Melon

No other fruit says summer like a fresh slice of melon.  Well known for its ability to cool you down and quench your thirst on a hot summer day, melon also gets two thumbs up for its nutrient content.   This month I'm beating the summer heat with our three favourite melons: watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon. 

Melon

Nutrition Notes

Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon are worth adding to your summer diet.  They may get overlooked in favour of more popular fruit, like blueberries or strawberries, but melon holds its own when it comes to health and nutrition.

Thanks to their high water content, melons are exceptionally low in calories.  Gram-for-gram, melons have fewer calories than most other fruit, including apples, grapes, berries and pineapple.  Watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon are more than 90 percent water!  A ½ cup (125 ml) serving of watermelon has only 24 calories, while cantaloupe and honeydew melon have 29 and 32 calories per serving, repsectively.

Despite their high water content, melons still pack a powerful punch in terms of nutrition.  Watermelon for instance, is a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant thought to protect against prostate cancer.  

Cantaloupe is a good source of beta-carotene, another potent antioxidant.  Plus, cantaloupe delivers 31 milligrams of vitamin C per ½ cup (125 ml) serving, almost half the recommended daily intake of the vitamin for women and one-third of a day's worth for men.

Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) watermelon:

Calories 24
Fat 0.1 g
Protein 0.5 g
Carbohydrate 6 g
Fibre 0.3 g
Vitamin C 6.5 mg

Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) cantaloupe:

Calories 29
Fat 0.2 g
Protein 0.7 g
Carbohydrate 7 g
Fibre 0.6 g
Vitamin C 31 mg

Nutrient information per ½ cup (125 ml) honeydew melon:

Calories 32
Fat 0.1 g
Protein 0.5 g
Carbohydrate 8 g
Fibre 0.7 g
Vitamin C 16 mg

Source: Canadian Nutrient File, 2007b

Varieties

There are dozens of different types of melons, including canary melons, casaba melons and ambrosia melons, but watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon remain three of the most popular varieties in Canada.

Melon, sistinguished by its hard rind and sweet, soft flesh, is a name given to various members of the plant family called Cucurbitacaea.

Cantaloupe, also known as nutmeg melon, muskmelon or rockmelon, is popular because it has a very sweet taste.  With a texture that's slightly firmer and creamier than other melons, cantaloupes are noted for their bright orange flesh.  They also have a rough, textured rind that's pale yellow in colour.  

There are two main varieties of cantaloupe, European and North American.  European cantaloupe have grey/green skin that looks quite different than the netted, rough skin of most varieties found in Canada.

Honeydew melons have bright green flesh and a smooth rind that goes from green to creamy white and yellow as it ripens.  It has a mild taste and it's texture is somewhere between the creamy cantaloupe and slightly grainy watermelon.  

Watermelons have rinds with hallmark green and cream stripes and bright pink flesh with small, shiny black or brown seeds.  While there are about 50 varieties of watermelon that vary in size and colour, they all taste more or less the same.  Picnic varieties tend to be much larger compared to icebox varieties that are small, round and compact.

Buying

The key to buying a good melon is to choose one that is ripe.  Tap the melon; a hollow sound indicates the melon is ripe.  Next, choose a melon that seems heavy for its size.  Avoid any melons with visible damage, such as soft spots, cracks of bruises.  

Finally, look where the stem was attached to the melon, this area should be smooth and slightly indented.  When ripe melons are picked the stem falls off easily, leaving a small, clean indentation.  If a melon was picked too early, the stem usually rips off, leaving some stem protruding.  

There's another trick to ensure melon is ripe.  Look for one side of the melon with a distinct yellow or creamy colour that is slightly flat; this is the place that was resting on the ground when the melon was ripening.  If a melon doesn't have this, it's an indication it may have been picked before it was ripe.

When it comes to cantaloupe, your nose can be your best ally at picking a ripe melon.  Cantaloupes are very fragrant when they are ripe; choose melons with a slightly sweet aroma.

Did you know that as fruit ripens, almost to the point of spoilage, their antioxidant levels increase?

Storing

Store uncut melon at room temperature to allow the texture of its flesh become softer and juicier.  

Storing melon at room temperature may also help boost its nutrient content.  A study by researchers at the USDA looked at the effect of storage temperature on the levels of carotenoids in watermelon and found lycopene and beta-carotene increase if melon is stored at room temperature. The researchers found that watermelon stored at 21°C had 40% more lycopene and 139% more beta-carotene than watermelon stored in the refrigerator.

Uncut melon can be stored out of the refrigerator for a few days up to one week.  Once cut, melon should be refrigerated in order to preserve its freshness, taste and juiciness.

Preparing

Before cutting a whole melon, wash it under running water, rinse well and pat dry.  Scrub melons with a rough rind. Because melons are grown in soil, and frequently handled, their rind may harbour bacteria, especially melons with textured rind, such as cantaloupe.

The simplest way to eat melon is to cut the fruit into wedges. Using a clean, sharp knife halve a melon lengthwise, then cut crosswise into wedges.  

If you're preparing a melon with a hollow centre that contains seeds, such as a cantaloupe, use a spoon to gently scoop out the content before continuing. Slide a knife between the rind and the flesh to remove the rind; leave the wedges whole or cut into bite-sized pieces.

Alternatively, for melons that have an oblong shape, such as watermelon, slice about an inch from an end of a melon to make a stable cutting surface.  Stand the melon up, cut side down, and vertically slice the melon in half.  Lay each melon half, cut side down, on a cutting board and slice into 1-inch slices.

Eating

Their sweet taste and juicy texture make melons a refreshing dessert or snack on summer days.  While they're delicious eaten on their own, melons can also be added to other dishes such as smoothies, cold soups, salads and fruit salad. 

Healthy ways to enjoy:

Breakfast

  • Add a handful of diced honeydew melon to a morning smoothie.
  • Top a bowlful of diced cantaloupe with low-fat Greek yogurt and a sprig of fresh mint.
  • Toss watermelon chunks with fresh berries for a light and healthy topping on pancakes and waffles.

Lunch

  • Add diced cantaloupe to a spinach salad for a boost of colour.
  • Make a light and healthy summer salad by tossing diced watermelon with red onion, sea salt and black pepper.
  • Make a refreshing chilled soup by pureeing watermelon, peaches and fresh berries; season to taste with lemon juice and honey.

Dinner

  • Start off a mid-summer meal with a bowl of watermelon gazpacho.
  • Serve grilled steak with cantaloupe salsa.
  • Combine cantaloupe and prosciutto and serve as a first course.

Snacks

  • Serve whole-wheat tortilla chips with watermelon salsa.
  • Make melon pops by pureeing honeydew melon and freezing in popsicles molds.
  • Make fruit kebobs by alternating pieces of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon onto wooden skewers.

Did you know?

  • In China, honeydew melons are called Bailan Melons.
  • It's thought that cantaloupes originated in India and Africa.
  • Cantaloupes were originally cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans.
  • There are more than 1000 varieties of watermelon ranging in size from less than a pound, to more than 200 pounds.

More Information

Muskmelons (cantaloupe) – Foodland Ontario

Watermelon - World's Healthiest Foods 

Honeydew melon – Wikipedia