balsam pear (?)

Orin Hargraves orinkh at CARR.ORG
Mon Jun 7 20:09:35 UTC 2004

I would be grateful for any information on the appearance in English,
especially in American English, of the term “balsam pear” to designate the
plant or fruit of Momordica charantia. Here’s what I’ve got now:

RHUD has a headword entry and def but no date.

OED has no entry; however, it gives “balsam pear” at the definition of karela
(one of the modern culinary names in English of this fruit, from Hindi).

DARE has no entry, but gives “balsam pear” at the definition of bitter melon
(one of its other modern culinary names, probably a translation from Chinese.
DARE’s only informants for the term were Hawaiian).

NID3, at balsam pear, says a “balsam apple.

Some usage seems to lump balsam apple (Momordica balsamina) and balsam pear
(Momordica charantia), and this is reflected in various entries of both OED
and NID3, but not in other dictionaries I am aware of.

My sense is that three terms are now more or less current in culinary contexts
(karela, bitter melon, and bitter gourd) for this fruit, but I have been
unable to determine where and when balsam pear had any currency in English. Is
it perhaps of Caribbean origin, where (as NID3 notes) this vine is
naturalized? I could find no cites for “balsam pear” on the Making of America
sites, and the only cites there for Momordica are for a species that has since
been reclassified (the squirting cucumber, which is now Ecballium elaterium).

One more note, if anyone is still reading: the RH Shumway seed catalog,
clearly hedging its bets, sells seeds for what it calls the “balsam apple,”
which it identifies only as “Momordica.” Their drawing, however, is clearly of
Momordica charantia, *not* M. balsamina. Evergreen Seeds (an Asian vegetable
seed catalog) gives, for Momordica charantia, “bitter melon,” “bitter gourd,”
and “bitter cucumber.

Many thanks, and off-list replies are OK if this gets any more obscure than it
already is.

Orin Hargraves

More information about the Ads-l mailing list