Momordica cochinchinensis Spreng. Syst. Veg. 3: 14 (1826)

Name referring to SE Asian distribution.

Synonyms
Momordica macrophylla Gage
Momordica meloniflora Hand.-Mazz.
Momordica mixta Roxb.
Muricia cochinchinensis Lour.
Zucca commersoniana Ser.

Description
Herbaceous Vine. Leaves alternate, heart shaped, with two glands on the petiole. Tendrils placed next to leaves. This plant is dioecious which means that male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. The flowers of the spiny bittergourd vine are produced in an interesting way. During development, they are all encapsulated inside a green bag-like bract which eventually splits open in half to reveal the flower bud. Flowers produced by the plant are five-petalled and are white-yellow in colour with a black eye in the middle. 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.

Ecology
Growing on open places in the forest, but can also be commonly found near settlements where it is growing on fences or in rural gardens. It only fruits once a year, and is found seasonally in local markets.

Uses
Fruit is used as food and medicine. Gac is typically served at ceremonial or festive occasions in Vietnam, such as Tet (the Vietnamese new year) and weddings. It is most commonly prepared as a dish called x˘i gac, in which the aril and seeds of the fruit are cooked in glutinous rice, imparting both their color and flavor. More recently, the fruit has begun to be marketed outside of Asia in the form of juice dietary supplements because of its allegedly high phytonutrient content. In Vietnam, the seed membranes are said to aid in the relief of dry eyes, as well as to promote healthy vision. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine the seeds of gac, known in Mandarin Chinese as M¨biezi, are employed for a variety of internal and external purposes.

Distribution
Southern China to New Guinea and northeastern Australia.

Local names
Baby jackfruit (English), Gac (Vietnam), Cochinchin gourd (English), Mubieguo (Chinese), Spiny butter gourd (English), Sweet gourd (English).