Cantaloupe History

The cantaloupe derives its name from the Italian papal village of Cantalup, where it was first cultivated around 1700 A.D. It belongs to the same family as the cucumber, squash, pumpkin and gourd, and like many of its relatives, grows on the ground on a trailing vine.

The terms cantaloupe and muskmelon are used somewhat interchangeably. What is generally called cantaloupe in the west is really a muskmelon, characterized by a webbed surface. Cantaloupes have a smooth and lumpy skin with deep ridges. Cantaloupes were cultivated in the Nile valley in 2000BC.

In the United States, cantaloupes are primarily grown in California, Arizona, and Texas with the peak season being June through August. However, the fruit is available year around in most grocery stores.

Cantaloupe is one of the popular melons consumed in the United States. The melon that Americans call cantaloupe is actually a muskmelon or “netted” melon, not a “true” cantaloupe, which is grown only in Europe.

Cantaloupe is also known as rockmelon in several parts of the world.

Cantaloupe Nutrition Facts

The orange color of cantaloupe’s flesh reflects its extremely high beta-carotene content, which converts to vitamin A in the body; both are important for eye health. Cantaloupe is an antioxidant powerhourse, providing more than 100 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A, as well as significant amounts of vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber.

Cantaloupe is related to squash and has a nutrient value between that of summer and winter squash. In addition, cantaloupe has high water content and is good to consume on hot days to help staying hydrated.

Cantaloupes have significant amounts of Vitamins A and C, are a good source of potassium, and contain small amounts of many other minerals. The rind is rich in nutrients so the whole melon may be juiced. In places with a suitable climate, cantaloupes may be grown all year long. However, extra care must be taken for winter varieties as they are particularly susceptible to disease.

Nutrients Per 1-cup of Raw Cantaloupe

Calories: 56, Fat: 0, Carbohydrate: 13g, Protein: 1.0g, Fiber: 1.0g, Sodium: 14mg, Potassium: 494mg, Vitamin C: 68mg, Vitamin A: 515 RE or 5158 IU, Water: 144g

Potent Antioxidant Profile

With its potent antioxidant profile, eating cantaloupe may help curb chronic conditions associated with oxidative stress. Research has linked deficiencies of beta-carotene, vitamin C, and folate – nutrients in cantaloupe – to increased oxidative stress in the eye, which contributes to cataracts.

Foods rich in vitamins A and C as well as carotenoids, such as cantaloupes, may also protect against lung diseases. And in a study just released, researchers found that women who consumed the most alpha-carotene, beta-carotene and lycopene were the least likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer (both estrogen-positive and progesterone-positive).

Some General Facts about Cantaloupe

  • Cantaloupes are best June through September. They should be round, smooth and have a depressed scar at the stem end. If the scar appears rough or the stem is still attached, the melon will not ripen well.
  • Cantaloupes are best if the netting is an even yellow color with little or no green. Melons can be left at room temperature to ripen. The aroma will usually indicate if it is ripe and sweet. Refrigerate as soon as a cantaloupe is ripe.
  • Since bacteria can grow on the surface of most melons, it is important to wash the outside of the cantaloupe before cutting into it.
  • Whole melons will last for a week if they are kept cold. Cut melons, wrapped in plastic with seeds in and refrigerated, are best eaten in a few days. Remember that cut melons are aromatic and their smell will penetrate other foods.
  • If cantaloupe is ripe you should be able to hear the seeds rattling inside. It should also give off a sweet fragrance. The belly button should be somewhat soft, but if the melon is soft all over, it’s probably overripe.
  • Always wash melons in warm soapy water before cutting to get rid of any impurity on the rind that might be carried from the knife blade to the flesh. Simply cut the melon in half and scoop out the seeds and strings.
  • Melons can be cut into halves, quarters, wedges, cubes, or scooped into balls with a melon baller. Most melons will benefit from a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to enhance the flavor and served at room temperature.
  • Cantaloupes are rich in nutrients that fight disease, including cancer, such as lung cancer. They should be a welcome and frequent visitor to your table.
  • Add some sparkling water to fresh squeezed cantaloupe juice for a refreshing drink in the warm months of the year.

Choosing Your Cantaloupes

When shopping for a cantaloupe one should consider the following, the shape, the color, and the stem end. First, the melon should have a spherical and uniform appearance without bruises and indentations. Second, when ripe it should have a khaki colored skin, not green. Finally, there should be a smooth stem end without any signs of any tear. This indicates that the melon was not harvested too early. Look for smooth, round cantaloupe with netting all the way around and a depressed area at the stem end.

To pick a sweet cantaloupe, look for the one with small, tight netting on the skin and it should smell sweet. If the seeds rattle, it may be overripe. Avoid soft or bruised cantaloupes.

Once cantaloupes are harvested it cannot further produce sugar. Therefore, leaving the melon on the counter at room temperature will not make the melon sweeter, but it will turn softer and juicier. However, do not leave the cantaloupe at room temperature for more than 4 days. Once ripe or cut, the melon should be refrigerated and consumed within 2 days.

Biblical

Cantaloupes were lamented by the children of Israel when they left Egypt to spend 40 years in the wilderness with Moses. From there, melons reached Europe and were cultivated by the Romans.

