Cantaloupe (Muskmelon) 101 – The Basics
The fruit we commonly call a “cantaloupe” in the United States is actually a type of muskmelon (Cucumis melo var reticulatus). Muskmelons have an outer skin (or rind) covered with what appears to be a “netting” or an orderly mosaic pattern. Sometimes they will have some ribbing, or lines running from end to end, like the seams on a basketball. However, the ribbing is usually not heavy nor deep.
True cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var cantalupensis) do not have extensive, orderly netting on the outer surface, and they have well-defined, deeply grooved ribs. True cantaloupes are grown almost exclusively in other parts of the world, especially in the Mediterranean region.
In this article, for the sake of simplicity and to avoid confusion (at least in the United States), muskmelons will be referred to as cantaloupes.
Cantaloupes are members of the cucurbit family of plants (Cucurbitaceae). This family also includes cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes, gourds, and many types of melons, including watermelon and honeydew melons. Since members of this plant family can easily cross-pollinate, there are many different hybrid melons available.
Cantaloupes grow on low vines and have orange, sweet flesh, with seeds in the center. The fruit is best when eaten fresh and in season, when it is picked ripe. This delicious fruit is often eaten as a snack, breakfast, side dish, or dessert. In many cultures, the edible cantaloupe seeds are often dried and enjoyed as a snack food.
Historians are not certain where the cantaloupe originated. However, melons are often found growing wild in Africa, which leads some to believe they may have originated there. However, they may also have had their origins in parts of Asia, India, or China.
Today, China is the world’s largest producer of melons (which includes cantaloupe). Within the United States, California is the largest producer of cantaloupes, growing over half of all the supply. California is followed by Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas in production. Despite the production of cantaloupes in the United States, in 2010, the country purchased over 935 million pounds of cantaloupes from Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Mexico.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Cantaloupe is an excellent source of Vitamin A (in the form of carotenoids) and Vitamin C. It also has a good supply of potassium, fiber, Vitamin B1, niacin, Vitamin B6, folate, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, magnesium, copper, Vitamin K, manganese, and zinc. It also contains a wide array of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients, including carotenoids, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin, zeaxanthin, luteolin, and more. The edible seeds of cantaloupe also provide a measurable amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of alpha-linolenic acid. These important health-promoting compounds, together with the vitamins and minerals found in cantaloupes, makes them an excellent food to include in your diet. Cantaloupe is full of water and electrolytes, so enjoying some cantaloupe can help to keep you hydrated while balancing your body fluids. One cup of fresh cantaloupe cubes has 144 calories.
Antioxidant and Anti-Inflammatory Support. Cantaloupe’s nutritional strength lies in its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients. The levels of these nutrients may be a bit lower than some other fruits, such as berries, but since the serving size of cantaloupe is often larger than other fruits, they provide important, health-promoting benefits attributed to these nutrients.
Individuals who eat a lot of cantaloupe and other fruit, have been found to have a lower risk of metabolic syndrome. This condition stems from underlying chronic inflammation and oxidative stress that leads to high blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure along with too much body fat. Since cantaloupe offers an array of antioxidants that help prevent oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, individuals who eat a lot of cantaloupes have lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the bloodstream. CRP is a widely used marker to assess levels of inflammation in the body.
Heart Disease Prevention. The fiber, potassium, and Vitamin C found in cantaloupe are important nutrients for heart health. Potassium helps to lower high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Fiber helps to reduce levels of LDL (low-density-lipoprotein) cholesterol, which helps to reduce the risk for heart disease. It also helps to keep blood pressure in check. Many heart-related problems start out with chronic inflammation and oxidative stress. If you want to help lower your risk of metabolic syndrome and related chronic issues, including heart and cardiovascular problems, enjoy cantaloupe and other fruit in your diet as often as you can.
Diabetes Help and Prevention. In animal studies, researchers have shown that cantaloupe phytonutrients can improve insulin and blood sugar metabolism. Cantaloupe extracts have been shown to reduce oxidative stress in the kidneys of animals with diabetes. They have also been shown to improve insulin resistance in diabetic animals.
Cantaloupe has a low glycemic load score of 4. This means it is digested slowly and won’t cause a spike in blood sugar.
