A cantaloupe melon (Cucumis melo) is one of the oldest cultivars of melon and a favorite among many. It's an annual vine with coarse, rounded to lobed leaves and bears delicious melons typically weighing between two to five pounds each. Its outer skin is hard yet smooth, and a creamy yellow-orange color with a slightly ribbed texture. When it's fully ripe, it has a sweet musky aroma and is typically eaten fresh, in salads, smoothies, and more.
Some of the earliest mentions of a cantaloupe melon come from documents from the ancient Egyptians. In several hieroglyphics from around 1550 BC, melons are illustrated in scenes depicting sacrifice and mourning. Although the plant is native to tropical Africa, it's believed that by 500 BC, it had been incorporated into the diets of the Mediterranean and ancient Greece, appearing in recipes and used as a medicinal plant. It's also believed that the Romans used this melon during fasting with their breakfasts, as it was thought to contain beneficial health properties.
Through the Crusades, this type of melon was introduced to much of Europe, later making its way to the United States and other parts of the world. By the 19th century, this melon had become a popular staple in American diets.
The plant itself grows to about five to seven feet in length and bears a number of look-alike melons. Most have a smooth and often ribbed or netted outer skin, while some have slightly indented ridges at the point—these are referred to as "netted" varieties. The flesh of the cantaloupe usually has an orange or yellow-orange color and it typically contains up to a dozen seeds.
Cantaloupe melons are a good source of vitamins and minerals with particularly high concentrations of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and a variety of naturally occurring phytochemicals (plant compounds) including carotenoids, glycosides, and flavonoids.
Some of the most popular ways to enjoy cantaloupe melon include cubed and added to green salads, blended into smoothies, or simply eaten raw as a snack. Cantaloupe pairs well with both savory and sweet dishes, like grilled chicken and salad, fruit salads, sorbet, or packed in lunch boxes. Although not as sturdy as a honeydew melon, it still keeps for about five to seven days in the refrigerator.
Growing cantaloupe plants is relatively simple and it'll take about 75 to 90 days from the time you plant the seed until the fruit is ready to harvest. They need plenty of sunlight and usually like fast-draining soils with a pH of 6.0 to 6.8. They should be watered regularly and grow best when they are provided with regular feedings of a balanced fertilizer or compost tea.
All in all, the cantaloupe melon is a delicious and nutritious fruit that is perfect for summer snacking and a great addition to salads, smoothies, and other dishes. Whether you choose a seeded or netted variety, it’ll surely be a tasty treat!