How to Pick the Perfect Sweet Cantaloupe: 6 Tips
Choosing a Good Melon Is Tricky Business
Nothing is worse than cutting into what you thought was going to be a sweet, juicy, ripe cantaloupe—only to find that it is inedible. It can be difficult to identify a good one at the grocery store, and since it won't ripen further once you get home, there's no way to fix a mistake.
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, cantaloupe is also known as sweet melon, muskmelon, rockmelon (Australia), and spanspek (South Africa).
How to Tell If a Cantaloupe Is Ripe
- Look it over: The overall color of the rind should be beige, sandy gold, or creamy yellow—but not green (green indicates unripe). The webbing should appear as strong, raised ridges. If you see a large, smooth yellowish spot or patch on the surface, that's where the cantaloupe was resting in the field. The yellowish spot can indicate that the melon is ripe.
- Check the stem: The stem end should appear round, smooth, and slightly concave (indented). You shouldn't see any part of the stem still attached, as a ripe melon will naturally detach from its stem. Any bit of a stem attached means that the farmer cut off the melon too soon.
- Smell it. A ripe cantaloupe should have an overall sweet smell, but I get the absolute best melon by putting my nose close to blossom end (the end opposite the stem). It should smell sweet and slightly musky. If it doesn't smell good, I don't buy it. If it smells overpoweringly sweet, or if there's any kind of fermented odor, it's overripe.
- Feel it: A good cantaloupe should feel firm all over—but not rock hard. If you find any soft or squishy spots, that's usually a sign of rotting. Gently press the blossom end: you should feel a bit of give.
- Pick it up: A good cantaloupe should feel heavy. Compare the weight of at least a few melons. Choose the one that is the heaviest.
- Give it a tap: Tap the melon a few times with your hand or fingers and listen to the sound. You should hear a low, solid sound. If it sounds high-pitched or hollow, that's not a good sign.
The Sniff Test
Blossom End vs. Stem
Cheat Sheet: Picking the Perfect Cantaloupe
Beige, sandy gold, or creamy yellow
Webbing on rind
Strong, raised ridges
Round, smooth, concave, no stem still attached
Sweet and slightly musky
Firm (not rock hard or soft/squishy)
A bit of give when gently pressed
Low and solid (not hollow)
Handling and Storage Notes
Ripening: Once the melon has been picked from the vine, it will not ripen further. This means that it's important to choose a ripe melon at the market, as it will not continue to ripen on your kitchen counter.
Safety: Always thoroughly wash the cantaloupe before cutting it—the skin of the melon can contain harmful bacteria, including Salmonella and Listeria. Wash under running water and scrub the rind with a hard brush. Don't use soap, which can absorb through the rind into the fruit inside.
Storage: A whole, uncut cantaloupe can be kept in the refrigerator for a bit more than a week. Once you've cut into it, though, the fruit will keep in the fridge for only a few days (store in an airtight container for best results).
Always thoroughly wash a cantaloupe before cutting it—the skin of the melon can contain harmful bacteria.
Health Benefits of Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe has many health benefits. It is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6, and C. It is rich in beta carotene, which can act as a powerful antioxidant in the body. It also contains potassium, folate, niacin, pantothenic acid, thiamine, and is a great source of fiber.
Research suggests that eating this melon can help promote healthy hair and skin, improve cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and preserve eyesight during the aging process. For diabetics or those at risk for diabetes, it may also help reduce oxidative stress in the kidneys.
Recipes: Beyond Fruit Salad
- Likely origins in ancient Persia. We don't know with absolute certainty where the cantaloupe originated, but experts agree that ancient Persia is one of the most likely candidates. North Africa and India are also strong possibilities.
- Named after a town in Italy. The melon's name derives from the Italian town of Cantalupo, just outside of Rome, where the pope used to have a country estate. Cantaloupe seeds were brought here as a gift from Armenia in the 14th century; this was the first time the fruit appeared in Europe.
- It may have killed a pope. Elected in 1464, Pope Paul II was famously crazy about cantaloupe. When he died suddenly after eating dinner one summer evening in 1471, his death was blamed on severe indigestion after consuming two whole melons.
- A Christopher Columbus connection. During his second voyage in 1493-94, Columbus brought cantaloupe seeds, among many other crop seeds, to the New World.
- China grows about half of the world's cantaloupes. Other major growers include Turkey, India, Egypt, and Iran.
- The average American consumer eats 27 pounds of melon per year. This figure, from the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, includes all melons, including watermelon, honeydew, and others. Still, that's a lot of melon!
- The seeds are edible. Often dry roasted, cantaloupe seeds are popular snack throughout Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia.
Which method do you use to select cantaloupe?
Resources and Further Reading
- Agricultural Marketing Resource Center (revised December 2018). "Melons." Retrieved July 26, 2019.
- Dean, Sam (June 18, 2013). "The Etymology of the Word 'Cantaloupe'." Bon Appétit. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
- Defeat Diabetes Foundation. "Cantaloupe." Retrieved July 26, 2019.
- Fabricant, Florence (August 21, 1991). "You Can Tell a Melon by Its Cover." New York Times. Retrieved July 26, 2019.
- Healthline.com. "7 Nutritious Benefits of Eating Cantaloupe." Retrieved July 26, 2019.
- United States Department of Agriculture. "Basic Report: Nutritional Values for Cantaloupe." Retrieved July 26, 2019.