Eye Health. One cup of cantaloupe has 100 percent of the recommended intake of Vitamin A. It also has nearly 100 percent of the recommended intake of Vitamin C, the most important antioxidant in the body. If that’s not enough, cantaloupe also contains lutein and zeaxanthin, two important antioxidants that give fruits and vegetables their yellow and red colors. When combined with Vitamin A, these antioxidants work together to play an important role in protecting your vision and eye health. In particular, they may slow the progression of age-related macular degeneration.
Reduced Cancer Risk. Not only can the antioxidants in cantaloupe fight inflammation, reduce oxidative stress, help with blood sugar management, and improve eye health, they can also help to reduce the risk of cancer. Specifically, the antioxidants found in cantaloupe combined with the fiber in the fruit, can help to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
Hydration. Many people go about their days while dehydrated, and they aren’t even aware of it. Mild dehydration can cause dizziness, headache, less urination, dry skin, dry mouth, and constipation. Severe dehydration can be serious and may lead to rapid heart rate, confusion, low blood pressure, shriveled skin, and even unconsciousness! Dehydration is also a risk factor for developing kidney stones, and makes the heart have to pump harder than it should.
Like many melons, cantaloupe has a high water content, being almost 90 percent water. Eating cantaloupe when you can, especially on a hot summer day, helps to keep you hydrated. When it’s available and you’re thirsty, take a drink of cantaloupe! At the same time, the naturally-occurring sugars in the melon will help to give you an energy boost.
How to Select a Cantaloupe
Choose a cantaloupe that is heavy for its size, firm, and a golden-beige color under the outer netting. There should be little to no green color on the rind. Try tapping on the cantaloupe and listen as you tap. If the sound is dull and deep, it’s an indication that the melon is ripe. If the sound is higher in pitch and sounds hollow, the cantaloupe is probably not ripe. Also, press gently with your thumb on the top (stem end, where the vine was attached) of the cantaloupe. If it gives way very slightly, then good. If the spot gives way substantially, to the point of feeling soft or even squishy, the cantaloupe is probably overripe. While you have it in your hands, check the melon all over to make sure there are no bruises or damage anywhere.
Another way to tell if a cantaloupe is ripe is to smell the stem end or the bottom blossom end of the melon. Get up front and close with a melon and take a deep sniff. If it smells like a sweet, fresh, fragrant cantaloupe, then it is. If it has little to no smell, then it’s not a ripe melon and will have little flavor. If the fragrance is very strong, then the melon may be overripe and not your best choice. Try again with another melon until you find one that smells good and opt for that one.
Try to avoid soft, overripe melons, since they are past their prime and will not last long. They may even be starting to spoil. For the best flavor, try to find one that is ripe.
Cantaloupes will not continue to ripen after having been picked, so it is best to find a good, ripe melon while you’re at the store. They will, however, continue to age after harvest, getting softer and juicier. However, that process will only happen at room temperature. Once you cut into your melon, it must be refrigerated, which will slow down any further softening that might happen.
How to Store a Cantaloupe
Ripe, whole, unwashed, and uncut cantaloupe should be stored in the refrigerator for the longest life. If left out, they will continue to age by softening up and getting juicier. Keep it at room temperature for up to three days, if you want it to age some. Refrigerate your unwashed, whole melon if it is at its peak and you want to prevent further aging. Be sure to use it within 5 days.
Once cut, a store-bought cantaloupe will usually keep for 3 to 5 days. It should be wrapped airtight in plastic wrap or cut and stored in an airtight container. Always store cut melons in the refrigerator. However, how long it keeps will depend upon how old it is, or how long since it was harvested. Typically, a freshly picked cantaloupe should keep for up to 2 weeks. However, store-bought melons were not freshly picked so they should be used up as soon as possible.
If your cut melon begins to smell a bit alcohol-like, it has started to ferment and is going bad. It is best to discard it at that point.
How to Prepare a Cantaloupe
Preparing a cantaloupe is easy, but a couple steps are important. Simply rinse off your melon to remove any dirt or debris from the surface. It is important to scrub the outer rind under running water with a brush to help remove any bacteria that may be lingering on the surface. (Cantaloupes are a common fruit associated with foodborne illness because of the potential bacteria harbored within the netting on the surface. Scrubbing with a brush can help to remove those unhealthful bacteria.) Cut the melon in half (either lengthwise or crosswise), scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then slice or cut the melon as desired. If preferred, a melon baller can also be used to scoop out the flesh. Cut the flesh from the rind and serve as needed.
