Monsoon Special: Bitter-Sweet Symphony Of Spine Gourd In India

Along with the monsoon comes a host of seasonal gourds, and the spiny or spine gourd is a vibrant green vegetable that is lesser-known and can rarely be spotted in the markets. It belongs to the gourd family and resembles a bitter gourd, but with small, soft spines covering it. With that being said, spine gourds are preferred as they are not bitter like the karela. When unripe, it is firm and green with soft whitish seeds and a core, and as it matures, it turns yellow with hardened brown seeds. The tender, young, and bright green spine gourds are used for cooking, while the ripe yellow ones with hard seeds are good for sowing.

This vegetable is available for two to three months during the monsoons and is widely consumed in the north, north-eastern, and southern regions of India, such as Maharashtra, parts of the Konkan coast, the Malnad region across the western ghats in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Orissa, and the North Eastern states.

Many years ago, if one would walk into plantations or forests, they would return with foraged produce like mushrooms, chayote squash, etc., and spiny gourds were also part of that foraged basket. But now, they are rarely available and are priced high if spotted in the markets. Each kilogram costs about ₹200-240. Despite being expensive, it is a favourite among many, and its arrival is met with enthusiasm as people are willing to pay any price to take it home.

"For people wary of eating karela, this tiny spiny vegetable is the perfect segue. I personally love it because of its textured outer flesh and soft centre with tendli-like seeds, its mild bitterness (always a good thing), and of course how beautiful it looks. It is best simply fried with a dusting of spices, added to curries, or stir-fried in a wok. It also has great nutritive value. It has lots of fibre, is good for your kidneys, helps control sugar levels, and a lot more," explains chef Thomas Zacharias of the Locavore in his Instagram post.

One Vegetable, Many Regional Names, And Dishes

Similar to the diverse and harmonious nation of India, where people from different religious and cultural backgrounds unite to live in peace, the spiny gourd is a versatile vegetable that transcends boundaries with its various names, nutritional advantages, and cooking methods. Just as India celebrates its multiculturalism and multilingualism, the spiny gourd showcases its versatility and nutritional value across different regions and cuisines.

In English itself, this vegetable is called by many names, like balsam pear, spine gourd, bristly balsam pear, prickly carolaho, spiny gourd, teasle gourd, and small bittergourd. Let us find out more about their various names and culinary preparations in different regions of India:

Spine gourd is called kantola in Hindi, and it is famously used to make different kinds of subzis in the Northern parts of India. In Bihar and Jharkhand regions, this vegetable is called kheksi, while Rajasthanis call it ban karela, meaning wild bitter gourd.

While some gravy recipes include milk in the preparation, there are peas or lentils in the curry recipes. And some other recipes use different kinds of fillings to make a bharwan subzi, where kantola is stuffed with a spiced mashed potato filling before tossing and cooking it in a gravy dish. Kantola is also used with minced mutton to make kantola kheema masala, where the vegetable texture and flavour complement the meat and spices, making it an addictive dish to savour along with your favourite flatbreads.

In Bengal, spiny gourd is popularly called kakrol, which is famous for kakrol pur bhaaja and jhol. While kakrol bhaaja is batter-fried fritters, kakrol purer jhol is a spicy, stuffed kakrol gravy that pairs beautifully with rice and roti. It is a filling dish that can also be a meal on its own. Bengalis also make kakrol vorta, which is one of their favourite side dishes. Similarly, Assamese call it bhat-karela, kakarul, or avandhya and make a stuffed and fried kakrul dish and a kakrul and fried eggs dish that are eaten along with meals, while kankada, as it is called in Odiya, is used to make a kankada and potato fry.

Mada haagala kaayi is what they are called in Kannada and referred to as kaadu peere in and around Mangalore. While batter-coated madahaagala kaayi podi, or fritters, are a popular evening snack during the monsoon season, madahaagala kayi hashi is a unique dish that incorporates yoghurt and coconut to make this gravy-based dish that is accompanied by piping hot steamed rice. Apart from that, madahaagla kaayi and egg curry, made with a ground coconut and spice base, are also popular across Karnataka.

