Cantaloupes take their name from Cantalupo, Italy where they were cultivated in the 1700s. What Americans call cantaloupes are called muskmelons in Europe and rockmelons in Australia. Today, farmers often use both words, cantaloupe and muskmelon, interchangeably. True cantaloupes, which have smooth to rough skin and are not netted, are not commercially grown in the U.S.

Food historians debate the exact origin of the cantaloupe, which descended from tropical plants and requires warm temperatures; some researchers indicate Persia while others point to either Afghanistan or Armenia. It is agreed that eventually melons made their journey across Europe and from there arrived in the New World when Columbus made his second voyage in 1493 and brought melon seeds with him to Haiti. Following his introduction, Native Americans in both Central and South America cultivated the new melons and by the 1600s cataloupes were grown in North America from Florida to New England. It was not until after the Civil War, though, that cantaloupes became a major crop in the U.S.

Cantaloupes are now grown in many regions of the country, though California contributes more than half of the total with significant production also coming from Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, and Texas.

The cantaloupe is related to the watermelon, honeydew, cucumber, pumpkin, and squash. Routinely, nearly half of a cantaloupe is thrown away as waste; the tough rind and fibrous seed tissue in its cavity are considered inedible. Adventurous juicers, though, often include the seeds as they are extremely high in protein. In many ways, this beautiful melon is a rich source of nutrients and should not be neglected in a healthy diet.

Nutritional Oomph

Like other distinctly orange foods such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes, the cantaloupe is rich in beta-carotene, which your body synthesizes into vitamin A. Known as the eyesight vitamin, vitamin A contributes to cell growth and cell repair while also helping to maintain healthy skin. Additionally, cantaloupe is an excellent source of vitamin C, which helps your body fight infection. Unlike many foods, it is particularly easy to eat enough cantaloupe to receive your daily requirement of each of these vitamins; two large wedges should do the trick.

Cantaloupe melon is also a good source of some of the B vitamins: niacin, B6, and folate. This cluster performs many tasks, including promoting red blood cell production, aiding metabolism, and synthesizing and repairing DNA. Folate, in particular, helps cells divide and grow so it is especially important to infants and fetuses. In addition, the sweet-tasting flesh of this beautiful melon provides a solid portion of potassium, which helps your body maintain its balance of electrolytes.

Although a large portion of a cantaloupe's calories derives from sugars, an entire large melon is just 227 calories. Low in saturated fat and sodium, cantaloupe is also very low in cholesterol. Plus, it is a source of fiber and so will help everything you consume gently move through your digestive track. Weight loss advocates as well as nutritionists frequently recommend this melon.

Choosing a Cantaloupe

To select a cantaloupe from the array in the produce aisle, first inspect the color; you want one that is more beige than green. It takes cantaloupes three to four months to grow before they are mature enough to be harvested, but they are often picked and packaged before fully ripe. If you cannot find a ripe one, know that it will continue to ripen on its own so let it sit on your counter at home for as long as necessary. Next, hold the melon to make sure it is firm without being rock hard or squishy in any spot. Finally, lift it to your nose to make sure it smells sweet!

The one major caveat with cantaloupes is the surface may contain harmful bacteria — in particular, Salmonella. For instance, last October, a total of 261 persons from 24 states reported an infection with strains of Salmonella typhimurium and Salmonella newport found on cantaloupe. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made these suggestions:

  • Wash your hands before and after handling any melon.
  • Wash the surface of a cantaloupe and then dry it with a clean cloth or paper towel before cutting.
  • Promptly refrigerate cut cantaloupe.