We seldom think about fruits as providing a broad spectrum of nutrients. In addition, when this food group gets placed in the nutritional spotlight, it's usually berries that get first mention among the nutritional standouts. Yet judging from its nutrient profile, cantaloupe is a fruit that should get us thinking differently about fruit and nourishment. This member of the melon family receives 10 rankings in our food rating system—the same number as raspberries, 1 more than strawberries, and 6 more than blueberries. Cantaloupe scores an "excellent" for both vitamin C and vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids). It also scores "good" for a host of B vitamins (B1, B3, B6, and folate) as well as vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, copper, and fiber. When the edible seeds of the cantaloupe are eaten, this melon also provides a measurable about of omega-3 fat in the form of alpha-linolenic acid.
Cantaloupe contains more beta-carotene than alpha-carotene. But because it contains both of these carotenoids, it also contains both of their derivatives, including lutein in the case of alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin in the case of beta-carotene. These carotenoid phytonutrients are joined by the flavonoid luteolin, antioxidant organic acids including ferulic and caffeic acid, and anti-inflammatory cucurbitacins, including cucurbitacin B and cucurbitacin E. The nutrient diversity of cantaloupe is perhaps its most overlooked health benefit!
As evidenced by the preceding list of phytonutrients, cantaloupe's nutritional strong suit involves its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. Even while it is relatively low in concentration of certain nutrients (like total polyphenols) in comparison to other fruits, cantaloupe still provides us with important amounts because we tend to eat it in larger serving sizes than other fruits.
Many researchers understand metabolic syndrome—a group of health problems that includes high blood fats, high blood sugars, high blood pressure, and too much body fat—to be caused by problems in lifestyle that result in chronic underlying levels of unwanted inflammation and oxidative stress throughout the body. In this context, it's not surprising to see decreased risk of metabolic syndrome in individuals with especially high intake of cantaloupe (along with other fruits), since cantaloupe provides a wide range of antioxidants that help prevent oxidative stress and a wide range of anti-inflammatory phytonutrients that help prevent excessive inflammation. It's also not surprising to see lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream of persons who have particularly high intake of cantaloupe, since CRP is a marker widely used to assess levels of inflammation in the body.
Unfortunately, most of the other studies that we have seen on the health benefits of cantaloupe are studies conducted on animals rather than humans. This aspect of the research limits our certainty about the health benefits for humans. However, especially promising in the animal research has been studies related to diabetes. Researchers have shown that intake of cantaloupe phytonutrients can improve insulin and blood sugar metabolism. In addition, intake of cantaloupe extracts has been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the kidneys of animals with diabetes, and to improve insulin resistance in diabetic animals.
Given the benefits of cantaloupe for prevention of metabolic syndrome, we would expect to see future studies showing clear health benefits for this melon in the area of heart disease, including atherosclerosis. Many heart-related problems start out with chronic unwanted inflammation and chronic oxidative stress. Hopefully, it won't be long before we have large-scale human studies documenting benefits in this important area.
The fruit widely known as "cantaloupe" throughout the U.S. is actually muskmelon. When we purchase "cantaloupe" in a U.S. grocery store, what we're used to seeing is an outer surface that consists of "netting"—an orderly mosaic pattern - that sits atop and covers the outermost skin (rind). We may or may not also see "ribbing" on the cantaloupe ("ribbing" in the sense of lines running from one end of the cantaloupe to the other, like the seams on a basketball). But if we do see ribbing, it is not usually very heavy or very deep., Melons with a very developed and orderly netting and only mild-to-moderate ribbing are not true cantaloupes but rather muskmelons (Cucumis melo var reticulatus).
Cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var cantalupensis) typically lack an extensive, orderly netting and they have ribs (also called "sutures") that are much heavier and more deeply grooved. In addition, true cantaloupes are grown almost exclusively in other parts of the world (and especially in the Mediterranean region). In fact, the name "cantaloupe" actually comes from the name of a town in Italy near Rome called Cantaloupo in Sabina, where seeds were brought from Armenia and planted in the Papal gardens during the 1400-1500's.) Despite this misnaming of "cantaloupes" in the U.S. marketplace however, from hereon we're going to stick with this common U.S. practice and refer to muskmelons as cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes are members of the cucurbit family of plants (Cucurbitaceae) that also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and a long list of melons. Melons in this same plant family with cantaloupe include Watermelon and honeydew melon, along with crenshaw, casaba, Persian, and canary melon. Because many members of the cucurbit plant family can easily cross-pollinate, there are also many different hybrid melons in the marketplace that combine features of true cantaloupe with features of these other melons.
