Winter melon is a fruit that is found in South and Southeast Asia, and is the only member of the Benincasa genus. It comes from the Cucurbitaceae family. While it can be used in a plethora of ways, the winter melon is used as a vegetable in Asian cooking and as a medicinal plant in India.
Depending on its stage of ripeness, the winter melon’s mildly sweet flavor can taste similar to a cucumber, but as the fruit matures, it becomes milder and is less sweet and is crispier in texture.
What Is Winter Melon?
Winger melon, scientifically referred to as Bennincasa hispid, goes by many different names. For instance, depending on the location, it is known as an ash, wax, white or winter gourd.
It is, in fact, part of the gourd family that also includes melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and various other types of squash, such as zucchini.
Even though it is technically considered a fruit, it is cooked as a vegetable, much as tomatoes are citrus fruits, but are used almost exclusively as vegetables.
What Do Winter Melons Taste Like?
The mild taste of the winter melon has been said to resemble the lightly sweet taste of a cucumber when it is young, but can take on the flavor of the herbs, spices and sauces in which it is cooked, similarly to a potato.
As the fruit matures, the winter melon taste resembles a flavor that is very similar to that of a watermelon rind. In fact, watermelon rind is sometimes used as a substitute for winter melon when the latter is not available.
What Do Winter Melons Look Like?
Winter melons resemble watermelons in a way, in that they tend to be oblong in shape and have a deep green skin that is on the waxy side. However, some winter melons are round. They can weigh as much as 40 pounds, and can grow in excess of 12″ in length.
While the winter melon is young, it has a fuzzy exterior. However, once it reaches maturity, it looses the fuzz and attains its waxy, white coating. The flesh and seeds of a winter melon are white.
What Texture Does Winter Melon Have?
The exterior texture of a mature winter melon is tough, thick and firm. It is encased in a highly-textured outer layer of wax that, according to the particular variety, can have a chalky appearance.
Before winter melons mature, the appearance of a fuzzy, pale coating of that which resembles coarse hair is found on the outside of the fruit and along the vine from which it grows. However, this vanishes as the fruit gains maturity.
What Are The Different Types Of Winter Melon?
- The wax guard
- Ash guard
- Winter gourd
- Tallow gourd
- Winter melon
- Ash pumpkin
- Chinese preserving melon
- Chinese watermelon
- Doan gwa
Where Does Winter Melon Come From?
Winter melon grows throughout Asia and in South Florida and in other places in the United States that have similar climates. They are also cultivated in India, Bangladesh and in Southern China.
Are Winter Melons Healthy?
Winter melons are quite low in calories, fat, Carbohydrates and protein. The low caloric value has to do with the fact that the melons are 965 water. However, they are rich in fiber and contain a plethora of nutrients. They are rich in flavonoids, carotene and antioxidants.
Additionally, they contain approximately 14% of the daily value of Vitamin C, 8% Riboflacen and 6% Zinc.
The melon has been used Ayurvedic medicine and in Chinese medicine for centuries to treat various ailments, such as:
- Increased energy levels
- Prevention of ulcers
- Prevention of type 2 diabetes
- Antimicrobial effects
How Do You Eat Winter Melon?
These Are General Directions For How To Eat Winter Melon:
- Remove the skin and seeds, including the soft flesh into which the seeds are embedded.
- Cube or slice the harder white flesh of the melon
Cook it by:
- Parboiling prior to using as stir fry
How Is Winter Melon Stored?
Storage for winter melon is a simple process. The whole melon can be stored in a cool area for months at a time, for up to one year.
Once the fruit has been sliced, the melon will last for a few days when placed inside a plastic bag and stored inside the crisper section of a refrigerator. The melons can also be preserved with the pickling process and kept similarly to pickles.
Can You Freeze Winter Melons?
Winter melons can be frozen. Peeled, raw chunks of the melon can be stored in the freezer inside plastic freezer bags for periods from three months to a year.
How Do You Tell If A Winter Melon Is Bad?
