Many people use the terms "muskmelon" and "cantaloupe" as if they are the same fruit, but they are not. True cantaloupe belong to the melon family cantalupensis and muskmelon to the variety called reticulatus. Both are round or oval in shape and grow on a trailing vine along the ground. This fruit can help reduce the risk for cancer, high blood pressure and heart disease. Cantaloupe can also help to prevent cataracts.
The flesh of the cantaloupe has a soft and succulent texture and can be anywhere from a yellow color to salmon. Cantaloupes are very high in vitamin A, with just a quarter of a melon providing up to 3,000 IU of this important vitamin.
The cantaloupe's origins are unknown but many believe it may have originated and been cultivated in Africa, India or Persia. The "true" form of cantaloupe is a species of melon that is mostly found in France. This fruit is a European melon named after the gardens of a castle in Italy.
The cantaloupe is thought to have been named for Cantalupo, a former papal villa near Rome, where this variety of melon was developed. Although true cantaloupes are not grown in the U.S., the version known as muskmelon was brought to the states in colonial times. The muskmelon was not grown commercially until the late 19th Century in the U.S. The major producers of muskmelon today are Turkey, Iran, the U.S. and several Central American countries.
When defined by quality of nutrition per calorie, cantaloupes are very nutrient-dense. A pound of cantaloupe rarely has over 150 calories, yet this fruit contains excellent levels of carotenes, potassium and other health-giving nutrients, particularly if the skin is juiced.
A one-cup serving of cantaloupe has only 56 calories but also provides 129 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin B6 and 90 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C. Cantaloupe is also a good source of potassium, with about 417 milligrams per cup. This fruit also has folic acid, niacin, thiamine, pantothenic acid and is a good source of dietary fiber.
Not many fruits are rich in both beta-carotene and vitamin C, but the cantaloupe is one. Both of these antioxidants can protect against heart disease, cancer and other health conditions related to age, such as cataracts.
Cantaloupe is a good way to consume potassium, a mineral known to help lower blood pressure. Just half a cantaloupe contains 825 milligrams of potassium, which is 24 percent of the recommended daily value for this mineral. Also, the more potassium you eat the more sodium is lost - aiding in lowering the body's blood pressure. This seems to be especially true for individuals who are sensitive to salt.
In one study of more than 10,000 people, those with the highest levels of potassium had the lowest blood pressures. Other studies show evidence that high-potassium diets tend to lower "bad" cholesterol and prevent the chemical changes that allow it to stick to artery walls.
Potassium may also aid in preventing hardening of the arteries and the formation of blood clots which can trigger strokes and heart attacks.
Cantaloupe frequently have pesticide residues on the skins. Organically grown melons may be the best choice. This fruit also contains low levels of oxalates. People who have a history of calcium oxalate-containing kidney stones should avoid or limit their consumption of cantaloupe.
The rind of this melon can become contaminated with animal or human waste while laying on the ground, so it is important to clean the melon thoroughly before cutting. If the melon is not cleaned beforehand, the knife cutting into the flesh can transfer pathogens to the flesh. Surfaces which come into contact with the uncleaned rind should also be thoroughly washed.
Selecting and Storing
There are four signs a cantaloupe is ripe:
- There is a smooth, shallow basin where the stem was once attached.
- The melon has a coarse, thick veining or "netting" over its surface.
- The color under the netting can be seen to be a yellowish or buff color.
- A fragrant aroma can be detected.
Too-ripe melons are very yellow, soft, moldy and watery. A firm cantaloupe can be left at room temperature for a few days to become juicier and softer. Once the melon is at peak ripeness it should be stored in the refrigerator.
Cut cantaloupes should be wrapped well and immediately stored in the refrigerator. Wrapping helps retain the nutrients but also ensures the ethylene gas it emits does not affect the taste of any other fruits stored in the refrigerator.
Serving Ideas for Cantaloupes
This delicious fruit can be eaten raw by itself or served as follows:
- As part of a fruit salad (oranges, berries, bananas, pineapple and kiwifruit are good together).
- By cutting the melon in half and removing the seeds to form a bowl. Sprinkle lime juice on the inside and add cottage cheese, yogurt or sorbet.
- Make an appetizer by tossing chunks of cantaloupe with watercress and lemon.
- Holford, P.(2004). The optimum nutrition bible. London : Piatkus
- Holford, P & Lawson, S. (2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
- Murray, M.T. et al.(2005). Encyclopedia of healing foods. London : Piatkus
- Yeager, S. & Prevention Health Books. (1998). The doctors book of food remedies : the newest discoveries in the power of food to cure and prevent health problems from aging and diabetes to ulcers and yeast infections. [Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale
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