Introduction to Cantaloupes
Cantaloupe is a fleshy fruit with strong musk like smell and sweet taste. The skin has a dry, coarse texture. The scientific name for cantaloupe is Cucumis melo and it is a member of the same family as cucumbers, squash, pumpkin and gourds, growing on long training vines. Initially, there was only one true cantaloupe, the kind grown in Europe, but more recently the word cantaloupe has come to mean all melons having orange flesh. The European variety (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) or the true cantaloupe is recognized by its greenish-orange flesh, smooth skin, and prominent ribs similar to those found on a basketball. The North American variety (Cucumis melo var. reticulus) is really a muskmelon, sometimes referred to as rock melon due to its rock-like look and netted rind.
The true cantaloupe was cultivated in America until the late 19th century, but the easier to grow and more sun loving netted variety with longer growing season became more popular. Eventually only the latter variety was cultivated commercially but the name cantaloupe stuck.
History of Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes are believed by some historians, to initially have been cultivated in Greece and Egypt during the biblical times as long ago as 2400 B.C. Historical evidence points to extensive cultivation of melons in the region of the Nile valley. Some Egyptian paintings even have depictions of melons. Others claim that their origin lies in Iran, Armenia, and India. The Romans used melons in cooking as indicated by “Apicius”, a book of Roman recipes, and it is believed that they got their supplies from Armenia. The initial fruits were much smaller that the varieties common today, and probably not as sweet either.
Serious cultivation of cantaloupes started in Italy in the fourteenth century. Through selective breeding, the Italians improved the size, quality and taste of melons. It is believed that the name “cantaloupe” developed from the town in which they were first cultivated after having the seeds brought over from Armenia. According to legend, they were cultivated in the Papal gardens in the town of Cantalupo, near Tivoli. The only issue is that there were around seven towns with this name in Italy at the time and even one in France. So it is difficult to say with any precision where they were cultivated first, other than that they were cultivated in that region.
Due to the work done on cantaloupes by the Italians, the popularity of the fruit grew and spread into Spain during the fifteenth century. The Arabs established the trade of cantaloupes through their settlements in Andalusia. Christopher Columbus transported the seeds to the Americas on his second voyage and introduced them to the various locations he sailed through including Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico. France started cultivating cantaloupes in the seventeenth century, and referred to them as “sucrins” meaning sugar. Today cantaloupes are cultivated on all continents of the planet other than Antarctica.
Health Benefits of Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes are prized for their sweet taste, enticing aroma, and low calorie content. One cup of diced melon has only about 60 calories and is 89% water. It is the perfect addition to any summer diet to help keep you hydrated. They are jam packed with nutrients that provide a truck load of health benefits.
Cantaloupes contain large amounts of beta-carotene, which is converted by the body to vitamin A. Both of these are essential for good eyesight. High amounts of vitamin A consumption can reduce the incidence of cataracts by as much as 40%, thus reducing the risk of cataracts surgery. Additionally vitamin A helps to eliminate dry eyes, improve night vision and reduce macular degeneration of the eyes. One cup of diced cantaloupe provides a day’s supply of this nutrient.
The potassium in cantaloupes is essential for contraction of the heart and a number of other smooth muscles in the body. It regulates heartbeat thus promoting oxygen supply to the brain and regulating the amount of water supply in the body. As a result you feel more relaxed and stress free. Potassium also helps to excrete sodium from the body and is beneficial for people with salt-sensitive hypertension. While excess amounts of potassium can be toxic for individuals with kidney problems; acquiring too much of the mineral by consuming cantaloupes is unlikely. Cantaloupes also contain a micronutrient myoinositol, a lipid that helps with anxiety and insomnia. They also have the largest amounts of digestive enzymes.
The nutrients and minerals combined in cantaloupes equip the body to recover from nicotine withdrawal. For someone trying to stop smoking, the regular use of cantaloupes in the diet will make the process easier. Also smoking exhausts the vitamin A in the body, and intake of cantaloupe will replenish it with beta-carotene.
Another compound found in cantaloupes is adenosine. This is usually given to heart patients as it has blood thinning abilities. Thin blood means there are fewer chances of clots hence, fewer chances of strokes of heart-attacks. Folate is another compound present in the fruit which is important in keeping the cardiovascular system healthy.
A glass of cantaloupe juice is beneficial for women near the time of menstruation. It helps to reduce excessive flow and clots while minimizing muscular cramps due to potassium deficiency. It is also a valuable source of vitamin C, an antioxidant responsible for removing cell damaging, free radicals from the body and strengthening the immune system.
Cantaloupes are great because one cup of the diced fruit delivers no fat, no cholesterol and only around 60 calories. It also provides fiber, protein and host of other micronutrients, vitamins and minerals. The same serving delivers 120% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin a, 108% of vitamin C. It satisfies 2% of the daily needs of each of the following calcium, iron, riboflavin, pantothenic acid and zinc. It also supplies 3% phosphorous, 4% copper, 5% magnesium and thiamin, 6% niacin and vitamin B6 and 14% potassium.
Uses of Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes are not suitable for cooking, but they can be used raw in fresh sweet and savory preparations. Cantaloupes can be enjoyed as breakfast fruit or in salads and as a part of cold desserts. In salads they combine well with feta and goat cheeses, almonds, hazelnuts, citrus and mint. They are ideally suited for turning into smoothies and juices.
Spiced Cantaloupe Smoothie – Makes two servings
- 10 ice cubes
- 1 cup cantaloupe
- 3 0z. plain yoghurt
- 1½ Tbsp sugar, or if you prefer use honey instead
- ¾ fresh ginger grated
Add everything in a blender and puree until smooth. Sugar or ginger can be adjusted according to taste.
Another great way to enjoy cantaloupes is to make melon-lollies. This is a summer treat even the kids can’t pass up.
- 4 cups cantaloupe, diced
- 1 lime
- 1 Tbsp. honey (optional)
- Blend the juice of one lime with the diced cantaloupe in a blender, and blend for 30 seconds.
- Pour the mixture into molds and freeze for a minimum of eight hours.
For the melons which have been left out and become overripe with soft spots, simply juice them. A melon that might not be the optimal texture for eating is perfect for juicing. Just cut and throw out any parts that appear to have external mildew. Cut it up and juice it with seeds and all. Research carried out at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, indicates that fully ripe fruits, even to the point of spoiling contain more antioxidants than under-ripe fruits. A major point to note is that a lot of the cantaloupe’s nutrients are housed in the rind. So when juicing, cut close to the outer netted skin, keeping the maximum amount of the green inner layer, and juice it with the rest of the melon.
Cantaloupes work well as beauty products too. The beta-carotene, when converted to vitamin A in the body helps to produce clear fresh looking skin. It thins the exterior layer of skin containing the dead cells which can clog pores and even lead to blemishes1, 2. Another benefit of cantaloupes is that they help to prevent wrinkles. According to studies, beta-carotene helps to enhance skin elasticity and stop skin’s premature aging3.
The American Cancer Society advocates the use of melons as potent components in the battle against intestinal cancer and the more common melanoma (skin cancer).