Techniques

Does Salt Curing Ampalaya Reduce Bitterness?

May 14, 2017

As children, if there was a magical fruit that could make vegetables taste like chocolate, we’d be scarfing down the stuff like there’s no tomorrow. While adults tend to grow out of our aversion to most greens, some vegetables retain their fear factor status, namely, ampalaya. Its telling demeanor with its bumps and ridges does little to hide its most well-known characteristic: an intense bitterness familiar to its victims. It’s been said that a short soak in a light sprinkling of salt will eliminate or, at the very least, reduce ampalaya’s bitterness. An old wives tale spouted by mothers and grandmothers alike is put to the test, does this brief curing process actually affect the vegetable’s flavor or is it just hearsay giving us false hope?

Different thicknesses of sliced ampalaya

The Method

We test this method to see if it actually makes our ampalaya more palatable. We prepared three different thicknesses of the slices, a cup of each from one millimeter to a centimeter thick and each soaked in half a teaspoon of salt for varying time periods of five to twenty minutes. We cut the vegetable in varying widths to find out if the salt only affected the surface of each slice or penetrated to the center. We let the mixture sit for five, ten, fifteen, and twenty minutes, to test if time affects how much bitterness the salt draws out from the ampalaya. After soaking, the slices are washed in water, supposedly less bitter, and ready to be cooked.

The Effect

After each cup has soaked for the respective time period and washing the sliced ampalaya, the raw slices are noticeably limp and are slightly translucent. In each of the cups where the vegetable was soaking, cloudy water collected at the bottom—if the tales are to be believed, the water is the culprit behind the intense bitterness of vegetable.

L: Slices of ampalaya and the vegetable itself | R: Salt curing the slices and the collected water

When eaten, the ampalaya still retains some of its crunch but with a salty bite battling with the vegetable’s flavor instead of just a hit of the usual bitterness. The different thicknesses proves that the salt had very poor penetration, despite having different soaking times. Though the thinner slices picks up the salt better than its thicker counterparts, in the those slices the centers were still as bitter as before the salting process.

The Verdict

Despite having soaked these bad boys in salt for longer than necessary, the only notable difference in terms of taste was that the salt overpowered the bitterness. After tasting the water excreted by the ampalaya slices, the liquid only tasted slightly bitter—it seems that the offensive bitter flavor has more to do with the vegetable’s flesh than its liquid. Salt curing the ampalaya makes the vegetable more palatable, the salt counters the bitterness, though a trade-off to making it more approachable is losing its crunch and firmness. If you’re planning on making a crisp salad featuring this veggie, salt curing might not be the best option but if you plan on sautéing or stewing these, this method will help flavor your dish, though it’s more effective with thinner slices.

Bernice Escobar SEE AUTHOR Bernice Escobar Bernice loves to get nerdy about food and making people hungry. In her free time, she attempts to play with her anti-social cat and fantasizes about all things sweet.
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Gerry Alanguilan

You don’t just soak it in salted water for a oeriod of time. You mash it with your hands with just enough force not to break the ampalaya. You do this for a couple of minutes. Then you wash it well with water. What you get is ampalaya that retains the ampalaya taste with none or very little bitterness.

Lanie
Lanie

Instead of soaking ampalaya in salt water, what we do at home is to rub it with salt and leave it for 15-20 minutes. After that, we wash it a couple of times in running water before cooking it. You will only taste a hint of bitterness afterwards.

Lanie

Instead of soaking it in salt water, what we do at home is salt on the freshly cut ampalaya and leave it for 15-20 minutes. We wash it a couple of times in running water before cooking it. You’ll only taste a hint of bitterness after that.

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