Winter melon (also known as fuzzy melon, white gourd, wax guard, Chinese preserving melon. dong gua, or ash gourd) is an incredibly versatile fruit. It is such a mild-tasting fruit that, in many Asian cuisines, it's often used more like a vegetable! The white rind can be eaten raw, but it's commonly used to make winter melon soup and stir-fries. Below, we'll tell you all about this unique Asian fruit!
What Is Winter Melon?
Winter melon (Benincasa hispida) is a large light green fruit, usually found in an oblong shape. Primarily found in the warm climates of South and Southeast Asia, winter melons can reach extraordinary sizes of 32 inches long and a full 12 pounds! It's a member of the gourd family, along with cucumbers, pumpkins, squash, and other melons.
Winter melons thrive in warm weather, with their peak harvest time from summer to fall. So, why is it called "winter melon"? Because, compared with other gourds, it has a uniquely long shelf life and can be enjoyed during the winter!
As winter melons grow, they are covered with silvery, fine hairs that give them a frosty appearance. They are typically called "fuzzy melon" if harvested at this time. Later, the hairs give way to a whitish, powdery coating. This is why winter melons are sometimes called "ash gourd" and "wax gourd."
What Does Winter Melon Taste Like?
The taste and flavor of winter melon depend largely on how mature your fruit is. Mature winter melon is mild, somewhat grassy, and rather bland. Wax gourd can be likened to a watermelon rind or a cucumber, and this unimposing taste allows it to take on the flavors it's being cooked with.
Immature melon is sweeter and is used less often in cooking. However, the sweeter melons were said to detoxify kidneys and slow down acute reactions and inflammation in traditional Chinese medicine.
The cooked wax gourd has very soft flesh, and it's similar to the texture of zucchini when it's been cooked.
Winter melon has many health benefits that will have you looking to add it to your diet!
Rich In Vitamins
There are many vitamins found in ash gourd, but the main two are Vitamin C and Vitamin B2 (also known as riboflavin). Vitamin C is critical for immune support and collagen production, and vitamin B2 helps your vision.
Rich In Minerals
Winter melon contains small amounts of many minerals that are essential to your well-being, such as calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. You need these for strong bones, healthy blood, and a properly functioning nervous system.
Promote Weight Loss
Healthy eating, in general, will promote weight loss, but winter melon has qualities that make it a popular food for people wanting to shed some pounds. It's 96% water, keeping you hydrated and satiated. It's also high in dietary fiber, which helps regulate your digestive system and keep you feeling full.
Rich in Antioxidants
Research indicated winter melon is rich in polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanins. Making this fruit a functional food that has the potential to reduce inflammation activity.
May Boost Immune System
According to USDA, 100g of raw wax gourd contains 13 mg (14%DV) of vitamin C. It makes this fruit a powerful immune booster and helps fight infections and diseases.
Wax gourd is fiber-rich, making it a great addition to the American diet. A 100g of raw wax gourd contains approximately 3 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber can help reduce calorie consumption, aid digestion, and help digestive issues like constipation.
May Help Detoxify The Body
In traditional Chinese medicine, winter gourd is used as a diuretic and helps detoxify the body through urination and support the liver and kidneys to perform at their optimum level.
How To Clean And Prepare Winter Melon
When you get your ash gourd home, here's how to prepare it for cooking.
Rinse - Rinse the outside of the melon until it's thoroughly clean. Mature winter melons grow a powdery, waxy coating that needs to be scrubbed off.
Peel - Use a peeler or knife to cut away the melon rind. This is best done by first slicing your melon in half since it's so large.
Remove Seeds - Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and the soft inner flesh surrounding them.
Cut - Cut your clean, peeled, and seeded melon into the shape most appropriate for your dish.
How To Eat Winter Melon
Winter melon should not be consumed raw, as it will have a sharp, unpleasant bite. You can, however, juice it or blend raw winter melon with other ingredients to make it taste delicious. Before you eat the fruit, you must remove the skin and seed first and then cook the flesh.
The flesh of the fruit can be simmered, steamed, grilled, roasted, stir-fried, or boiled. When it's fully cooked, winter melon flesh will become soft and makes a great addition to :
Soup and stews
Dessert (cake, pies, and others)
Juice/ winter melon juice or add to smoothies
Winter Melon Seeds
Winter melon seeds are edible, and you can roast them just like pumpkin seeds.
How To Cook Winter Melon
Winter melon is an incredibly versatile fruit, and there are many ways to cook it! You can find many winter melon recipes online, and simmering is the most common way to cook winter melon. While the ash gourd is simmering, you can add other ingredients to tailor it to the final recipe.
For example, you can simmer winter melon with chicken, ham, mushrooms, or scallops to make a winter melon soup. Steamed winter gourd can cook down with brown sugar to make a popular winter melon tea. Since immature winter melon tastes sweet, you can simmer it to make a sweet filling for the popular Chinese Wife Cake (also known as a Sweetheart cake).
Winter melon is also often steamed or parboiled, which gives a similar soft, mild taste. However, if you'd like your winter melon pieces to take on the more powerful flavors of savory dishes, consider braising or stir-frying them first. This helps the melon hold its form longer, so it has time to soak up spices and other flavors.
Where To Buy Winter Melons
You can find winter melon in Asian markets all year round, although not always in the same form. When winter melons are in season (late summer through the fall), you can find whole winter melons on the store shelves. Otherwise, you'll likely see winter melon packaged in slices or cubes.
Regardless of if you buy a whole winter melon or precut, select a melon that is firm and unbruised.
How To Choose An Winter Melon
When shopping for a winter melon, seek one that has dark or pale green rind, firm and heavy to hold. It should have no hair and have a waxy coating. Avoid any one with cracks and bruises.
How To Store Winter Melon
Winter melon has a long shelf life - up to a year! However, this is dependent on how you store them.
Sliced winter melon should be placed in a plastic bag or airtight container and placed in the crisper drawer of your fridge. It will stay fresh for up to 5 days.
Winter melon is frequently pickled. Cut your melon into equal-sized parts, then place them in a jar with vinegar and your choice of pickling spices. Pickled winter melon can stay unopened in a pantry for up to a year and opened in the fridge for six months.
Store It Whole
The best (and easiest!) way to store winter melon is as a whole gourd. Store your whole winter melon in a cool, dry place - such as a pantry, basement, or root cellar. It will stay fresh for up to a year.
A great way to store the fruit is to freeze it, which will not damage its texture. Slice it up, place it in an airtight container or freezer-safe bag, and store it in the freezer until you are ready to use it.
Winter Melon Season
Winter melon can mostly be found in the Asian market year rounds. However, their peak harvest season is late summer to early winter. You can store this melon for up to three to four months during winter.
How To Grow Winter Melon
Winter melon is easy to grow but has a long growing season. To grow a winter melon plant, you will need to sow seeds indoors and transplant them outside or sow them directly outdoors if the soil reaches 60F. It's best to start sowing two weeks after the last frost, and winter melon will need frost-free days to thrive. No trellis is needed, as winter melons love to thrive on the ground, so make sure you have enough space. It takes about 110 days for winter melon to mature. Once your winter melon has no fuss, it's ready to be harvested.
Winter melon can grow in a hardiness zone of 5+ and must be planted in fertile, well-drained soil with plenty of sunlight. Since the fruit is made up of 96% water, the plant will need to be watered regularly for healthy growth.