“Succulent” is a perfect word for the juicy flesh of the peachy-orange cantaloupe, one of the most refreshing summer fruits. It's a member of the cucurbit family of plants, along with cucumbers, pumpkins, gourds, and other melon varieties, like honeydew. Their cultivation is widespread throughout the world, including the US. California wins the prize for highest production, although we still import from South and Central America because consumption is high and it's a warm-season crop.
Sometimes it's difficult to know when cantaloupes are ready for the knife. A few clues: they're inordinately heavy; the stem end gives just a bit when pressed with your thumb (too much and it may be over-ripe); a firm knuckle rap will sound low and rather hollow.
Once you get the fruit inside, it should be washed thoroughly before being placed on a towel in the fridge to chill. It’s tasty when chopped up and mixed with other fruits, such as watermelon, honeydew, and a few strawberries and blueberries thrown in for a colorful breakfast, brunch, or snack.
The exterior of what many of us call cantaloupe, with its tough, net-like, reticulated rind (hence the botanical name), may actually be a muskmelon. True cantaloupes (Cucumis melo var cantalupensis) don't usually have the even-patterned netting, and do have deep, end-to-end grooves like a basketball. Both types are referred to as cantaloupe in the US.
Health Benefits of Cantaloupes
Like other plant-based foods, cantaloupes have their own unique set of nutritional attributes. These include fiber, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, and one of the highest sources of vitamins A (108% of the daily value) of any fruit, while being low in sodium, fat, and cholesterol. Manganese, a co-factor for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, is essential for maintaining strong antioxidant defense, good vision, healthy mucus membranes and skin, and is a known protectant against lung and mouth cancers.
Providing an excellent source of vitamin C (98% of the daily value) to defend the body against infection, cantaloupes are also an excellent source of potassium, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure and protects against stroke and coronary heart diseases. It has antioxidant flavonoids in abundance, such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin, a carotenoid absorbed into the retina, where scientists believe it may provide light-filtering functions to protect against age-related macular degeneration. The flavonoid cryptoxanthin shields cells and other areas of the body from free radicals, and may ultimately inhibit colon, prostate, breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers.
However, consume cantaloupes in moderation because they contain fructose, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts.
Cantaloupes are also one of several foods often contaminated by toxic insecticides, so it’s best to buy them organic.
Cantaloupe Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Cantaloupes
One study determined that cantaloupes have as much as 60% more β-carotene than honeydew melons.1 Other research was conducted to evaluate the superoxide dismutase (an enzyme that repairs cells and reduces damage by superoxide, the most common free radical in the body) activity in cantaloupe extracts. Results indicated the importance of superoxide dismutase activity for the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties offered by eating cantaloupe, preserved during the digestive process.2
Another study found cantaloupe to be one of several fruits and vegetables specifically linked with lowered breast cancer risk.3
Cantaloupe Healthy Recipes:
|1 medium cantaloupe, cut in half and seeded
||4 oranges or 2 cups strawberries
||2 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
|12 ounces rainbow sherbet
||Garnish: mint sprigs
- Scoop out the melon with a melon baller.
- Section oranges or slice strawberries, combine with the melon and oranges /strawberries in a bowl and chill.
- Sprinkle the confectioners' sugar in a pie plate, dampen the rims of six dessert glasses, and dip the rims individually in confectioners’ sugar.
- Divide the fruit mixture among glasses, top each with a scoop (or two) of sherbet, and garnish with a sprig of mint. Enjoy immediately.
This recipe makes 6 servings.
Cantaloupes Fun Facts
The name originated in Cantaloupo, Italy, where seeds were brought from Armenia in the 14th century for cultivation in the Pope's gardens.
Cousins to cucumbers and squash, cantaloupes are one of many varieties of melon, all known for their sweet juiciness. One of the garden's most refreshing delights, cantaloupes also contain notable nutritional qualities. One of them is fiber. Vitamins A and C serve up eye protection and amazing antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capabilities, respectively. These and other compounds actually inhibit several types of cancers.
A healthy serving of cantaloupe imparts a greater amount of body-beneficial nutrients, so remember: When you're passing around the cantaloupe, don't worry about the carotenoids and flavonoids — they're in there.