The Real Reason Winter Melon Has Its Name

Walk around the neighborhoods surrounding Chicago's Chinatown and you'll find long vines and tall plants growing fruits and vegetables in people's yards. One of those plants is likely to be the winter melon, also called ash gourd or Chinese pickling melon. With the scientific name Benincasa hispida, winter melon has a mild flavor that is similar to vegetables, according to Pure Wow, thus it is often used in soups. Cooks also choose to use the winter melon because of its mild flavor, which is reminiscent of cucumber, according to Heathline.

Winter melons average about 15 to 80 centimeters long, are round or oblong in shape, and have a light to dark green skin, per Specialty Produce.  Inside the melon, there is a light-colored edible flesh and oval seeds that can be eaten if they are cooked. When the seeds have been cooked, they may have a nutty taste, according to Specialty Produce. When it comes to the health benefits of consuming the winter melon, Healthline says the fruit has been consumed for centuries and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine, but a lot of the reported health benefits are unproven. However, the winter melon consists of 96% water and is full of fiber. It is low in calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates, per Heathline.

A hearty fruit

The name winter melon is misleading. While it is a melon, it is not grown in winter. But, it can be consumed in late fall or winter because of its ability to be stored or pickled and eaten months later, according to Pure Wow. The reason the melon is able to last for so long is because of its strong, waxy outside.

Winter melon, according to Specialty Produce, is available all year long, but is traditionally harvested in late summer and into the fall months. After the winter melon is removed from the vine, it can be kept for about three to four months, reports Dr. Axe, meaning it can be eaten in the winter months. The melon is popular for both Asian and Indian dishes and some of those recipes are well-suited to a little older vegetables, such as Chinese Winter Melon Soup and Winter Melon Stir-Fry. It's also popular to candy or preserve winter melon, according to Pure Wow.

Winter melon is proof that you can eat locally grown fruit even during the cold months of the year.