Wonderfully delicious and unique musky-flavored cantaloupe or “muskmelon” is a member of the large Cucurbitaceae family. Some of the popular fruits and vegetables in the Cucurbita family include squash, pumpkin, cucumber, gourd,etc., and like its relatives, melons grow along the ground surface as a trailing vine.
Muskmelons thought to have originated either from India or ancient Persia or Africa. Inside the Australian subcontinent, they generally addressed as "rockmelons". They grow best on well-draining sandy soil with good irrigation facility and require honeybees for adequate pollination. Melons, just as mangoes, watermelon, etc., are summer season fruits. Their season runs from April through August, when they are at their best.
Several varieties of cantaloupes are grown around the world. However, two common types that named after their place of origin have become popular in the western world:
European cantaloupe (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) derives its name from the Italian papal village of "Cantalup" and features lightly-ribbed, pale green skin that looks quite different from the North American cantaloupe.
North American cantaloupe (Cucumis melo reticulatus), famous in the United States and some parts of Canada, is named reticulatus due to its net-like (or reticulated) skin covering. Honeydew melons have sweet, characteristic pale green succulent flesh.
Yubari melon (Yubari king) is a special hybrid cultivar type grown in Yubari city in Hokkaido, Japan. Surrounded by mountains and well-drained volcanic ash soil, the produce commands a special prize for its sweet mellow flavor.
In general, cantaloupe fruits feature round or oblong shape, measure 4.5- 6.5 inches in diameter, and weigh 450 – 850 gm, often more than a kilo.
Internally, its flesh color ranges from orange-yellow to salmon, has a soft consistency and juicy texture with a sweet, musky aroma that emanates best in the completely ripe fruits. At its center, there is a hollow cavity filled with small off-white color seeds encased in a web of mucilaginous netting.
Wonderfully delicious with rich flavor, cantaloupes are very low in calories (100 g fruit has just 34 calories) and fats. Nonetheless, the fruit is rich in numerous health promoting polyphenolic plant-derived compounds, vitamins, and minerals that are absolute for optimum health.
The fruit is an excellent source of Vitamin-A, (100 g provides 3382 IU or about 112% of recommended daily levels) one of the highest among Cucurbita fruits. Vitamin-A is a powerful antioxidant and is essential for healthy vision. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucosa and skin. Consumption of natural fruits rich in vitamin-A has been known to help protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
Cantaloupes also rich in antioxidant flavonoids such as beta-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin. These antioxidants have the ability to help protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen-free radicals and hence, offer protection against colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
Total antioxidant strength regarding oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) of cantaloupe melons is 315 µmol TE/100 g. The value for honeydew melon is 241 µmol TE/100 g.
Zeaxanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eye where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV light-filtering functions. It, thus, offers protection of eyes from "Age-related macular degeneration" (ARMD) disease in the elderly.
It is an ideal source of electrolyte, potassium. 100 g fruit provides 267 mg of this electrolyte. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids and helps control heart rate and blood pressure. It thus offers protection against stroke and coronary heart diseases.
The fruit also contains moderate levels of B-complex vitamins, such as niacin, pantothenic acid, and vitamin C, and minerals like manganese.
Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful oxygen-free radicals. The human body uses manganese as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase. Commercially, muskmelons are being used to extract an enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), which plays a vital role as a first-line antioxidant defense in the human body.
Cantaloupes best grow during the summer months. In the markets, try to buy organically produced muskmelons since they are richer in taste as well as nutrients.
Often, it could be difficult to judge the ripeness and flavor without checking out a wedge section of the melon. Look for one that weighs heavy for its size with a firm rind that is neither overly shiny nor lusterless, without any cuts or bruises on the surface, which might have occurred while transporting the fruit.
At home, place them in a cool, well-ventilated place. Cut sections, however, should be kept in the refrigerator.
Cantaloupe outer surface may harbor harmful salmonella bacteria, especially at areas of minor cracks and cuts. Therefore, wash the whole fruit in cold running water thoroughly before consumption.
Depending on the size you desire, the fruit can be sliced, cubed or scooped into balls.
|Beautiful muskmelon sections!||Honeydew melon balls!
Photo courtesy: sethbaur
Here are some serving tips:
Eat fresh cantaloupe as it is without any additions to experience its delicious, natural taste.
The fruit sections are a great addition to fruit salad.
Jam, sorbet, and juice are some nutritious and delicious items you can prepare with muskmelon.
Add cantaloupe sections in the desserts, with ice-cream, or custard.
Allergic reactions to muskmelons have not been reported so far, and they can be consumed safely in pregnancy and in nursing mothers. However, being a member of Cucurbita, some fruits may carry cucurbitacin toxin. For the same reason, it is recommended to avoid unripe/bitter-tasting melons. (Medical disclaimer).
<<-Also read: Galia melon nutrition facts and health benefits.
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Further Reading and Resources:
Stanford School of Medicine Cancer information Page- Nutrition to Reduce Cancer Risk.
Specialty melons-University of Kentucky -PDF.