Winter melon (Benincasa hispida)
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The winter melon (Chinese: 冬瓜; pinyin: dōngguā, Japanese 冬瓜（とうがん）tougan, also called white gourd or ash gourd, is a vine grown for its very large fruit, eaten as a vegetable. The fruit is fuzzy when young. 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 1-2 metres in length. The word “melon” in the name is somewhat misleading, as the fruit is not sweet.
Originally cultivated in Southeast Asia, the winter melon is now widely grown in East Asia and South Asia as well. In North India it is cut into rectangular pieces and boiled in a sugar syrup to create a translucent, almost clear candy or sweet, and is often flavored with rose water. In this form it keeps and cans well allowing it to be sold in canned form around the world. In South India it is used to make curries.
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.
Occasionally, it’s used to produce a fruit drink which has a very distinctive taste. It is usually sweetened with caramelised sugar, which enhances the taste.
The shoots, tendrils, and leaves of the plant may also be eaten as greens.
Winter melon is a common name for the inodorus cultivar group of the muskmelon (Cucumis melo L), or one of its members alternatively known as casaba, honeydew, or Persian.