In a religion called Manicheanism, which was born in Babylon in the 3rd century that sought the release of Light (good) from the Darkness (evil) of matter, cucumbers and melons were thought to contain very high concentrations of Light, and the holy, abstemious Elect of the religion had the power to release this Light by eating them and belching out their Light particles.

Safety Tips for Handling Fresh Cantaloupe

Cantaloupes are grown in close contact with the ground, which may occasionally introduce bacterial contamination from soil, water, and animals. Contamination from human contact may arise during or after harvest.

Eating cut cantaloupe has been linked to food borne illnesses caused by Salmonella or Escherichia coli 0157:H7. In most cases the source of contamination cannot be determined; however, bacteria present on the melon rind at the time of purchase or harvest from a home garden can transfer to the edible flesh when the melon is cut. It is important to follow the washing instructions below before preparation. Storing cut melons at room temperature or other warm conditions such as in a hot car or at a picnic can lead to rapid growth of harmful bacteria on the flesh.

Food borne illnesses associated with melons have also occurred when dirty utensils or cutting boards (especially those used to handle raw meats) have been used to prepare melons. For this reason it is important to wash hands before and after preparing melons and always use clean equipment, utensils, and cutting surfaces.

Washing Cantaloupe

Cantaloupes should be washed just before preparing and eating. It is best not to wash cantaloupes before storage; this helps ensure a longer shelf life for the uncut fruit. The spaces within the netted rind on the cantaloupe acts as protection for bacteria, often making bacteria difficult to remove.

Most bacteria can be removed by scrubbing the whole melon with a clean vegetable brush under clean running water. After washing, blot the melon with clean paper towels to remove excess water. Place on a clean surface, and cut off the stem end about three-quater to 1-inch from the end. Cutting within a kitchen sink is not recommended. Place the melon on a clean cutting board, plate, or other surface with the cut end facing down. With a clean knife, cut the melon from the blossom end to the stem end. Wash the knife with clean running water and set aside. Gently scrape out the seeds with a clean spoon. Continue to cut into slices or as desired.

Always peel, cover and refrigerate cut cantaloupe. Refrigeration inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Freezing Cantaloupe

Cut ripe, firm cantaloupe into chunks or balls and flash freeze (lay onto a pan in one layer and freeze solid. Put into bags or containers. Note that if the cantaloupe is too ripe, it could get mushy but if it is not ripe enough, it could get too hard! Just the right stage of ripeness is important when freezing cantaloupe.

Incorporating Cantaloupes

Use in smoothies with bananas or other fruit; cut cantaloupes in half and serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the center.

Most cantaloupes on display are not ready to eat and need to be ripened for a day or so. Shaking cantaloupes isn’t a good way to test ripeness or sweetness.

To ripen cantaloupes, place whole melon inside loosely closed paper bags. Once cut, cantaloupes won’t ripen, so store cut fruit or fully ripe whole cantaloupes in tightly sealed plastic bags inside your refrigerator.

Cantaloupe Ice

Light, refreshing and only 136 calories in each 1/2-cup serving.

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 cantaloupe (2-1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup each orange juice and honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated orange rind

In a small saucepan, soften the gelatin in the cold water for about 5 minutes. Set over low heat and stir until dissolved – about 3 minutes.

In a food processor or blender, puree the melon in batches and transfer to a medium-size bowl. Stir in the gelatin, orange juice, honey, lemon juice and orange rind until well mixed. Pour the mixture into a non-aluminum 9-inch baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and freeze until firm – 2 to 4 hours. In a food processor or blender, puree the cantaloupe ice in batches until smooth but not liquefied. Re-freeze. Will keep up to 3 days at 0 degrees. Yield: About 1 pint.

Watermelon variation: Follow the directions above, but eliminate the orange rind and orange juice and substitute the flesh of a 3-pound watermelon, seeded and coarsely chopped, for the cantaloupe. Use ½ cup light corn syrup (or to taste) instead of the honey and increase the lemon juice to 2 tablespoons. Store as directed for cantaloupe ice.

Did you know?

One average size cantaloupe will produce about 45 to 50 melon balls.

Cantaloupe Cautions

Back in March, 2008, the Food and Drug Administration issued an alert for cantaloupe imported from Honduras due to an outbreak of Salmonella traced to the fruit, which affected at least 50 people in 16 states. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever, diarrhea and abdominal cramps. Such outbreaks have occurred before with melons. To be safe, the FDA advises consumers to always take the following precautions with cantaloupe.

  • Don’t buy bruised melons.
  • Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before and after handling melons.
  • Scrub whole melons with a clean produce brush and tap water (no soaps or detergents) before slicing open.
  • Promptly refrigerate melon once cut, and eat within two days. Be sure melon you buy already cut up has been refrigerated or packed in ice.

Never purchase imported cantaloupe. Make sure your grocer only sells U.S. grown cantaloupe – or buy at your local Farmer’s Market.

In Summary

Cantaloupes

  • Are free of fat and cholesterol.
  • Are very low in sodium.
  • High in vitamin A and vitamin C.
  • Are a good source of folate.
Cantaloupe Benefits and Nutrition

Read More: Food Facts