How to Freeze Cantaloupe
Freezing cantaloupe couldn’t be any easier. Simply prepare your cantaloupe as needed by washing, removing the seeds and the rind, and cutting the flesh into desired size pieces. Place your cantaloupe pieces in a freezer bag or airtight container. Close it up and label with the date. Store it in the freezer and use it within one year.
Note that your frozen cantaloupe will have a softer texture once it is thawed. It will not be the best option for a fresh fruit salad. However, it would work well for smoothies, blended into a beverage, or puréed for some other application.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Cantaloupe
* It’s important to know that you should wash off the outer surface of your cantaloupe before cutting into it. Bacteria can linger within the netting on the surface and can cause foodborne illness when carried into the cantaloupe with a knife. So rinse it well under running water while scrubbing the surface with a brush. Then cut your cantaloupe accordingly and be sure to wash the knife and all counter and cutting board surfaces afterwards.
* Try a refreshing cantaloupe beverage on a warm day. Blend until smooth 5 cups of cantaloupe chunks, 4 cups of water, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh lime juice. Add some fresh herbs such as mint or basil, if you want. Sweeten it a bit with a little honey or other sweetener, if needed. Then enjoy!
* Try a cantaloupe fruit smoothie! Blend until smooth 1 cup of cantaloupe chunks, 10 strawberries (fresh or frozen), 1 banana, yogurt for creaminess (optional), and a little milk of choice or water to thin it to the consistency you want. Enjoy!
* Make some easy cantaloupe strawberry popsicles for a refreshing treat on a hot summer day! Blend cantaloupe until it is smooth. Separately, puree or blend strawberries until they are smooth. In a popsicle mold, alternate filling it with the two fruit purees. Add a stick and freeze. Enjoy them within two months.
* For something fun and decorative for a party, serve a mixture of fresh melon and other fruits, like mixed berries and grapes, in cantaloupe halves. Slice a cantaloupe lengthwise, from end to end. Scoop out the seeds, then using a melon baller, scoop out the pulp, leaving the rind intact. To make it fancy, cut a zig-zag pattern along the edge of both hollowed out cantaloupe halves. Then, prepare the other fruit and toss all the fruit in a large bowl. Scoop the fruit mixture into the melon halves and place them on the table so people can serve themselves from the melon bowls. Sprinkle a little dried coconut on top for extra flavor and a decorative garnish. Place a few mint leaves to one side in each half for a little pop of color.
* Alternate melon cubes and other fruit on skewers. Cantaloupe cubes, grapes, strawberries, and even your favorite cheese on a skewer would be colorful and delicious. Serve it with vanilla yogurt as a dip and enjoy!
* Make a simple refreshing beverage by blending cantaloupe with orange juice. Add a touch of sweetener and a couple ice cubes, if desired.
* Try another refreshing beverage for a hot summer day by combining freshly made cantaloupe juice with sparkling water. Add a few ice cubes, top with a mint leaf, and enjoy!
* Make a cantaloupe parfait! In a tall glass, alternate layers of cantaloupe cubes, mixed berries, and banana slices with vanilla yogurt. Top with toasted chopped walnuts, granola, or sliced almonds and enjoy!
* Cantaloupes release ethylene gas, which causes fruits and some vegetables to ripen faster. If you are storing your cantaloupe on the kitchen counter for a few days, keep it away from other fruits and vegetables that may react to the gas, unless you want those other foods to ripen faster.
* If you have cantaloupe that is ripening too fast and you won’t be able to eat it all, puree the melon and freeze it. The puree can later be included in smoothies, beverages, or similar recipes.
* Store cantaloupes unwashed. If you wash one in advance of cutting it, the added moisture to the surface can invite mold to form. Wash it off just before you’re about to cut it.
* Many cultures dry cantaloupe seeds and enjoy them as a snack. You can do this too by simply roasting them at a low temperature. Scoop out the seeds from your freshly cut cantaloupe. Place the seeds in a strainer and rinse them under cold running water while gently pressing the seeds against the strainer to help release the pulp. Drain them well, remove the pulp, then place the washed seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast them at 160-170°F (about 75°C) for 15 to 20 minutes. Roasting them for a short time at a low temperature helps to minimize damage to the healthy oils in the seeds.
* Make an easy cold fruit soup. Blend until smooth some cantaloupe with soft, peeled peaches. Add a touch of lemon and honey to taste and serve.
* Top cantaloupe slices with your favorite yogurt and some chopped mint leaves.
