Discover what makes a Bitter gourd or “Ampalaya” special to other varieties at the 1st International Bitter gourd conference. 

Ricardo M. Reyes, an executive of East-West Seed Company, was one of the main speakers at the First International Bittergourd Conference held recently at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India.

He spoke on the “Current status of bittergourd (ampalaya) in Asia and market potential of bittergourd as a functional vegetable.” He cited the fact that about 340,000 hectares
of land are planted to this vine vegetable every year.

The biggest producers of this highly profitable crop are India, China, Pakistan, Vietnam, and the
Philippines. In Asia, an estimated 58% of the area planted to ampalaya still use open pollinated varieties (OPVs); however, there is a steady shift to the planting of F1 hybrids because of higher yields, disease resistance, and good eating quality.

Reyes cited that hybrid ampalaya varieties usually yield 20 to 30 tons per hectare compared to the usual 8 to 10 tons per hectare of the traditional varieties.

Reyes also noted that there is a wide range and diversity of ampalaya varieties grown in different countries. Indian bittergourds, he said, are mostly spiny, oblong, or cylindrical, with green or white fruits. Chinese types are smooth to warty
types. The Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand also have distinct varietal preferences.

Bittergourd is a functional vegetable that contributes to lowering high blood sugar and high blood pressure. It has been used in traditional medicine to treat diabetes and is now commercially available as tea (from fruits or leaves), juice, extracts, and pills.
Global demand for fresh and processed bittergourds is expected to increase, according to Reyes.

The international conference was hosted by the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center–The World Vegetable Center, and Bittergourd Project funded by the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) Germany.

The international conference aims to promote innovative research and scientific exchange focused on bittergourd. International plenary speakders included the world’s leading scientists and practitioners dedicated to bittergourd research and development in the fields of agriculture, nutrition, and health.

This story appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s May 2014 issue.