Little known balbas bariko fruit loaded with health benefits

Diana Rose De Leon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Ever heard of balbas bariko?

It sounds like a name of some obscure villain from a comic strip or an odd character from a Pinoy flick but balbas bariko is actually an indigenous fruit in the Philippines.

Balbas bariko is known as a spiny bitter gourd (momordica cochinchinensis spreng.) – a bristly version of the well-loved vegetable, ampalaya (momordica charantia). It is quite unheard of by most Filipinos due to the limited distribution and information about it.

Coming from the family of gourds and climbing vines, balbas bariko is a tendril-climbing, dioecious perennial vine that only bears fruits once a year. Its leaves are broadly ovate with three to five deep lobes, pointed tips, and heart-shaped bases. The flowers are pale yellow in color, oblong to oblong-ovate, with a large dark-colored blotch at the base.

Its fruits are large and oblong to round in shape. The outer covering is hard with conical spikes. It is initially green but turns yellow to dark orange when ripe. The interior consists of a yellow to orange, spongy flesh; fleshy and bright red seed pods, and brown seeds that are irregular in shape.

 Although not a popular fruit in the country, balbas bariko is highly-prized in some other countries because of its exceptional nutritional value and healing properties that promote longevity, vitality and health. It is for this reason that balbas bariko is dubbed as a “fruit from heaven”. 

According to studies, balbas bariko has high levels of carotenoids particularly beta-carotene and lycopene. Carotenoids are plant pigment, a main source of vitamin A and antioxidants. Vitamin A is important to maintain good vision and a healthy immune system, while antioxidants help in removing free radicals from blood.

As the human body cannot produce its own vitamin A, one needs to ingest food that is high in carotenoids including dark leafy vegetables, and orange and red foods including carrots, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.

Balbas bariko contains beta-carotene that is 10 times the amount in carrots and sweet potatoes, and lycopene that is 70 times more than tomatoes.

 The oil extracted from its aril (seed cover) has high levels of vitamin E, which is a fat-soluble antioxidant that is vital for the protection of cells from damage, and fatty acids, which is essential for the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients in a diet that is low in fat.

 Aside from its health benefits, the appeal of the fruit is not because of its taste but of its coloring attribute which gives an intense red color to food. Those who have tasted the fruit described it as plain and bland, like the cucumber.

In Vietnam, balbas bariko is prepared as a dish called xoi gac. It is prepared by mixing the seed and pulp with cooked rice to impart a red color and distinct flavor.

The dish is served during festive occasions such as wedding and lunar New Year. 

To capitalize on its nutritive properties, there are already health drinks and supplements made from balbas bariko extracts that are now commercially-available.

 The roots, seeds, and leaves are also known for their medicinal properties. The roots are used for treating head lice. In India, they make plaster from its roots to promote hair growth.

In China, the seeds are used for liver and spleen disorders, wounds, hemorrhoids, bruises and swelling.

In Vietnam, the seed membranes are used to relieve dry eyes. 

In the Philippines, seeds are used to treat cough. The oil is used to rejuvenate skin and look young.

Vitamin A deficiency (VAD) remains one of the public health problems in the country especially among children and pregnant women. Balbas bariko is being eyed as a healthy supplement to address the problem since the fruit is rich in vitamin A.

However, most Filipinos are not familiar or have not even realized the potential of this fruit given its low utilization, insufficient supply, and lack of processing technologies.

Fortunately, a research study by the UPLB-College of Agriculture Crop Science Cluster looked into the utilization and commercialization of selected indigenous plants including balbas bariko.

Funded by the Bureau of Agricultural Research, the study started with the collection of planting materials of balbas bariko from various provinces in Region IV-A. These were housed at UPLB to serve as mother plants for future propagation studies.

The project also involves the development of value-adding products for balbas bariko such as snacks, tea and food colorant.

In fact, the project team had already used it as food colorant in sinukmani – a Filipino native delicacy made from glutinous rice and coconut milk.



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