The melon-like fruit of a tropical Asian vine belonging to the gourd family. Also called “white gourd” and “tunka”, this is commonly used in Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian cuisines in soups and stews.
The winter melon, also called white gourd, ash gourd, or “fuzzy melon”, is a vine grown for its very large fruit, eaten as a vegetable when mature. It is the only member of the genus Benincasa. The fruit is fuzzy when young with a white or ash color. The immature melon has thick white flesh that is sweet when eaten. By maturity, the fruit loses its hairs and develops a waxy coating, giving rise to the name wax gourd, and providing a long shelf life. The melon may grow as large as 80 cm in length. Although the fruit is referred to as a “melon,” the fully grown crop is not sweet. Originally cultivated in Southeast Asia, the winter melon is now widely grown in East Asia and South Asia as well.
Winter melon is also a common name for members of the Inodorus cultivar group of the muskmelon (Cucumis melo L), more commonly known as casaba or honeydew melons.
In China and Taiwan, the winter melon is used to make soup in the same way as daikon radishes, and is often combined with pork or pork/beef bones. In North India and Pakistan, the vegetable is used to prepare a candy called Petha. In South Indian cuisine, it is used to make curries. Occasionally, it is used to produce a fruit drink which has a very distinctive taste. It is usually sweetened with caramelized sugar, which enhances the taste. In Southeast Asia, the drink is widely marketed as winter melon tea. In China, the winter melon is dried and sweetened and eaten at New Year festivals. In China and Taiwan, it is one of the basis of mooncake for the yearly Moon Festival.
The winter melon requires very warm weather to grow but can be kept through the winter much like winter squash. The winter melon can typically be stored for 12 months. The melons are used in stir fry or to make winter melon soup, which is often served in the scooped out melon, which has been intricately decorated by scraping off the waxy coating.
The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.