* If you have a recipe calling for cantaloupe and you can’t get one or don’t have enough, the following types of melons may be used as substitutes: Persian, Crenshaw, Santa Claus, Honeydew, Casaba, or Ambrosia melons.
* If you have a need for dried cantaloupe and don’t have any, the following may be used as a substitute: dried mango, papaya, peaches, or nectarines.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Cantaloupe
Basil, cilantro, cinnamon, lemongrass, mint, nutmeg, pepper (black and white), salt, sorrel, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Cantaloupe
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Nuts and nut butters (in general), pork (prosciutto or pancetta)
Vegetables: Arugula, bell peppers, chiles, cucumbers, garlic, ginger, onions (esp. red), tomatoes
Fruits: Bananas, berries (i.e., blackberries, blueberries, raspberries), citrus fruits, coconut, dates, figs, grapes, mangoes, melons (all other types), nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, raisins
Grains and Grain Products: Rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy Products: Buttermilk, cheese (i.e., blue, cottage), coconut milk, yogurt
Other Foods: Agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, oil (esp. olive), rum, vinegar (esp. balsamic), wine (esp. sparkling, sweet)
Cantaloupes have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Desserts, ices and granitas, salads (i.e., fruit), salsas, sorbets, soups (i.e., fruit)
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Cantaloupe
Add cantaloupe to any of the following combinations…
Agave Nectar + Ginger
Basil + Black Pepper + Blue Cheese
Berries + Lemon
Chiles + Cilantro + Garlic + Lime + Onions
Ginger + Lime + Orange
Honey + Lime
Honey + Vanilla + Yogurt
Lemon + Mint
Lime + Mint
Mango + Papaya
Tomato and Cantaloupe Salad https://thishealthytable.com/blog/the-simplest-salad-tomatoes-cantaloupe/
Summer Cantaloupe and Tomato Salad https://minimalistbaker.com/summer-tomato-cantaloupe-salad/#wprm-recipe-container-35273
20 Cantaloupe Recipes for Refreshing Meals https://insanelygoodrecipes.com/cantaloupe-recipes/
Cantaloupe Agua Fresca https://drivemehungry.com/cantaloupe-agua-fresca/#recipe
Cantaloupe Cucumber Salad https://thishealthytable.com/blog/cantaloupe-cucumber-salad/
Melon Fruit Salad with Honey, Lime, and Mint Dressing https://www.cookingclassy.com/melon-pineapple-fruit-salad-honey-lime-mint-dressing/#jump-to-recipe
Cantaloupe Salsa https://www.wickedspatula.com/cantaloupe-salsa/
Spiced Cantaloupe Tea Loaf https://www.jocooks.com/recipes/spiced-cantaloupe-tea-loaf/
Cantaloupe Recipes https://www.foodnetwork.com/topics/cantaloupe
23 Cantaloupe Recipes Ripe for Summer Melon Season https://www.epicurious.com/ingredients/sweet-and-savory-cantaloupe-recipes-gallery
6 Amazing Cantaloupe Recipes for a Sweet Summer https://wholefully.com/cantaloupe-recipes/
7 Fresh, New California Cantaloupe Recipes https://californiacantaloupes.com/7-fresh-new-california-cantaloupe-recipes/
Honey-Melon Salad with Basil https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/honey-melon-salad-with-basil/
Grilled Cantaloupe with Almonds and Feta https://www.savoryonline.com/recipes/167220/grilled-cantaloupe-with-almonds-and-feta
30 Cantaloupe Recipes That Are Ripe for Melon Season https://www.purewow.com/food/cantaloupe-recipes
Cantaloupe-Mint Sorbet https://www.purewow.com/recipes/cantaloupe-mint-sorbet
Cantaloupe and Mozzarella Caprese Salad https://www.foodiecrush.com/cantaloupe-and-mozzarella-caprese-salad/#recipe
Roasted Cantaloupe Salad https://brooklynfarmgirl.com/roasted-cantaloupe-salad/
Savory Cantaloupe Salad https://www.honeyandbirch.com/savory-cantaloupe-salad/
The Joy Kitchen’s Roasted Cantaloupe https://food52.com/recipes/23737-the-joy-kitchen-s-roasted-cantaloupe?clickref=1101liVDYdqC&utm_source=partnerize&utm_medium=affiliate
Cantaloupe Salad with Basil, Fresh Mozzarella, and Onions https://www.thekitchn.com/recipe-cantaloupe-salad-with-basil-fresh-mozarella-onions-174384
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.