fermented? I hope that bodes well for burong ampalaya!

Ampala-yah or ampala-nah?

Obviously, I’m in the camp that loves ampalaya. When we did a quick poll in our Instagram Stories, 89% of our followers who answered the poll do too! 

This was not the case for me growing up. Around that time our dad developed diabetes, and there had been a lot of information on amplaya’s potential to treat diabetes. It has a phytonutrient known as polypeptide-P, which has the ability to lower blood sugar levels in the body, and a substance called charantin, which increases the metabolism of glucose in the body. 

Making ampalaya shots for our dad daily, my mother figured she might as well make enough for everyone in the family, as it’s rich in Vitamin A and C. I remember dreading early evenings because of this. Happily, I have acquired the taste for ampalaya, and I like to eat it raw and cooked, in ulam and ensalada, shredded, stir-fried, or stuffed. I especially enjoy it cooked in gata, where the coconut cream works as a great contrast to the bitterness.  

If you don’t mind the bitterness, you can leave some of the white pith behind when you scoop out the white center.
Choosing and using ampalaya

Pickled ampalaya, also known as atcharang ampalaya, is a popular side dish that is best eaten with fatty fried or grilled food. It uses vinegar and sugar for that sweet-sour combo that Pinoy pickles are known for. 

Unlike the atchara, this burong ampalaya uses fermentation to develop the lactic sourness and does not use sugar. What you have instead is a no-nonsense sour and bitter flavor with a bit of pungency and crunch that, if you’re a fan of ampalaya, you’re sure to enjoy. 

Here are a few reminders when making burong ampalaya:

  • Use organic ampalaya. If you grow it yourself, even better. Working in agriculture, I learned that ampalaya is one of the most heavily sprayed vegetables to prevent damages by fruit flies and worms. 
  • Choose ampalaya that is smaller in size and firm to the touch. The Chinese variety of ampalaya, which is common in the market, is usually longer and covered with bumps that look like warts. The Indian variety, which is narrow and has bumps that look like ragged spikes, is rarer. 
  • Want to reduce the bitter taste? Slice the ampalaya as thinly as possible and make sure to remove any trace of the white pith at the center.
  • Feel free to add other atchara vegetables to your burong ampalaya like thinly sliced red bell pepper, red onion, and carrots for color and mild sweetness. 
  • 2 small pieces of ampalaya, sliced in half lengthwise
  • Water
  • Sea salt, not iodized

1. Using your clean hands or a spoon, scoop out the seeds and the soft white center of the ampalaya. Slice thinly into half moons. Set aside.

2. In your fermentation vessel add 1 level Tbsp of salt.

3. Add a cup (236 ml) of water. Stir until salt is dissolved.

4. Add the ampalaya. 

5. With a spoon, stir to distribute the ampalaya evenly inside the jar. 

6. Weight down the ampalaya so that it is submerged under the brine.

7. Let your burong ampalaya ferment on the counter for 3 to 5 days. Release the gas daily, if needed.  

Get more tips on How to Have a Successful Home Ferment, here.

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