Melon Guide - Picking the Perfect Melon Each and Every Time|
by Wen Zientek-Sico
Learn about the different varieties of the muskmelon family (all melons except for watermelons) and how to choose the perfectly ripe melon each and every time. For more information about muskmelons, recipes, and information about the popular watermelon family, read our article Melon Madness.
Ambrosia Melon - This netted muskmelon is very similar to the American cantaloupe. The flesh is a deep orange and has a more intense flavor. The scent of the melon, when ripe, is very strong and appealing.
American Cantaloupe - The melons commonly called cantaloupe in the States are actually not technically cantaloupes, although they are a very similar member of the muskmelon family. True cantaloupes are natives of Italy and are only found in Europe. The skin of the American cantaloupe is beige with a grey toned netting flesh is very sweet and pale orange. Ripe "cantaloupes" should be heavy for their size, be very fragrant, and be slightly soft at the blossom end. The skin should be uniform with no soft spots or bruises and the netting should be fairly well defined. "Cantaloupes" really absorb flavors from other foods and should not be stored in close contact with strong smelling foods for any length of time. When most recipes call for cantaloupe this is the melon they are referring to and they are really interchangeable with the "true" cantaloupe in recipes.
Butterscotch Melons - These buttery rich melons are becoming increasing popular at local farmers markets and specialty grocery stores around the country. These small melons have a pale green skin and a two-toned green and orange flesh. The green flesh nearest the rind is edible, and very sweet. Many people think the flesh tastes like butterscotch candy, which is where the name comes from. Ripe melons are paler in color with a sweet sugary aroma.
Cantaloupe - Although similar to what most Americans call cantaloupes, true cantaloupes are only found in Europe and are not exported. The skin is beige with a grey toned netting flesh is very sweet and pale orange. Ripe cantaloupes should be heavy for their size, be very fragrant, and be slightly soft at the blossom end. The skin should be uniform with no soft spots or bruises and the netting should be fairly well defined.
Casaba Melon - The casaba melon is a large melon with a thick-ridged yellow skin. The flesh is wonderfully mild and juicy in flavor, and has a very creamy vanilla-orange color. They are usually available in the mid to late fall. The easiest way to choose a ripe casaba is to look for a slightly soft blossom end.
Charentais Melons - Charentais melons, also called French or French Breakfast Melons are considered by many to be the most divine and flavorful melons in the world. Increasingly popular and quite expensive, they are showing up in markets all over the States. The skin is a grayish yellow-green color and the flesh is very sweet and pale orange. The melons are typically the size of large grapefruits and weight about two pounds. When ripe, Charentais have a wonderfully complex and full bodied aroma with flowery overtones. The skin also loses the grey cast to the skin for a warmer yellow color.
Cranshaw Melon - The cranshaw, or crenshaw melon as it is sometimes spelled, is a very popular and flavorful melon well known for its wonderful aroma and flavor. Available from mid-summer to mid-fall, cranshaws are large oval shaped melons with a yellow-green ridged skin. The flesh is a vibrant orange-pink that has a seductive flavor and scent. Ripe cranshaws are easy to pick out as they are perhaps the most fragrant of melons when they are ripe.
Emerald Jewel - These "gift melons" imported from Japan are the latest trend in flavorful attractive melons. They are typically 3-4 pounds in size and have a netted brown and green skin. The flesh is a bright white and very sweet and juicy.
Emerald Pearl - Another "gift melon" imported from Japan, these melons are my personal favorite. They are typically 3-4 pounds in size and have a netted green skin. The flesh is very sweet and green with a delightful crispness that almost borders on crunchy.
Galia Melons - These delightful honeydew melons are oftentimes labeled as Mediterranean, Passport, Israeli, or Middle Eastern melons are actually a group of melons that are very similar. They all have a golden-green netted exterior and pale green flesh. They have a wonderful aroma and sweet and juicy flavor. Generally Galia melons are riper when they have a lighter, yellow skin and a very strong sweet aroma.
Honeydew Melon - One of the most popular varieties of melon, the honeydew melon is available all year round in most markets, although they are at their peak ripeness in the late summer. The melons are large, round, and should be heavy for their size. Honeydews have an exceptionally smooth pale yellow-green skin and succulent pale green flesh. The best way to tell when honeydew melons are perfectly ripe is to feel the melons. Ripe melons have some very fine veining that you can only detect by touch. The melon should not be soft or scarred in any areas and should be somewhat fragrant.
Juan Canary Melons: Juan Canary or canary melons are widely available across the United States during the summer months in major grocery stores. The bright yellow football shaped melons are very distinctive and the cream colored flesh is widely used in salads and desserts. Ripe melons should be very firm, heavy for their size, and slightly fragrant.
Orange-Flesh Honeydew Melon - Growing increasingly popular, the orange-fleshed honeydew (also marketed as the Temptation Melon) is like a cantaloupe with the size and shape of a honeydew. The melons are large, round, and should be heavy for their size. They have an exceptionally smooth white skin and succulent orange flesh that is very similar to cantaloupe, with a bit more delicate honeydew-like flavor. The best way to tell when orange-flesh honeydew melons are perfectly ripe is to look at the skin. Ripe orange-flesh melons turn a pale orange shade when ripe.
Persian Melon - This netted skinned muskmelon has a beautiful green skin and pinky orange flesh. They are very sweet and are slightly larger than the American Cantaloupe. Ripe Persian melons are noticeably heavier than their unripe counterparts and store very well in the refrigerator for up to a week until you are ready to use them.
Santa Claus Melon - Also called Christmas melon or December melon, the Santa Claus melon is a very popular melon during the winter when it comes into season. The convenient timing for Christmas, the bright green and yellow skin, and the long-lasting qualities of the melon are all attributed as being the reasons for its unique name. Whatever the reason for the name, the Santa Claus melon is very flavorful and is great for salads and other dishes. Many varieties are quite large, and even though they look like small watermelons on the outside, on the inside they are almost exactly like honeydew melons. The ripest Santa Claus melons have soft blossom ends and a distinct yellow tinge to the skin.
Sharlyn Melon - Sharlyn (also spelled Sharlin or Sharilyn) melons are becoming more and more common in grocery stores because of their wonderful flavor and pretty orange-white flesh. The flavor is delicate and tastes like a combination of honeydew and cantaloupe. Sharlyn melons ripen very quickly and do not store well at all. Ripe melons have an orange tone to their flesh underneath the tan colored netting, while unripe melons are greener in tone.
Sprite Melons - These North Carolina specialties are finally being distributed all across the country. These diminutive melons are about the size of softballs and frequently weight less than a pound. They have a very firm and crisp apple-like flesh and the flavor is something like a mixture between pear, apple, and honeydew and is very sweet. Ripe melons have a mottled yellow skin, while unripe melons are a pale cream color.
Tokyo King - These "gift melons" imported from Japan are the latest trend in flavorful attractive melons. They are typically 3-4 pounds in size and have a netted green skin. The flesh is a bright white and very sweet and juicy. They are the classic slightly oval sweet melons that are very popular in Japan and the West Coast.
For more information about muskmelons, recipes, and information about the popular watermelon family, read our article Melon Madness.