Momordica cochinchinensis is a Southeast Asian fruit found
throughout the region, from Southern China to Northeastern Australia, mostly
Vietnam. The fruit becomes a dark orange color upon ripening, and is typically
round or oblong, maturing to a size of about 13 cm in length and 10 cm in
diameter. Its exterior skin is covered in small spines while its dark red
interior consists of clusters of fleshy pulp and seeds.
Gac used to be served at ceremonial services and festivities in Vietnam due to
its short harvest period, peaking in December and January. Through the
development of some new varieties, better understanding of the growing
conditions and controlled seed harvesting, the plant has spread in recent years
over the entire Southeast Asian region, as well as the Western world, as a food
supplement and juice.
Traditionally, gac has been used as both food and medicine in the regions in
which it grows. Other than the use of its fruit and leaves for special
Vietnamese culinary dishes, gac is also used for its medicinal and nutritional
Chemical analysis of the fruit suggests it has high concentrations of several
important phytonutrients. The fruit contains by far the highest content of
beta-carotene (vitamin A) of any known fruit or vegetable. It also contains 40
times more vitamin C than oranges. Research has confirmed that the beta-carotene
in the fruit is highly bioavailable. Also known as Chinese bitter cucumber gac
fruit is rich in the antioxidants beta carotene, lycopene (seventy times more
than in tomatoes), and zeaxanthin. It contains the highest concentration of beta
carotene of any known fruit or vegetable (ten times as much as carrots). Due to
its high content of beta-carotene and lycopene, gac is often sold as a food
supplement in soft capsules.
Gac fruit is traditionally cooked into glutinous rice to produce a brilliant
orange rice dish. As a traditional medicine, Gac fruit has been employed to
treat conditions of the eyes, burns, skin problems and wounds. The juice of the
fruit is consumed as a healthy beverage that is good for the eyes, immune
system, reproduction, skin, heart health, and the prostate. The zeaxanthin in
Gac fruit protects the tissues of the eyes against exposure to ultraviolet rays
and helps to reduce oxidation of eye tissue, thereby enhancing overall eye
health. Additionally, the betacarotene in Gac fruit helps to maintain good night
vision and reduces the risk of blindness.
For immune system enhancement, beta-carotene from Gac fruit converts in the body
to vitamin A, and helps in the healthy development of white blood cells,
including lymphocytes, enabling the body to defend itself against disease.
Because of its unusually high concentration of beta-carotene, Gac fruit also is
a valuable aid in preventing or treating vitamin A deficiency. In many
developing countries, vitamin A deficiency is epidemic. Such deficiency can
cause poor night vision, blindness, reduced ability to fight infections, higher
rates of maternal mortality, poor embryonic growth, and reduced lactation.
Supplementation with Gac fruit extract can alleviate chronic vitamin A
deficiency, and help to reduce these health problems.
Gac fruit’s beta-carotene supports healthy reproductive function by enhancing
sperm production. It also plays a key role in healthy embryonic development. The
lycopene and beta-carotene in Gac fruit enhance skin health by mitigating
oxidative damage in tissue. Think of oxidation as the “rusting” of our cells.
These ingredients in Gac reduce that rusting process, and contribute to
better-looking and healthier skin. The various antioxidants in Gac fruit enhance
heart health by specifically combating atherosclerosis, or hardening of the
arteries. Additionally, both lycopene and beta-carotene show protective activity
against the risk of heart attack.
Additionally, lycopene, which is super-abundant in Gac fruit, helps to reduce
BPH, also known as benign prostatic hyperplasia, a five dollar term for
enlargement of the prostate. There is also good evidence that lycopene can help
to reduce the risk of prostate cancer.
One Japanese study reported in the International Journal of Oncology suggested
that Gac fruit may be a cancer-fighter. In this lab study, a water extract of
the fruit inhibited the growth of certain tumor cells. This does not mean that
Gac fruit is a cancer cure, but it almost surely will help to reduce the risk of
some types of cancer. No doubt more science on the anti-cancer properties of Gac
fruit will be conducted over time.