The cantaloupe is a pale orange melon with a rough skin and a fairly soft, yet firm flesh. It is one of the less sweeter melons. Some cantaloupes are yellower but often have a less distinct flavor and are not favoured. They can be between 15-25 cms in length and have a more or less oblong shape. Like all melons they thrive in sandy, well-watered soil.
There are two varieties of cantaloupe. Both belong to the species Cucumis melo. The European variety has a greenish skin. The North American variety has a pale tan colour and is often referred to as rock melon because of its rocky, reticulated rind.
Melons are thought to have originated in India, Africa or ancient Persia and have been cultivated since ancient times. Ancient civilisations like that of the Greeks and Romans mention this fruit. They were first introduced into the United States during colonial times. The major growers of cantaloupe today are the United States, Turkey, Iran and some Central American countries.
Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin A and vitamin C as well as potassium. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6 and folate.
Cantaloupe has a high beta-carotene content. Inside the body, beta-carotene can be converted into vitamin A. Eating cantaloupe means getting both these nutrients at the same time. One cup of cantaloupe provides 103.2% of the body's daily requirement of vitamin A. Vitamin A and beta-carotene are important nutrients for maintaining good eyesight.
Beta-carotene may also help to prevent cancer. For people who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke, making vitamin A-rich foods, such as cantaloupe, part of their diet may save their lives as per research conducted at the Kansas State University.
Cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin C. Vitamin C is important for a good immune system. It stimulates white cells to fight infection, directly kills many bacteria and viruses. It also regenerates Vitamin E after it has been inactivated by disarming free radicals.
Cantaloupe also contains potassium, vitamin B6, dietary fiber, folate, and niacin (vitamin B3). The combination of all these B complex vitamins a good fruit for energy production. These B complex vitamins are essential for our body for processing carbohydrates.
How to Select and Store
A good melon should be bought when it is ripe. They are often picked when still unripe to prevent damage during shipping. If a melon makes a hollow sound when tapped with the palm of the hand it is likely to be ripe. A melon should be heavy for its size and should not have any soft spots or bruises. The fruit should smell fragrant and sweet though a very strong odour may indicate that it is overripe.
A firm cantaloupe will become juicy and ripe in a few days if left at room temperature. Once it is ripe it should be wrapped and placed in the refrigerator. Wrapping it ensures that the ethylene gas produced does not affect the other food placed in the refrigerator. Cut melon should also be wrapped or placed in a sealed container. If it is left at room temperature for more than two hours it should not be consumed. One of the risks involved is salmonella infection.
How to Enjoy
Wash the outside of the melon carefull before cutting it. to prevent bacterial contamination. It can then be sliced to the desired thickness. If it is not to be consumed immediately then it should be refrigerated.
Cantaloupe can be used in fruit salads. To keep the fruit fresh, slice it while holding it under water. This short circuits the signals plant cells send when they are injured.
- Add sliced cantaloupe to the morning cereal.
- Fill half a cantaloupe with an interesting filling such as cottage cheese and nuts.
- Mix some sparkling water and fresh squeezed cantaloupe juice for a refreshing drink.
- Purée cantaloupe and peeled soft peaches.Add lemon juice and honey. This makes a delicious cold soup.
- Add cantaloupe slices to yogurt with chopped mint.
- Make a basket by cutting a cantaloupe in half, scoop out the seeds and use it to serve a fruit salad to which the fleshy part of the cantaloupe has been added.