Ingredient Name: Winter Melon
(also called Don Qua, White Gourd, Wax Gourd, or Ash Gourd)
Ingredient Name in Chinese: 冬瓜 (dōng guā), literally means “winter melon”
- Winter melon is a fast growing warm-climate Asian vine fruit that grows on the ground like a pumpkin does. It has a tough green skin on the outside but develops a white ashy wax over its skin as it matures. Hence, winter melon is also called a wax gourd or ash gourd.
- Winter melon is perhaps the largest cold season melon. It typically grows to at least 15 inches in diameter and weighing between 30 – 50 pounds each.
- Due to its large size, winter melon is typically sold in grocery stores in pre-cut bagged slices.
- Underneath the tough skin, winter melons have a thick white flesh that is mildly sweet, and a large seeded cavity.
- The water rich texture of winter melon flesh is similar to that of a watermelon, and becomes soft when cooked.
- Because of the wax that develops over its skin, winter melons have a long shelf life and can be kept for several months if left un-cut in a dry cool place.
Winter Melon Health Benefits and Uses:
- Winter melon is a long food staple in China, and it is used in a variety of ways including soups, braised stews, stir-frys, Chinese pastries, and candies.
- During Chinese New Year, winter melon is often dried, sweetened, and eaten as a traditional new year celebration candy.
- Ground winter melon paste is also popular in mooncakes (月餅) which are eaten during each year’s Mid-Autumn festival (中秋節)
- The “wife cake” or “sweet heart cake” (老婆餅) is a famous flaky thin-crusted Chinese pastry also made with winter melon.
- In Chinese medicine, the skin and flesh of the winter melon is considered a cooling food, known to release heat, detoxifying the body and ridding skin acne caused by excessive heat. Thus, this melon is very popular during the hot summer time.
- Although the skin maybe kept on during the cooking process (for its nutrients and cooling benefits), the melon skin is typically not eaten due to its chewy and tough texture.
- See a list of my soup recipes using winter melons.
- Look for whole or pre-cut slices of winter melon in the produce section of an Asian supermarket, or local farmer’s market.
- If buying the pre-cut version, look for ones with a clean, firm, white flesh. Avoid ones where the flesh has turned yellowish. This indicates the gourd has been cut for some time and not fresh.
- Pre-cut winter melon slices sold in stores will not last as long as a whole (un-cut) melon, and should be used within 3 – 4 days if kept in the refrigerator.
- Sometimes, small whole winter melons can be found in Asian supermarkets. Choose ones that feel firm, dense, and heavy.
- If you have a garden and live in warm climate, you can check out these winter melon seeds and try growing your own.
- Wash the outside of the winter melon.
- If the skin will be used in the recipe, use a knife to scrape the ashy waxy skin in a sink of water to clean it more thoroughly. Not all of the ashy wax will be washed off, but you will remove some by using a knife.
- Since the winter melon is likely pre-cut when you buy it, just use a spoon to scoop out the seeds before cutting the gourd further for cooking.
- Wrap any unused portions with two layers of saran wrap and store in the refrigerator. A cut winter melon kept this way will be good for 3 – 4 more days.
How do you use your Winter Melon? Leave a comment below to share your ideas.
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