Cantaloupe (also known as the cantaloup, muskmelon, cantalope, rockmelon in the family Cucurbitaceae which includes nearly all melons and Squash squashes. Originally, cantaloupe referred only to the non-netted orange-fleshed melons of Europe; however, in more recent usage it has come to mean any orange-fleshed melon.
The European cantaloupe is lightly ribbed, with a gray-green skin that looks quite different from that of the North American cantaloupe. The North American cantaloupe, common in the United States, Mexico, and in some parts of Canada, has a net-like (or reticulated) skin covering.
It is a round melon with firm, orange, moderately sweet flesh and a thin reticulated light-brown rind. Varieties with redder and yellowish flesh exist but are not common in the U.S. market. The cantaloupe originated in India and Africa. Cantaloupes were originally cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans.
Cantaloupes were first introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1494. The Burpee Seeds developed and introduced the “Netted Gem” in 1881 from varieties then growing in North America.
Because they are descended from tropical plants and tend to require warm temperatures throughout a relatively long growing period, cantaloupes grown in temperate climates are frequently started indoors, and grown indoors for 14 days or longer, before being transplanted outdoors. Cantaloupe is often picked, and shipped, before fully ripening.
Post-harvest practices include treatment with a sodium hypochlorite wash to prevent mold growth and Salmonella growth. This treatment, because it can mask the melon’s musky aroma, can make it difficult for the purchaser to judge the relative quality of different cantaloupes.
Choosing a ripe melon depends on the preferences of the individual. For a heavy musk flavor and softer flesh, look for an Eastern Shipper with a strong yellow color, no stem (peduncle) attached, and a strong musky aroma. For a sweeter, crisper melon look for a Western Shipper without stem (peduncle) and a mild musk odor. For a very sweet melon with little or no musk, choose a fruit that has the stem still on the fruit and no aroma.
Cantaloupe is normally eaten as fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice cream or custard. Melon pieces wrapped in prosciutto are a familiar antipasto. Because the surface of a cantaloupe can contain harmful bacteria—in particular, Salmonella it is always a good idea to wash a melon thoroughly before cutting and consumption.
Only store the fruit for less than three days after cutting to prevent the risk of Salmonella or other bacterial pathogens. A moldy cantaloupe in a Peoria, Illinois market in 1941 was found to contain the best and highest quality penicillin, after a worldwide search.
Cantaloupes are a source of polyphenol antioxidants, chemicals which are known to provide certain health benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system. These chemicals are known to regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical in promoting the health of the endothelium and prevention of heart attacks. Cantaloupes also are an excellent source of vitamin C.
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