Winter melons are large fruits, averaging 15 to 80 centimeters in length, and have a bulbous, round-to-oblong shape with blunt, curved ends. The melons are covered in a thin but tough, light to dark green skin, often enveloped in a textured, chalky layer of wax, depending on the variety. Young winter melons also bear a pale, fuzzy coating of hair that disappears as the fruit matures. Underneath the hard surface, the flesh is thick, firm, aqueous, and white, encasing a large central cavity filled with pithy membranes and cream-colored oval seeds. The seeds are edible, once cooked and have a nutty, neutral taste. Winter melons are not typically consumed raw and contain a mild, vegetal, and subtly grassy flavor reminiscent of a watermelon rind or cucumber. When cooked, the flesh becomes transparent and softens, absorbing the accompanying flavors.
Winter melons are an excellent source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system and fiber to stimulate and regulate the digestive tract. The fruits also provide antioxidants to protect the body against environmental aggressors; magnesium to maintain healthy nerve functioning; phosphorus and calcium to promote strong bones and teeth, and contain lower amounts of folate, zinc, and iron. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter melons are viewed as a cooling or yin ingredient and are used to reduce inflammation and balance the body through their alkaline properties.
Winter melons have neutral flesh that readily absorbs accompanying flavors, best suited for cooked applications such as steaming, stir-frying, simmering, and braising. The skin is inedible and is typically discarded, but sometimes the melons are hollowed out and used as a decorative serving bowl. The seeds are also removed from the flesh before cooking, but they are edible, once cooked, and can be roasted or fried as a crunchy snack. Once trimmed and deseeded. Winter melons can be sliced or cubed into smaller pieces and are commonly incorporated into soups, curries, and stews. The flesh is also stir-fried with robust spices and herbs, or it is stuffed with meat and cooked, mixed into casseroles, used as a substitute for zucchini, or quick-pickled for a tangy flavor. In addition to savory dishes. Winter melons are blended into smoothies or juices and are combined with sweet fruits, lemon, salt, and pepper, or the flesh is simmered with sugar to create a syrup that is popularly incorporated into tea. Winter melons are also used as a filling in cakes, pastries, and pies, or they are cooked into candy. Winter melon pairs well with watermelon, savory meats such as pork, chicken, duck, and ham, seafood, including shrimp and scallops, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, bamboo shoots, peas, and lentils. Whole Winter melons will keep for 3 to 5 months when stored in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight. Once sliced, the melon pieces will keep for up to one week when stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator's crisper drawer. Peeled and raw Winter melon chunks can also be frozen for extended use.
Winter melons are available year-round, with a peak harvest in the late summer through fall.