Winter Melon: Chinese Ingredients and Cooking Terms

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Winter melon, or Benincasa hispida, is a large Asian fruit that can grow beyond one foot long and weigh over 40 pounds. It resembles a large watermelon with its oblong shape and dark-green, waxy skin. Inside the flesh and seeds are white. Its name probably comes from the fact that while grown during the summer and autumn, it can be stored and eaten during the winter months.

How It's Cooked

Mature winter melon has a very mild taste, while the immature fruit is sweet.

It is often used in soups and stir-fries, where it absorbs the flavors of the ingredients it is cooked with. A famous Chinese dish is winter melon soup, where slices of the melon are simmered in a broth with Chinese dried mushrooms, ham, and seasonings. In a popular banquet version of the dish, winter melon serves as a cooking vessel, main ingredient, and serving dish. The soup is steamed inside a whole winter melon and served that way at the table. Winter melon is also used in sweets, such as Chinese Wife Cake and the Indian treat Petha, and in curries

Although winter melon is popular in China, it was originally grown in Egypt. Today, winter melon is grown in warm climates throughout the world.

Where to Find It

Winter melon can be found in most Asian supermarkets. Whole winter melon may be available while in season, but it is easier to find cut pieces. The melon slices will last for a couple of days if placed in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator.

Fun fact: Winter melon is considered to be a yin or cooling food.

Also Known As: Dong gua, dong gwa, tung gwa, wax gourd, white gourd, winter guord, tallow guord, Chinese preserving melon, ash gourd, sufed kaddu, petha, lauki

Alternate Spellings: wintermelon