Phaagil, or phagla, is what spine gourd is called in Konkani, and they make fritters, which are popularly called phodis. These spine gourd fritters are rubbed with spices and coated in rava before being shallow-fried and relished during the monsoon in the regions between Goa, Karnataka, and Maharashtra.

Tamilians call it the Palupakkai and popularly make a poriyal out of a spine gourd. Palupakkai poriyal is a dry, stir-fry dish that is seasoned with salt and turmeric powder and tempered with mustard, curry leaves, red chillies, cumin, and grated coconut. In a similar style of preparation, Marathis make a subzi called kartola chi bhaaji, which includes sliced onions, chopped coriander, and garted coconuts in generous quantities.

Having been called Katwal or Kankoda in Gujarati, one popular dish that is made from spine gourd is Kankoda nu Shaak, which is a stir-fry or dry subzi of tender kankoda with spices and seasonings that is a perfect accompaniment to rotis, chapatis, and other Indian flatbreads.

Spiny or Teasel Gourds Are Powerhouses Of Nutrition

What was once considered foraged produce is now being cultivated consciously, as it is now popular for its health benefits as well. According to Adithi Prabhu, a nutritionist, Spiny gourd or Teasel gourd is a good source of many vital nutrients like phytonutrients, flavonoids, antioxidants, carbohydrates, protein, fat, fibre, and vitamins B and C. They are known to regulate blood sugars, improve digestion, and improve vision.

Kantola, also known as spiny gourd, may be an underrated vegetable, but its health benefits are worth noting. Firstly, it can help lower blood sugar levels in diabetic patients and reduce the risk of cancer. Its anti-ageing properties and ability to improve eyesight make it a valuable addition to any diet. The high fibre and antioxidant content aid in digestion and promote overall digestive health. For lactating mothers, including kantola in their diet can alleviate infant vomiting.

Additionally, it is rich in phytonutrients, low in calories, and can help eliminate kidney stones. Kantola is a home remedy for piles and can provide relief from cough problems. Its folate content is beneficial for pregnant mothers, reducing the chances of neural tube defects in newborns. Lastly, it offers relief from breathing problems. Despite its lesser popularity, considering the multitude of benefits, incorporating this nutritious vegetable into your diet can be highly advantageous.

Spiny gourds grow on creepers that can trail onto any trees or surface areas. It is said that creepers are being transported all the way from the north-eastern regions of India to cultivate this seasonal produce in the southern region, widely around Mangalore and Kodagu in Karnataka.

Kakrol Mach Curry Recipe

Spiny gourd and fish curry is a Bengali recipe that includes Rohu or Tilapia fish. This dish is best prepared on a firewood stove, incorporating the smokiness, and is best savoured with piping hot steamed rice and raw onion slices.


    750 g of tilapia fish, cleaned and cubed

    4 cups of spiny gourd chunks, cleaned and cut

    1 cup potato, peeled and cubed

    3 tablespoons of garlic paste

    1 cup onion paste

    1 tablespoon jaggery

    1 inch of tamarind's pulp

    2 tablespoons of turmeric

    1 table spoon cumin powder

    2 tablespoons of red chilli powder

    Oil for frying and cooking

    6–8 green chillies slit

    1 cup sliced onion

    1 cup of water

    Salt to taste


For preparing fish:

In a wide vessel, add one tablespoon of turmeric, red chilli powder, a spoonful of onion and garlic paste, and salt to mix and make a paste to rub over the pieces of cleaned fish.

Place a curry pan on the stove and turn on the heat. Add mustard oil, fry the marinated fish partially, and set aside.

For the curry:

Heat the vessel that fried the fish, add some oil to the existing oil, and turn the heat to medium. 

Toss in the sliced onions and chillies and fry until they become translucent. Add the onion and garlic paste, turmeric, chilli powder, cumin powder, and salt, and fry for a minute more.

Add the chunks of kakrol, or spine gourd, and potato with a little water and cook them covered until done.

Add the tamarind and jaggery, along with some water, to the gravy and give the curry a mix.

Include the pieces of partly-fried fish in the gravy, give it a light mix, and simmer for about 10 minutes until well-combined.

Take it off the heat and transfer it to a serving bowl before plating it hot with steamed rice.