Bitter Melon Stir Fry

Bitter melon stir-fry on three plates

The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 10 mins
Total: 30 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
94 Calories
7g Fat
7g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 94
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 552mg 24%
Total Carbohydrate 7g 2%
Dietary Fiber 2g 9%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 39mg 193%
Calcium 17mg 1%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 408mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Bitter melon is a gourd originating from India that was introduced into China during the 14th century. It has since become a commonly used vegetable in Chinese households and is as popular now as it was a few hundred years ago.


Click Play to See This Bitter Melon Stir Fry Come Together

Bitter melon tastes bitter just as the name suggests. The texture can be either crunchy or soft, depending on how you prepare it.

This recipe is a simple stir-fry that creates a flavor base with garlic, chili flake, soy sauce, red wine vinegar, and sesame oil sauce. A little sugar helps combat the bitterness. There are also plenty of variations on bitter melon stir-fries that involve adding proteins such as dried shrimp or pork. Serve as a side dish for pork, chicken, or seafood alongside rice or noodles.

“I’ve always wanted to try bitter melon but was uncertain of how to prepare it. This was a great recipe to start with because it was quick, easy, and lightly seasoned so that I could appreciate the flavor of the vegetable. I’d say this was an acquired taste, but I couldn’t stop eating it.” —Diana Andrews


Bitter Melon Stir Fry in a wok
A Note From Our Recipe Tester


  • 1 pound bitter melon

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as peanut or canola

  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, or balsamic vinegar

  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

  • Toasted sesame oil, optional

Steps to Make It

Bitter Melon Stir-Fry

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Bitter Melon stir-fry ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  2. To prepare the bitter melon, cut in half lengthwise.

    Bitter melon cut in half lengthwise on a wooden cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  3. Remove and discard the seeds using a small metal spoon.

    Seeds scraped out of the bitter melon halves on a wooden cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  4. Cut on the diagonal into 1/4-inch slices.

    Bitter melon sliced into halves

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  5. Degorge the bitter melon by sprinkling salt over the slices and placing them in a colander to drain for 15 minutes.

    Bitter melon salted and draining in a colander

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  6. In a small bowl, mash the minced garlic and chili pepper flakes together.

     Minced garlic and red pepper flakes mashed together in a white bowl

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  7. Heat wok over medium-high heat, then add 2 tablespoons of neutral oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and chili mixture.

    Minced garlic and chili mixture in a wok

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  8. Stir-fry briefly until aromatic, about 30 seconds.

    Minced garlic and chili mixture cooked together in a wok

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  9. Add the bitter melon. Stir-fry for about 2 minutes, then add the soy sauce and red wine or balsamic vinegar.

    Bitter melon cooking in a wok with soy sauce, vinegar, and garlic

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  10. Stir in the sugar. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bitter melon is browning and beginning to soften.

    Bitter melon with spices cooking in a wok

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma

  11. Stir in a few drops of sesame oil if desired and serve.

    Stir in a few drops sesame oil into the bitter melon in the wok

    The Spruce Eats / Christine Ma


  • There are different varieties of bitter melon. Those found in China are usually green, whereas those grown and used in Taiwan are white. In terms of taste, they're also different. Taiwanese bitter melons tend to be softer in texture and more bitter in flavor.
  • The skin of the bitter melon is edible, so don't worry about peeling it while prepping.

Recipe Variations

  • This recipe calls for red wine vinegar or even balsamic vinegar for a bit more “bite.” But if you have a good Chinese rice wine vinegar, by all means feel free to substitute it if you'd like.
  • Bitter melon also pairs nicely with pork for a quick stir-fry, a main dish, or with black bean sauce.
  • Try cooking bitter melon with dried shrimp for an umami-filled flavorful side dish.

How to Store

Store any leftover bitter melon in a shallow airtight container in the refrigerator for up to four days.

How do you get the bitterness out of bitter melon?

While you can't completely remove the bitterness from bitter melon, look for more mature ones, which tend to be lighter in color with red seeds inside. When removing the seeds from bitter melon, remove as much of the white pith as possible. Next, as in this recipe, you can salt the cut bitter melon and let it sit; gently squeeze out excess moisture before using. Another way to reduce the bitterness is to parboil cut bitter melon pieces for 2 to 3 minutes in salted boiling water and then shock them in ice water; blot the pieces dry and proceed with using them in the recipe.