The ripe flesh of a cantaloupe can vary in color depending on the hybrid. "Jenny Linds" are one example of a green-fleshed hybrid; "Athena" and "Ambrosia" hybrids have salmon-colored flesh; and the flesh of the Gurney's (TM) hybrids typically has a rich orange color. Cantaloupes have a hollow cavity in their center that is filled with edible seeds. In some parts of the world, cantaloupes are known as "rockmelons."
If you read about cantaloupe across the Internet, you may find a good bit of inconsistency involving the language used to describe the parts of this fruit. Some websites use the words "top" and "bottom" when describing cantaloupes. Other websites use "stem end" and "blossom end." Still others use "vine end" and "end opposite the vine end." As such, we wanted to clarify this topic.
When a plant flowers, no fruit forms until pollination (either self pollination or preferably cross pollination). Once pollination has occurred, fruit can begin to form. As the fruit forms, the flower will fall away. The spot where the flower was will become one end of the fruit, and it is called the blossom end. The stem end, of course, will be the end where the fruit remains connected to the plant. If the fruit is an apple, its weight and relationship to the tree branch will typically cause it to hang down from the branch, creating two ends that are truly "top" and "bottom."
But with a fruit like a cantaloupe which sits on the ground, the vine will typically lie alongside of the fruit in such a way that the ends would be more logically described as being on the sides of the cantaloupe, rather on its top and its bottom. Still, the word "top" is sometimes used to refer to the stem end of a cantaloupe, and the word "bottom" is sometimes used to refer to the blossom end.
Historians aren't certain about the exact origins of cantaloupe. The large number of melon family members (Cucumis melo) growing wild in Africa has led some investigators to place cantaloupe's origins on that continent. But African melons may themselves have had ancestors in parts of Asia, including India or China.
Countries in the northernmost part of Africa lie along the south shores of the Mediterranean Sea, and cantaloupe was also enjoyed by people living in the Mediterranean and Middle East region fairly early on in its history. To this day, and on an annual basis, Turkey (3.5 billion pounds), Iran (2.9 billion pounds), and Egypt (2.4 billion pounds) remain major producers of cantaloupe. (The United States follows after Egypt with 2.2 billion pounds of production.) But in first place - and far ahead of these four countries - is China, a country that now produces half of the world's melons (including cantaloupe) at a volume of nearly 25 billion pounds per year.
Attesting to the worldwide popularity of cantaloupe (and melons in general) is the practice of drying cantaloupe seeds for consumption as a snack food. This tradition can be seen in many parts of Central and South America, as well as in Asia and the Middle East.
Within the U.S., California is the largest cantaloupe-producing state and grows over half of all U.S. cantaloupe. Rounding out the top six cantaloupe-producing states are Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas.
Within California, the bulk of cantaloupe production occurs in one of two regions: the San Joaquin Valley of Central California and the Imperial Valley (in the more desert-like southeastern part of the state). In Imperial Valley, spring season melon planting can begin as early as January, allowing for harvest in May, and fall season planting can take place in July, allowing for harvest in October and November.
Despite its own robust cultivation of cantaloupe, the U.S. continues to import cantaloupe in large amounts. In 2010, the U.S. purchased over 425 million pounds of cantaloupe from Guatemala, nearly 300 million from Honduras, over 150 million from Costa Rica, and more than 60 million from Mexico.
The key to purchasing a good quality melon is to find one that is ripe, which is sometimes a challenge because oftentimes they are picked while still unripe in order to ensure that they make it through the shipping process undamaged. There are many clues that you can look for to find a melon that is ripe. The first is by simply picking it up and feeling its weight. Does it feel fuller and heavier than you would expect it to? If so, that's a good thing, because it's an indication of the cantaloupe's ripeness.
