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A winter melon is a large fruit that grows on a vine in very warm climates such as eastern and southern Asia. The winter melon can grow up to about 31 inches (80 cm) and can weigh as much as 30 pounds (13.5 kg). With a frost-green to dark green exterior, it resembles a watermelon, and its snow white, porous flesh has a taste that often is compared to zucchini. Also called an ash gourd, white gourd or fuzzy melon, the winter melon is not as sweet tasting as most other melons. "Winter melon" also is a common name for honeydew or casaba melons.
This melon originally was grown in southeast Asia, but the area where it is grown has spread to eastern and southern Asia, where the hot climate is ideal for this fruit. The winter melon can be stored for as long as 12 months. The seeds in the center should be removed before it is cooked.
Winter melon usually is grown in warmer climates, but it is harvested late in the year, so it must be able to withstand colder air. These melons are harvested in the late fall while still unripe. Its hard, waxy exterior holds moisture in, keeping the inside flesh moist and ideal for travel, and it also allows the melons to be stored for long periods of time.
When young, the winter melon has a fuzzy exterior and sweet taste. The fruit loses its fuzzy hairs by maturity, develops a waxy coating and loses its sweetness. This waxy coating provides for a long shelf life when stored in a cool dry place, and the melons can be used throughout the winter, when other such fruits and vegetables are no longer in season. After they are cut, winter melons must be used within a few days.
Winter melon is a very versatile fruit and is the ingredient in many types of dishes around the world. It is used in the making of a soup in China and Taiwan, often containing vegetables and pork and served in an intricately carved melon shell. Sweetheart cake is a famous sweet pastry in China that is made with winter melon. It is used to prepare candy in North India and Pakistan. The people of South India use the melon to make types of curry, and it leaves, tendrils and shoots often are consumed as greens.