Winter melons Should Be Thrown Out If:
- They feel empty or overly light
- Are bruised or have damaged regions
- Smell or taste bad
- Turn dark brown and grow soft or turn black
How Can I Select A Winter Melon At A Grocery Store?
Winter melons are members of the gourd family and can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with them, with their strange textures and shapes. They are best when chosen young and freshly picked when they have the hair-like coating over the surface of the skin.
One should choose a winter melon that does not have any bruising or indentations. The winter melon should feel heavy and should be the approximate size, color and shape of a watermelon.
The surface should be covered with a white, ash powder, which is harmless to eat, but it becomes very sticky when it comes into contact with moisture.
The interior of the melon should be all white and have a crisp texture that is very even.
How Do You Ripen A Winter Melon?
The ripening of a winter melon can be sped up by pinching off the tips of the stems. This redirects the energy that the plant produces into the ripening process.
How Do I Open A Winter Melon?
To open a winter melon, the skin should be sliced off with a sharp knife and discarded. The melon should be cut into 4 equal parts, then into 8 parts.
The soft part that holds the seeds should be cut out of the fruit and discarded. The firm meat of the fruit should be cubed into evenly sized pieces.
Can You Grow Winter Melons?
A warm, hot climate is best for growing winter melon. The best temperature for growing is between 75-85 degrees Fahrenheit, and never lower than 60 degrees. The seeds will germinate very quickly in warmer temperatures.
The growing cycle of the winter melon is from 4-6 months, depending on the environment where it is being grown and the particular variety of winter melon that is being grown.
If the melon is being grown somewhere with a colder temperature, it is best to start the seeds indoors in small containers to maximize their growing season.
Because the seeds of the winter melon have a hard shell, it is best to germinate them indoors. Once the seedlings have grown from 4-5 leaves, they should be transported outdoors into the gardening area, or in larger pots inside a greenhouse.
Organic fertilizer should be added to the soil and then mixed deeply into the turned soil. The plants should be planted 4 feet apart and pruned as necessary.
The fruit has a long growing season. Harvest time depends on the size and variety of fruit being cultivated.
Winter Melon Vs. Cucumber
Both winter melon and cucumber are in the cucurbitacea family. The cucumber has a soft exterior with a semi-rigid skin that is very easy to penetrate. The winter melon has a hard, tough exterior that is more difficult to peel and chop.
Both the winter melon and the cucumber have a slightly sweet, similar taste. However, the cucumber’s taste is steadily present, while that of the winter melon fades as the fruit grows older.
When it reaches maturity, the cucumber’s taste is almost gone and it has a more neutral taste that picks up the flavors of the herbs, condiments and sauces with which it is cooked. At that point, the flavor is very mild.
How Do You Cook Winter Melons?
Once a winter melon has been prepared, it can be cooked. Most commonly, winter melons are simmered. This is especially true of winter melons that are used in Chinese cooking.
This method is used to make tea or certain soups and is an effective method that softens the melon, thus softening it. The simmering also makes them more digestible.
Steaming and parboiling are also methods that are used to cook the winter melon. This is done in a regular kitchen pot or in a steamer.
People who prefer a stronger flavor often prefer to stir fry their winter melon, and some prefer it braised. These two methods enable the melons to absorb stronger, richer flavors, as the previous methods create a milder flavor
Quick Table: Winter Melon Recipes
|Recipes||Calories Per Servings||Preparation Time|
|How To Make Winter Melon Stir Fry||128||15 Minutes|
|How To Make Winter Melon Soup With Chicken||104||120 Minutes|
|How To Make Ash Gourd (Winter Melon) Thoran||133||35 Minutes|
Stir Fries are simple to make, yet taste as though they took hours.
This Winter Melon Stir fry is a simple dish with tender winter melon slices that provides a mouthful of textures from the noodles and shrimp that have been soaked in savory pork juices.
Nutritional Value table For Winter Melon Stir Fry
|Calories||128 per serving|
At only 128 calories per portion, and only 4g fat, this recipe is not only delicious. It also provides a healthful meal that is truly nutritious comfort food.