Next, tap on the cantaloupe and listen to the sound it makes. If the sound is dull and also deep, that's another indication that you're holding a ripe cantaloupe. But if the sound is higher and hollow, your cantaloupe is probably not ripe.
If you press gently on the top of a ripe cantaloupe (the stem end, where the vine was attached) with your thumb, you should feel it give way very slightly. If that spot gives way substantially, to the point of feeling genuinely soft or even squishy, the cantaloupe is probably overripe. A quick check around different areas of the cantaloupe is also a good idea at this point so you can make sure that there is no bruising or damage.
The appearance of a ripe versus unripe cantaloupe is also different. The rind of a ripe cantaloupe (meaning the outermost layer beneath the netting) is typically going to be cream-colored or yellow or golden but not green or gray. The rind of an unripe cantaloupe is more likely to contain some green or gray. (Don't rely too heavily on this ripeness indicator, however, since some varieties of cantaloupe have rinds that stay green or gray.)
Smelling the bottom of the cantaloupe (also called the blossom end, opposite from the stem end where the vine was attached) can also be helpful in determining its ripeness. Unripe cantaloupes are likely to have a very faint smell, or no smell at all. Ripe cantaloupes are likely to have that spectacular cantaloupe aroma—but not in an overpowering way. If the fragrance is overly strong, the cantaloupe may be overripe.
At WHFoods, we encourage the purchase of certified organically grown foods, and cantaloupe is no exception. Repeated research studies on organic foods as a group show that your likelihood of exposure to contaminants such as pesticides and heavy metals can be greatly reduced through the purchased of certified organic foods, including cantaloupe. In many cases, you may be able to find a local organic grower who sells cantaloupe but has not applied for formal organic certification either through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or through a state agency. (Examples of states offering state-certified organic foods include California, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.) However, if you are shopping in a large supermarket, your most reliable source of organically grown cantaloupe is very likely to be cantaloupe that displays the USDA organic logo.
Once you've found a cantaloupe that gives every indication of being optimally ripe, your next decisions will involve storage. When you get home, place your optimally ripe cantaloupe immediately in the refrigerator, ideally in a crisper bin where there is usually slightly higher humidity. The temperature range of 36-41F (2.2-5C) is best for storing whole ripe cantaloupe. About three to four days is the maximum amount of time that you'll want to store whole ripe cantaloupe under these refrigerator conditions. If you decide to purchase an unripe cantaloupe, it's okay to leave it out at room temperature (non-refrigerated) for a couple of days to allow the texture of its flesh to become softer and juicier. However, it is very important to note that cantaloupe can be left at room temperature only if it is whole, intact, and not yet to the stage of full ripeness. Once the cantaloupe has reached its peak ripeness, refrigeration is mandatory. Regardless of whether a cantaloupe is ripe or unripe, it should not be washed as long as it remains whole and uncut. No matter how well you pat a cantaloupe dry after washing it, the surface of the cantaloupe will absorb moisture during washing and there will be added moisture on the surface of the cantaloupe. This added moisture will increase the likelihood of mold formation and decrease the cantaloupe's shelf life. If you wait and wash your whole cantaloupe just prior to cutting, you'll be consuming the cantaloupe and will therefore not have to worry about shelf life or risk of mold formation.
For some of our favorite recipes, click Recipes.
If you'd like even more recipes and ways to prepare cantaloupe the Nutrient-Rich Way, you may want to explore The World's Healthiest Foods book.
Cantaloupe, cubed, fresh
|vitamin C||58.72 mg||78||25.9||excellent|
|vitamin A||270.56 mcg RAE||30||9.9||excellent|
|vitamin B3||1.17 mg||7||2.4||good|
|vitamin B6||0.12 mg||7||2.3||good|
|vitamin B1||0.07 mg||6||1.9||good|
|vitamin K||4.00 mcg||4||1.5||good|
Density>=7.6 AND DRI/DV>=10%
Density>=3.4 AND DRI/DV>=5%
Density>=1.5 AND DRI/DV>=2.5%