Winter melon is the largest cold season fruit. In contrast to its grand size, it has a mellow taste that goes well with a lot of flavors. The best part is, this melon fruit’s flesh is low-carb and high in fiber!
Read on to find out more about winter melons, and you might even be enticed to start cooking with these gentle giants.
What Is a Winter Melon?
It is a mild-tasting fruit that belongs to the cucurbit family, along with cucumbers, melons, zucchini, pumpkins, and squash. Despite the name, winter melons thrive in warm climates. They hail from the sunny regions of South and Southeast Asia, although these gourds are now widely available in other parts of the world.
As these fruits develop on vines of a winter melon plant, they have silver hairs on their skin that make them look like frosted fruits. They can be easily mistaken as the closely-related fuzzy melons because of this feature, but it should be noted that they are not the same.
Eventually, the hairs on them disappear and the exterior of the melons becomes powdery and waxy. This is the reason why they are also called “wax gourd”. These melons also go by several other names like dong gua for the Chinese, and other English names like ash gourd and white gourd.
What Does Winter Melon Taste Like?
This large winter gourd is almost tasteless, with a flavor that resembles that of the watermelon rind. However, its uniquely mild flavor allows it to absorb the taste of the herbs, spices, and other seasonings that it’s cooked in. This may be the reason why although it’s technically a fruit, it’s commonly treated as a vegetable in Asian cuisine.
How to Clean and Prepare Winter Melon
Clean the fruit before cutting and cooking it. Follow these simple steps for the standard way of preparing the fruit:
Rinse the Winter Melon
First, you have to rinse the melon fruit until it’s completely clean. Make sure to remove the waxy, powdery substance on its surface because it will leave an unpleasantly sticky feel to your food.
Peel and Remove the Melon Seeds
After you’ve cleaned the melon, the next step is to peel the skin off of your fruit. Then, proceed to remove the seeds along with the soft flesh surrounding them.
Cut Into Desired Shape
Once your winter melon is clean, peeled, and seeded, you can now proceed to slice it. Cut the gourd into your desired shape, or into the form that the recipe requires. Usually, they are sliced into squares.
How to Cook Winter Melon
Here are some of the methods you can use to cook your melon fruit:
This food preparation method involves cooking food with steam. Usually, steamed winter melons are cooked in a carved winter melon bowl. The fruit is usually emptied and stuffed with a combination of fruit slices and other ingredients.
This method is used in making delicious winter melon tea. The melon slices are simmered in water with sugar until the flesh turns transparent. Simmering not only melds together the supple taste of the winter melon juice and the sweetness of the sugar, but it also makes the fruit soft so that it can be easily pressed through a strainer.
Traditional Chinese dong gua soup or winter melon soup also requires simmering the gourd with red dates and shiitake mushrooms in chicken or pork broth for an hour, making the fruit soft and tender.
This cooking method involves lightly frying the food before it is slowly cooked in a container. In braised winter melon recipes, usually, ingredients like meat and garlic are stir-fried before the fruit is added.
Parboiling involves partially cooking food as the first step to a recipe. Winter gourds are often cut into smaller pieces and then parboiled for about 10 minutes before being added to dishes in Japanese cooking.
The mild flavor of winter melon pairs well with a lot of flavors. You can add slices of this melon fruit to your favorite stir fry recipes.
Winter Melon Health Benefits and Nutritional Value
This fruit is made of 96% water. As a result, this winter gourd is low in calories, fats, protein, and carbohydrates. Studies have also shown that this melon boasts a good amount of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants that help keep your bodily defenses against diseases in check. This gourd also carries other essential minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.
The medicinal properties of winter melon have long been recognized in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It’s considered as one of the “herbs that clear heat and relieve toxicity” because of its cool nature. In this practice, “heat” refers to inflammatory and infectious conditions like edema or swelling of body parts, phlegm, and wheezing, as well as seafood poisoning. Their sweet property is also believed to slow down reactions.
Where and How to Buy Winter Melon?
These gourds are available year-round at local Asian markets or supermarkets. Around late summer to early winter when these melons are in season, the fruits are sometimes sold as a whole. Other times of the year, you can get them already sliced or cubed. Make sure that you get the best melon at your shop by picking ones that are still firm and unbruised.
How to Store Winter Melon?
Store your fruit in four ways:
Store It Whole in a Cool and Dry Place
The first method involves storing the gourd as a whole fruit. For this method, you should store your winter gourd in a cool and dry place. Kept in the right conditions, they should stay good for months and even up to a year.
Refrigerate in Slices
If your winter melon is already cut, you can still keep its flesh for a couple of days. The first thing you should do is slice the entire melon into squares. Then, seal them in an airtight bag, and place them in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.
Pickle the Flesh
You can also try doing a traditional preservation method by pickling your gourd. Cut your melon and submerge the pieces in a jar of vinegar with spices of your choice. It’s best to keep your pickled melon in the refrigerator to make them last longer. Typically, pickled food lasts in the fridge for 6 months or more.
Make Winter Melon Candy
Candying is another preservation method that you can try. This works by having heated sugar syrup coat the pieces of melon for 24 hours, effectively absorbing and extracting the water from the fruit. You’ll have sweet treats for days.