Gac (Momordica cochinchinensis) is a fruit native to Southeast Asia and an important source of dietary lycopene and beta-carotene, two pigmented antioxidants with anticancer and immune system boosting properties as well as benefits for eyesight. The fruit is a source of fatty acids and vitamin E which help support memory and learning, boast cardiovascular benefits and boost skin health. The fatty acids in the fruit further help increase the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins from other dietary sources, helping reverse avitaminosis in both children and adults. Research has found the pulp contains a protein with antitumor activity, adding to the benefits of eating gac fruit.
What is gac? Momordica cochinchinensis, better known as gac, red melon, baby jackfruit, sweet gourd or spiny bitter gourd, is a fruit in the gourd family. It is related to cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini and the bitter melon. Like cucumbers and gourds, gac too grows on vines, making for a terrific sight during harvest season when the heavy 1.5 kg fruits hang high in the air on thin vines. Gac is a tropical fruit harvested throughout December and January.
What does gac fruit look like? Gac is a round or slightly elongated seasonal, tropical fruit that looks like a bumpy, spiny melon or a red jackfruit. Fruits may weigh anywhere between 0.5 and 1.5 kg and usually ripen throughout December and January. The gac fruit has an inedible thick, exterior skin covered in small sharp bumps or spines. Unripe fruit are green but turn yellow, orange, and bright red-orange as they ripen. Fruits with a dark red outer skin are overripe and inferior in quality. Gac fruits have a soft, mucilaginous or mushy-looking red pulp that covers several large, dark brown, almost black seeds. The way the pulp and seeds are arranged is reminiscent a cocoa pod or of kiwano.
How to eat gac fruit
The fruit should be eaten when perfectly ripe, which is when the the outer skin becomes bright red orange and turns slightly soft to the touch. Fruits that are a darker red and too mushy to the touch are usually overripe and of inferior quality. The seeds and the red pulp covering them (the seed coat, sack or membrane) are both edible. The bright orange outer skin is not edible, nor is the yellow flesh between the outer skin and the red inner pulp.
Wash the fruit, then either cut it in half or simply break it apart with your hands (it’s supposed to be soft when ripe). Using a spoon or a fork, scoop out the seeds covered in the red pulp and eat the pulp around them, then spit out the seeds. The seeds are typically used in various medicinal preparations. Gac pulp and seeds are also traditionally cooked with rice.
What does gac fruit taste like? The red pulp has a rather bland taste, barely sweet, if at all. It tastes more like a vegetable than a fruit (reminiscent of cucumber) and does not have a particular flavor to it. It has a mucilaginous texture, slightly oily from the essential fatty acids it contains and somewhat reminiscent of cream. Overall, gac tastes a bit heavy for a fruit and somewhat bland, hence the reason it is often cooked instead of being eaten fresh (usually made into a sticky rice). Unripe gac fruits are eaten as vegetables in some Asian countries.
Why is gac fruit red?
The inedible outer skin and edible seed coat of gac fruits are both bright orange-red in color which indicated the presence of high amounts of antioxidant pigments, notably lycopene and beta-carotene. In the unripe fruit, the inedible pulp between the outer skin and the seeds coat is white, turning yellow as the fruit ripens. Also, unripe gac seeds are white and darken as the fruit becomes ripe.
Nutrition facts and health benefits
Is gac fruit healthy? Yes, it is. What makes gac good for you is its high content of antioxidant carotenoids as well as important amounts of fatty acids, pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, carbohydrates and protein. Here is a list of its most notable nutrition facts and health benefits:
1) Contains high amounts of lycopene and beta-carotene. The red edible seed coat of gac fruit is an extraordinary source of dietary lycopene and beta-carotene, the two carotenoid antioxidants responsible for the vivid color of the fruit. Both antioxidants counteract cell damage caused by harmful free radical molecules and contribute to overall better health. Some of the benefits of a high intake of carotenoids include lower risk of stroke, heart attack, lung, colon and other types of cancer and degenerative disease of the eye such as cataract.
Studies show red gac pulp has at least:
– 5 times more lycopene than tomatoes
– 8 times more beta-carotene than carrots
(Effects of maturity on physicochemical properties of Gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng.)
2) Good for eyesight, skin and immune system. Eating gac red pulp provides important amounts of beta-carotene which is converted into vitamin A in the human body. As a precursor for vitamin A, beta-carotene contributes to better vision by supporting retina health as well as better immunity by promoting skin and mucous membranes health. Mucous membranes in the body, the nose, mouth, throat and stomach lining, lungs and skin, are the first line of defense against infection and disease, repelling bacteria, viruses, molds and parasites that may infect the body via air, water and food.
3) Source of vitamin E. Gac contains vitamin E both in its fatty pulp and seeds. Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, preventing free radical damage to cells as well as oxidation of fats, which translates into benefits for cardiovascular health, better eyesight, lower cataract risks and healthier skin. Research also shows it has anticancer activity and may help prevent memory loss.
4) Contains 69% unsaturated fatty acids. Studies show gac fruit oil is a rich source of healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids which help us absorb fat-soluble nutrients such as beta-carotene, vitamins A, E, D and K better (A method of preserving and testing the acceptability of gac fruit oil, a good source of beta-carotene and essential fatty acids). This helps reverse nutritional deficiencies and counteract the side effects of avitaminosis. Polyunsaturated fatty acids help lower LDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of blood clots and promote overall cardiovascular health. A sufficient intake of healthy fats further supports cognitive functions such as memory and learning.
5) Boasts anticancer properties. In addition to the anticancer effects of lycopene and beta-carotene, gac contains a protein with impressive antitumor activity. Animal studies have shown water extracts of the fruit can inhibit tumor growth and reduce the spread of certain types of colon cancer cells (Inhibition of tumor growth and angiogenesis by water extract of Gac fruit (Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng).
6) Nutritional values. According to the Canadian Academy of Sports Nutrition, gac boasts the following nutritional values:
100 g of gac edible pulp (seed coat) contain:
– 10 g of carbohydrate
– 1.6 g of dietary fiber
– 2 g of protein
– 8 g of fat
– 120 kcal energetic value
100 g of gac, edible seeds:
– 7 g of carbohydrates
– 1.6 g of dietary fiber
– 0.6 g of protein
– 0.1 g of fat
– 30 kcal energetic value
In addition to this, the fruit is a source of calcium, potassium, magnesium and manganese. The minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fat in the fruit contribute to energizing effects, muscle, brain and nervous system health. Dietary minerals further have a tonic action. Gac juice has the same benefits as the fruit and a similarly bland, slightly heavy, unfruity taste.
7) Potential benefits for fertility and cardiovascular benefits. Eating gac can boost fertility thanks to a good content of vitamins A, E and healthy unsaturated fatty acids. Moreover, the fruit is believed to lower stroke and heart attack risks when consumed in moderation. Considering it is an important source of fat and calories, it is best to eat gac in limited amounts in order to enjoy all the benefits it has to offer.