Cantaloupe is a sweet, refreshing, and healthy melon. Aside from high water content, it contains nutrients such as antioxidants, vitamin C, and minerals. Its antioxidant content includes selenium, beta carotene, and zeaxanthin which help protect the body from harmful chemicals.
In the United States, cantaloupe melons are available in stores and farmers’ markets from May until September or are imported from Central America, Asia, and New Zealand. While it is best to buy whole melons, many groceries offer pre-cut, chilled cantaloupe.
Selecting Cantaloupe Melons
Several indicators help select the best ripe melon from the farm, a home garden, grocery, and farmer’s market. At a farm or garden, nurseries will usually have a guide to help select the freshest fruit. Melons with a slight crack around the stem are at full slip and ready for harvest. Harvested melons should be kept in the shade or protected from the sun. Excess exposure from the sun results in an accelerated ripening and rapid water loss. It is also best to consume the mature cantaloupe right after being picked.
At the grocery store, ripe cantaloupes will have a sweet smell. Inspect the melon for any bruises, cuts, worms, or other defects. Some melons may have blemishes called ground spots, the spot where it rested on the ground, or discoloration from sunburn. If the purchased melon is not fully ripe, it can be left at room temperature for one to two days.
Although pre-cut cantaloupe is convenient, it is not always safe. Choose a cut melon that has been chilled in the refrigerator or on ice. Ensure that it has been packed well. Exposed melons are vulnerable to fruit flies, bugs, and harmful bacteria like salmonella. Salmonella can result in an upset stomach or food poisoning.
Storing Cantaloupe in the Refrigerator
There are several ways to store and extend the shelf life of cantaloupe. Before cutting or placing whole in the fridge, wash the outside of the fruit. Most likely, cantaloupes were stored on the ground before transport and may contain bacteria from soil, animals, or water.
It will stay fresh in the refrigerator between 5 to 15 days, depending on how ripe the fruit was when purchased. For sliced cantaloupe, use air-tight containers such as BPA-free Tupperware or Ziploc bags. Melons are highly porous, so open exposure in the fridge will cause them to absorb unwanted odors or flavors. Store in the vegetable crisper section since the added humidity will help keep the melon fresh.
It is important to note that melons produce ethylene gas which causes ripening. Ethylene-sensitive produce – such as avocados and cucumbers – may spoil more rapidly when stored with cantaloupe or other melons.
A significant issue with frozen fruits is the loss of texture when thawed due to their high water content. However, freezing is still the most recommended method for preserving cantaloupe. After washing the melon, cut into wedges and remove the seeds and skin. It can be stored as large wedges or cut into smaller pieces. An alternative method is to slice the melon in half, remove the seeds, and use a melon baller.
Freeze dry the melon on a baking tray before storing it in air-tight containers. Due to its high water content, cantaloupes will slightly expand in the freezer. Ensure to leave some space in the container and remove any air from freezer bags to prevent freezer burn. Date and label the containers. Frozen melon will stay fresh between 10 to 12 months, depending on its ripeness.
Cantaloupe can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator but can be consumed when slightly frozen. Although the melon may be slightly mushier than before, it has not lost any sweetness or nutrients; For smoothies, the melon does not need to be thawed.
Alternative Storage Methods
Unlike apples and berries, melons are generally not suited for canning or drying. Instead, melons can be preserved with sugar or syrup; Add enough light syrup to cover the cantaloupe slices.
Lemon juice or other citruses can be added for extra flavor and to balance the sweetness. To preserve with sugar, coat all the pieces with sugar and mix gently. Place the sweetened cantaloupe in freezer storage bags and store for up to one month.
Canning is more suitable for acidic fruits like blueberries and apples. Since cantaloupes are non-acidic, they support botulism or the growth of harmful bacteria in environments with little oxygen, low-acid conditions, and high moisture levels.
Dehydrofreezing is an industrial method of dehydrating up to 50% water content in products containing high moisture levels. Reduced water content lessens ice crystal formation in the freezer and helps retain the original texture of fruits and vegetables.
In a study, researchers reported that cantaloupes could be preserved using dehydrofreezing methods. Results showed a possible new way of processing melons after cantaloupe cubes were submerged in sucrose syrup, stored at -4°F (-20°C) for 4.5 months, and thawed.
In another study, researchers observed the effect of freezing on cantaloupe melons. They determined that liquid-nitrogen ultra-rapid freezing resulted in uniform ice crystals and affected the texture of cantaloupes less than slow-freezing at -0.4°F (18°C). Freezing also decreases enzymatic activity causing ripening but cannot be inactivated completely.
Lastly, prolonged storage in the freezer reduces compounds, also known as esters, that give melons their taste and aroma. This is why thawed melons may be less sweet or taste too watery.
Cantaloupes are low in calories, with about 53 calories per one-cup serving. One serving contains 106% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A (700 to 900 micrograms for adults). The melon also provides about 58 milligrams of Vitamin C, 90% of the 65 recommended daily amount. Both Vitamin A and Vitamin C are antioxidants and are vital for a healthy immune system.
Other nutrients in cantaloupes include potassium and folate. Potassium is a type of electrolyte involved in muscle and nerve functions. Folate, also known as Vitamin B9, helps make healthy red blood cells.