Goya ‘Bitter Melon’ — The Green Heart of Okinawa

Christal Burnette
4 min readJul 18, 2017

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The Green Heart of Okinawa that contributes to the Okinawan’s long life expectancy

Okinawans have been eating Goya for centuries. Within Japan, Goya is a representative vegetable of Okinawa, meaning Japanese instantly think of Goya when Okinawan food is mentioned. When an Okinawan restaurant pops up in Tokyo you know this vegetable will definitely be on the menu. When tourists visit Okinawa they know Goya tea, Goya supplements, Goya snacks, or anything Goya-infused is ‘the’ souvenir to bring back home. It is so popular in Okinawa that there is a Goya Park, which even has a Goya Club.

The taste of this vegetable is usually an acquired one. It is called ‘Bitter Melon’ in English for a reason. The bitter taste is relieved by boiling the vegetable for just about a minute after it is cut up, leaving a more pleasant taste yet keeping the crisp, fresh texture. Then the Goya is added to a dish along with other ingredients such as tofu or scrambled eggs, like in ‘Goya Chanpuru’. Another way it is prepared is to pickle the vegetable. Okinawan food is arranged in a certain style that encourages ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ and occasionally pickled vegetables are placed as a side dish. The ways to cook up this vegetable and add it to meals are endless, but this vegetable is not available in many countries. That is what allows Goya tea or Goya powder a safe, effective way to spread this vegetable and it’s health benefits around the world from the fields of Okinawa.

Goya Chanpuru — Okinawa’s Famous and Popular Dish that Uses Goya as the Main Ingredient

What is Good about Goya?

Due to the health benefits of Goya, it is definitely a contributing factor towards the long life expectancy attributed to the Okinawan diet

Antimicrobial — Reduce Bacteria and Fungi

Research in Italy concluded:

  • Goya is most effective in inhibiting Staphylococcus aureus, a common bacteria.
  • It is also effective in fighting strains of E.coli, another common bacteria, and Candida albicans, a common yeast and fungus.
  • This activity was tested using the oil from Goya seeds.

Antioxidant — Free Radical Scavenging

Research in Taiwan concluded:

  • Goya to have radical scavenging activity, an ability that reduces free radicals. Free radicals damage our normal cells which lead to complications like cancer.
  • It has stronger antioxidant activity than regularly absorbed Vitamin E (a strong free radical destroyer). This ability is credited to the phenols and flavonoids, the compounds that help fight and maintain our body’s health.
  • Within the vegetable are xanthine oxidase inhibitors that are used for the treatment of liver disease and gout.
  • The extract of the vegetable also protects the cells membranes from lipid peroxidation — cell damage by free radicals.

Hepatoprotective — Liver Protection

Research in Taiwan concluded:

  • Goya shows high efficacy towards PPAR (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors) which are proteins that regulate gene expressions. Those affect the management of glucose and lipid metabolism, cell proliferation, inflammation, and more. When those functions are not properly controlled, conditions such as liver diseases arise.

Research in India found:

  • Its antioxidant properties to positively impact diabetes, a research combining the antioxidant and hepatoprotective abilities.
  • The antioxidant compounds reduced the diabetic complications in diabetes-induced rats.
  • Specifically, the seeds were seen to have the hypoglycemic abilities towards the reduction and prevention of type 2 diabetes.

Research published in the British Medical Journal states:

  • Goya extract reduced blood glucose concentrations in a test of diabetic rats.
  • It improves glucose tolerance and expresses hypoglycemic activity.

Anticancer — Prevent Cancer Cell Growth

Research published in the American Association for Cancer Research concluded:

  • Goya inhibited breast cancer cell growth and recommend it as a dietary supplement as an effort to prevent breast cancer.
  • The cell growth was inhibited or reduced by apoptosis, programmed cell death, which kills the cancerous cells.

Antiviral — Treatment of HIV and Other Viral Diseases

Research published in Current Molecular Medicine states:

  • Goya should be researched even further for its display of improving its effectiveness in anti-HIV therapy.
  • This study showed that vegetable extract along with other therapy drugs improved the inhibition of the HIV infection.
  • The vegetable is a good agent in the therapy as it is natural with no toxic side-effects.

This research study tests most health benefits of Goya and mentions:

  • The vegetable phytochemicals have activity against Epstein-Barr, herpes, HIV, coxsackievirus B3 and polio viruses.

Antiobesity — Reduce Fat Cells

Research published in the International Society for Complementary Medicine Research stated:

  • Goya showed weight loss results during previous research on its effects on diabetes.
  • When studying its effect on lipid accumulation and adipocytes, the vegetable’s juice was definitely effective in reducing the fat and fat cells.
  • It reduced adipogenesis, the stage when a cell becomes a fat cell.
  • It increased lipolysis, the process of breaking down lipids.

Given Okinawan’s history of healthy weight and longevity, this vegetable should be considered a natural, potent supplement in the diet for weight loss and a healthy BMI for everyone.

Our Goya Goods can be found in our online shop.



Christal Burnette

Graduate School, Agriculture Department, University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa, Japan. Specialty in Okinawan and Japanese fruit, vegetables, and herbs.