I recently did an experiment that took Karela, also known as Bitter Melon, and paired it with wines, and in case you have never eaten this fruit, you should know that it is extreeeeeemely bitter.
I grew up eating Karela in my Guyanese household, but we pronounce it, and still do today, Kah-rye-lah. It was quite the challenge to get me to eat it as a child, but now I recognize the health benefits of Karela and will gladly eat it and, yes... cook it.
Thanks to its potent medicinal properties, bitter melon has long been used by indigenous populations around the world to help treat diabetes-related conditions. In recent years, several studies confirmed the fruit’s role in blood sugar control.
Managing blood sugar is just one of the many items on the long list of 'do good' that Karela is known for.
While this started out as a way to ensure that I can pair wine with anything I choose to eat, it really is a lesson on how to pair wine with bitter foods, period.
When pairing wine with bitter foods such as Karela, endives, grapefruit, arugula, etc... there are a few things to remember and consider.
Stay away from pairing bitter wines with your bitter food. An example of this would be taking a highly tannic wine and pairing that with Karela. Pairing highly tannic wines with bitter foods will cause the bitterness to build and be more pronounced on the palate.
Consider an off-dry wine or one with noticeable residual sugar. Pairing a wine such as this with bitter food will cause the bitterness in your dish to appear subdued. Wines to consider here are Alsatian Riesling, Grüner Veltliner, and Gewürztraminer to name a few.
Consider a high acid white wine. The acidity in the wine will interact with bitter foods much the same as residual sugar in wine would. The acidity will lighten the feel of the bitterness in your food. I usually choose dry, high acid white wines to avoid a heavy presence of tannins in this kind of pairing. Wines to consider here are Chablis, Etna Bianco (Carricante), Sauvignon Blanc, and Sparkling Wine.
In the end, I went with an Etna Bianco, which was made 100% from Carricante as my pairing wine. I chose this wine given Carricante's known high acid and ripe citrus profile.
I certainly hope that seeing our Karela food and wine pairing experiment encourages you to further explore cuisines off the beaten wine path, and pair those with wine.
As I always say, if you eat it, there's a wine for it!