You know that ubiquitous greenish-orange melon that we've been calling a cantaloupe all these years? Turns out it's actually a muskmelon. But no matter what you call it, it's a true summertime favorite. A Middle Eastern proverb puts it best: "He who fills his stomach with melons is like he who fills it with light--there is a blessing in them."
Blessings are indeed to be had in abundance from this delightful fruit that goes right to the head of the class. The website The World's Healthiest Foods (whfoods.org) gives what we call cantaloupes an A+, due largely to the staggering amounts of vitamins A and C they contain. Just 1 cup of the sweet orange flesh offers more than 100 percent of the Daily Value for vitamin A and just under 100 percent for vitamin C--with only 56 calories.
Vitamin A has been proven to be especially important for eye health, contributing to a reduced risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration. And a study at Kansas State University found that vitamin A can help to offset the deleterious effects of second-hand smoke and to ward off emphysema.
Vitamin C, of course, is a powerful antioxidant. And when you combine it with the beta-carotene that naturally contributes to the cantaloupe's vibrant orange color, you've pretty much covered many of your bases for reducing the risks of cancer and heart disease. An assortment of B-vitamins and minerals rounds out the cantaloupe's nutritional profile, making it a premier choice for your daily fruit allotment.
Did You Know?
- Cantaloupe is a member of the same family as cucumber, squash, pumpkin, and gourd.
- The melon's peak season is June through August.
- 1 cup of cantaloupe has just 56 calories.
- Cantaloupe is named after Cantalup, the Italian village where the melon was first cultivated.
Pick the Perfect Melon
Studies have shown that the riper the fruit, the higher the vitamin and mineral content--so be sure to choose the ripest melons you can find. They should be smooth and blemish-free, with no soggy spots. The underlying color should tend more to orange than to green; and the stem end should be smooth and slightly concave, with no pieces of stem still attached. When raised to your nose, the melon should give off a slightly sweet fragrance--an overpowering or cloying sweetness may indicate over-ripeness and interior decay.
If possible, store whole melons in the crisper drawer of the fridge, as its mixture of higher moisture level and colder temperature is optimal for cantaloupes. Then just add a little bit of this nutrient powerhouse to any meal--cut it up on your cereal, purée it in a smoothie, mix it into yogurt, or try one of our delicious recipes.
Cantaloupe Salsa Makes 11/2 Cups Top a nice piece of grilled fish with this zesty salsa.
1 cup diced cantaloupe
1/3 cup diced jicama
2 Tbs. thinly sliced scallions
1 Tbs. minced red bell pepper
1 tsp. minced fresh Serrano chile (optional)
1 Tbs. chopped cilantro
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. sugar
- Combine all ingredients. Let stand at room temperature about 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to combine.
PER 1/4-CUP SERVING: 15 cal; <1g pro; <1g total fat (<1g sat fat); 4g carb; 0mg chol; 5mg sod; 1g fiber; 3g sugars
Cantaloupe & Watermelon Salad with Mint Serves 6 A cool and refreshing side salad for a hot summer's day.
2 cups cubed cantaloupe
2 cups cubed watermelon
2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint leaves
3 oz. crumbled French feta cheese
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 Tbs. safflower oil
1 tsp. walnut oil
1 tsp. honey
- Toss cantaloupe, watermelon, and chopped mint in medium bowl. Mound on curved platter, and scatter feta over fruit.
- Whisk together lime juice, safflower oil, walnut oil, and honey. Drizzle honey mixture over fruit, and serve.
PER SERVING: 109 cal; 3g pro; 7g total fat (2g sat fat); 10g carb; 8mg chol; 158mg sod; 1g fiber; 9g sugars
A Word of Caution
Because cantaloupes grow on vines that allow them to rest on the soil, proper cleaning and handling are important. That webbing on the surface has its downside: Bacteria, including salmonella and E. coli, find it an especially hospitable place. The University of California, Davis, recommends scrubbing melons with a vegetable brush under running water, then blotting dry with a paper towel, to remove any bacteria. Start with a clean cutting board and knife, and rinse the knife repeatedly while cutting. Lastly, if you're not eating it right away, wrap the cut melon tightly and refrigerate immediately.