Ripe North American cantaloupes (C. m. reticulatus)
|Cucumis melo cantalupensis
Cucumis melo reticulatus
Cantaloupe (also cantaloup and cantalope) is the common name used for two varieties of muskmelon (cultivars of Cucumis melo), which is a species in the flowering plant family Cucurbitaceae (a family that includes nearly all melons and squashes). The two varieties called cantaloupe are Cucumis melo var. reticulus (the variety mainly used in the United States), and Cucumis melo var. cantalupensis (the variety mainly grown in Europe and Asia).
Beyond satisfying physical needs of the human body with their nutritional value, cantaloupes also provide joy to humans with their rich taste and unique texture. Human creativity has taken the wild species, cultivated it, and developed many new varieties, with diverse tastes, textures, and colors.
The interconnectedness of nature is reflected in the reproduction of the cantaloupe, which involves a symbiotic relationship with pollinating bees, which receive food in exchange for pollinating the flowers.
Overview and description
The term muskmelon refers to the many cultivars of Cucumis melo, and is one of the broader group of fruits grown and traded as melons. It is an accessory fruit of a type that botanists call a false berry. The varied cultivars produced have been divided into multiple cultivar groups. Two of these are:
- Cantalupensis group. This includes the European "cantaloupe" with skin that is rough and warty, not netted. This melon is not cultivated in North America.
- Reticulatus Group. This includes the "netted melon," "winter melon," and "North American" cantaloupe." Other common names are the "nutmeg melon" and "Persian melon." "Muskmelon" also is sometimes used to refer to this type in particular. These are the most popular melons cultivated in commerce. They are classified as Cucumis melo melo var. cantalupensis by some authors.
Cantaloupes are typically 15–25 centimeters in length and are somewhat oblong, though not as oblong as watermelons. Like all melons, cantaloupes grow best in sandy, well-aerated, well-watered soil that is free of encroaching weeds.
The European cantaloupe, Cucumis melo cantalupensis, has lightly-ribbed, pale green skin that looks quite different from the North American cantaloupe. It has a harder rind and deep vein tracts.
The North American cantaloupe, Cucumis melo reticulatus (or C. melo melo var. cantalupensis), is common in the United States and in some parts of Canada. It is named reticulatus due to its net-like (or reticulated) skin covering. In some parts of Australia and New Zealand, it is usually called rockmelon due to the rock-like appearance of the skin of the fruit. It is a round melon with firm, orange, moderately-sweet flesh and at maturity a thin reticulated light-brown or tan rind (immature is green). Varieties with redder and yellower flesh exist but are not common, and they are not considered as flavorful as the more common variety.
The cantaloupe was named after the commune Cantalupo in Sabina, in the Sabine Hills near Tivoli, Italy, a summer residence of the Pope. It was originally cultivated about the year 1700 from seeds brought from Armenia, part of the homeland of melons.
The most widely enjoyed variety of European cantaloupe is the Charentais, cultivated almost exclusively in France. Pope Innocent XIII (1721-1724) is said to have enjoyed sipping Port wine from a partially hollowed melon half as an apéritif.
Cantaloupes were first introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1494. The W. Atlee Burpee Company developed and introduced the "Netted Gem" in 1881 from varieties then growing in North America.
Production and use
For commercial plantings of Cucumis melo reticulatus, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends at least one hive of honeybees per acre (4,000 m² per hive) for pollination. Good pollination is essential, not only for the number of fruits produced, but also for the sugar content of these fruits.
A ripe North American cantaloupe will have a musky sweet smell at the stem end of the melon. An odorless one is likely to be tasteless, too. The pale orange flesh is extremely sweet and juicy (Herbst 2001).
Cantaloupe is normally eaten as a fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice-cream or custard. Melon pieces wrapped in prosciutto are a familiar modern antipasto.
Because the surface of a cantaloupe can contain harmful bacteria—in particular, salmonella (NSW 2006)—it is always a good idea to wash a melon thoroughly before cutting and consumption. Optimum preparation procedures involve disinfection with a fine mist of ethanol on the outside of the fruit, but this is rarely carried out (outside of professional facilities) due to the relative non-availability (to the average consumer) of ethanol that is not mixed with methanol (methylated spirits) or traces of benzene (laboratory grade "100 percent" ethanol).
Cantaloupes also 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 up regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical in promoting health of the endothelium and prevention of heart attacks.
- Herbst, S. T. 2001. The New Food Lover's Companion: Comprehensive Definitions of Nearly 6,000 Food, Drink, and Culinary Terms. Barron's Cooking Guide. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series. ISBN 0764112589.
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS). 2007. Cucumis melo L.: Taxonomic serial no. 22362. ITIS. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
- Mabberley, D. J. 1987. The Plant Book. A Portable Dictionary of the Higher Plants. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521340608.
- New South Wales Government (NSW). 2006. Rise in salmonella potentially linked to rockmelons. NSW Department of Health October 26, 2006. Retrieved August 19, 2007.
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