The addition of winter melon is what sets this stir fry apart from other stir fries. Not only does the winter melon add a plethora of health benefits.
It also adds an interesting texture, color and taste. It can be served alone as a meal, or with a salad as an entrée.
Total Calories: 128 per serving
Total Prep And Cook Time: 15 Minutes
This Winter Melon Soup with Chicken is a low-calorie alternative to other soups, but is still packed with flavor and nutrition. This recipe makes 4 servings at only 65.3 calories per serving.
The rich, clean flavors are satisfying, and the recipe is a quick, easy one to follow.
This soup has a high percentage of Vitamin C, which our bodies need to help stay healthy and ward off colds.
Nutritional Information For Winter Melon Soup With Chicken
|Calories per serving||65.3|
The winter melon taste in this soup adds an entirely new flavor profile to traditional chicken soup. It has all of the traditional ingredients, but the melon adds new texture and color, and is very high in overall nutrition.
The recipe is easy to prepare in two hours and is well worth the effort. It is an aromatic blend that will leave the entire house smelling great.
Serve it with a side salad and a loaf of artisan bread for an extra special treat that is unforgettably delicious.
Total Calories: 104 per serving
Total Prep And Cook Time: 120 minutes
This outstanding Ash Gourd Recipe comes from the Kerala state on the Malabar Coast of India and is called Ash Gourd Thoran.
Ash gourd is another name for winter melon that is cooked in coconut oil with onions, spices, herbs and finished with coconut. A thorn is a vegetable dish that is served with rice and curry.
Nutritional Information For Ash Gourd (Winter Melon) Thoran
The various flavors, textures and appearance of this dish will stand out in your memory long after you take the last bite. The coconut is especially nice as it imparts a nice crunch to the otherwise soft vegetables.
The taste is a distinctive East Indian curry taste, but the winter melon adds a special touch that makes the dish unforgettable.
Total Calories: 133
Total Prep And Cook Time: 35 minutes
RELATED: How Much Does A Watermelon Weigh?
Frequently Asked Questions
How Difficult Is It To Find Winter Melon In A City Shopping Setting?
Winter melons can commonly be found at an Asian grocery store, or any grocery store that sells specialty produce. However, if neither of those venues are available, try asking the produce manager at your local grocery store to order some for you.
What Is The Difference Between A Winter Melon And A Watermelon?
The main difference between a winter melon and a water melon is that watermelons are much sweeter fruits that can be substituted for desserts.
Winter melons are cooked and served as vegetables, as tomatoes are, which are citrus fruit. The interior of the winter melon is fleshy and filled with a dense watermelon-rind like flesh.
Winter melons do not taste good when eaten raw. They must be cooked. On the other hand, watermelons are much juicier and taste delicious raw.
If winter melons are not available, watermelon rind makes an outstanding substitute.
Are The Leaves Of A Winter Melon Edible?
They are absolutely edible. The leaves, tendrils and shoots of the winter melon plant can be eaten raw and are great when mixed together with other salad ingredients.
The flavor is a little peppery and resembles arugula. Unfortunately, these ingredients are rarely, if ever, found in a grocery store’s produce department, and tend to only be available for people who grow their own winter melons.
Are Winter Melons Good For You?
Winter melons have been used for centuries in Ayruvedic medicine as well as in Chinese medicine. However, the jury is still out on the claims made by each.
These two types of medical practices make claims about winter melon being able to treat or prevent many types of diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes, but there is little research to substantiate these claims.
It is high in fiber, however, and can benefit the digestive system. Outside of those practices, it can best be consumed for its high Vitamin C. content, and can be enjoyed as a low-calorie addition to an everyday healthful diet.
Is winter Melon Grown In The United States?
The winter melon is grown in the United States in certain areas of Florida, as well as in a few other Southern states that have a similar climate type. It is a plant that thrives in bright sunlight and higher temperatures.
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