Also referred to as a balsam pear, this fruit resembles a cucumber with a bumpy skin and is used as a vegetable in Chinese cooking. When first picked, the bitter melon is yellow-green and has a delicate, sour flavor. As it ripens it turns yellow-orange and becomes bitter and acrid, which is how many people prefer it. Chinese bitter melon ranges from 6 to 10 inches long; Indian bitter melon is about half that size. Chinese bitter melon is available year-round in most Asian markets and some supermarkets. It can also be purchased canned or dried. The Indian variety can sometimes be found in Indian markets.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.