Cantaloupe is a popular type of muskmelon that really shines in the summer months. The sweet, tender fruit is typically eaten fresh as a snack, breakfast, side dish, or dessert. Grown all over the world, cantaloupe is a popular crop in China as well as the Middle East.
What Is Cantaloupe?
Cantaloupes grow on low vines and have a webbed outer skin that turns from green to mostly beige when ripe. In Europe, the name cantaloupe is used to refer to a slightly different melon with beige and green skin. Both have orange, sweet flesh with seeds in the center. Conventional cantaloupe is considered affordable, and organic can cost twice as much. It's best eaten fresh and in season when the fruit is picked ripe, but it can also be pureed or turned into marmalade.
How to Use Cantaloupe
When shopping for cantaloupe, look for heavy, firm fruit that is a golden beige color underneath the light-colored webbing. Ripe melons have a distinctive cantaloupe smell when held close to your nose. Avoid soft, overripe melons. If your cantaloupe isn't quite ready yet, let it sit on the counter for up to three days to ripen. When it's time to eat your melon, wash the exterior well because your knife can carry harmful bacteria to the interior when cutting. Steady it on a cutting board and use a large chef's knife to cut it in half. Scoop out the seeds and pulp from the middle and slice into wedges. The peel is inedible and should be removed or discarded.
What Does Cantaloupe Taste Like?
Ripe cantaloupe is sweet, juicy, and tender. It has a distinctive sweet flavor, and should not be sour or bitter. Unripe fruit has not fully developed its sweetness and tends to be lacking in flavor and crunchy, while overripe fruit has a mushy, mealy texture.
Cantaloupe is frequently eaten fresh in wedges or chopped. It can be eaten alone or mixed with other fruits for a fresh fruit salad. The melon can also be pureed into smoothies or used in cocktails or desserts. It makes a nice summer appetizer wrapped in Parma ham or prosciutto or tossed in a salad. Cantaloupe is rarely cooked but can be briefly grilled or cooked with sugar and pectin to make a jam.
Where to Buy Cantaloupe
Whole cantaloupe is frequently available year-round at most grocery stores with a set price per melon. Sliced or cubed cantaloupe is priced per pound. The melons tend to come from domestic or close-by sources when the fruit is in season in the late summer. Off-season, melons are often shipped from faraway farms. These cantaloupes are picked very green and unripe and left to ripen during the journey. For the best-tasting fruit, buy cantaloupe in season and, whenever possible, from a local source. Late summer farmers' markets are the ideal place to buy a fresh, great-tasting melon.
The taste of fresh cantaloupe is so rewarding that many people living in planting zones 4-11 grow their own—even though the plants require a moderate amount of attention. The vines take up a lot of space in the garden, and the fruit shouldn't sit directly on the ground, so many gardeners prefer growing them on a trellis.
How to Store Cantaloupe
Store a whole cantaloupe on your countertop for no longer than three days or in the fridge for up to five days. Unripe cantaloupes should be ripened on the countertop and prepared as soon as they ripen. Don't stash a ripening cantaloupe near other fruits and veggies since the ethylene it gives off will cause the produce around it to ripen more quickly.
Prepared cantaloupe will last for up to three days in an airtight container in the fridge, but it's best eaten as soon as possible. Excess or overripe cantaloupe can be pureed and frozen for use in smoothies and similar recipes.
Cantaloupe vs. Honeydew
Cantaloupe and honeydew are both types of muskmelon and are both harvested in the late summer. Cantaloupe has orange, tender flesh and a distinctive, sweet taste when ripe. Honeydew has a smooth, pale yellow-green outer skin and light green flesh. It is sweet when ripe with a mild flavor. The melons are eaten in a similar manner and often appear alongside each other in a summertime fruit salad.