A Guide to Summer Melons and More

More than just watermelons, cantaloupes, and honeydew, plus tips for buying them

'Tis the season to surround yourself with melons. Although available year round, they reach their sweet, nutrient-packed peak of perfection right around now. They are also the least understood of all summer fruits. Did you know that melons are in the same family as cucumbers and squash? They are all members of the gourd family, except most melons are fruits not vegetables and are luscious, sweet, and juicy, each with its own individual personality and appeal.

There are of course the commonly known melons like cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelons, but there is also a world of melons beyond these summer favorites. On a recent trip through the South, I learned that there are more than 300 varieties of watermelon alone. I tried nearly half and had to be hosed down afterwards, willingly and with much appreciation. Here is a quick melon primer if you're ever looking for something new to try:

So Many Melons, Not Enough Time...

Casaba: Bright yellow with ridges in the skin. Avoid if too soft or blemished.

Crenshaw: Yellow with pink and green tinges on the skin. They have a waxy touch to them until very ripe.

Honeydew: They should be soft and yield to the touch when ripe. Avoid if too hard or dark green.

Canary: Yellow and football-shaped with light green flesh.

Orange Flesh Honeydew: The name basically says it all.

Pepino: It looks more like a giant plum with purple stripes and smooth orange skin than a watermelon. Tastes like a cross between a melon and a cucumber.

Persian: Though it looks like a cantaloupe, the flesh is a bit more yellow colored, but it tastes similar to a cantaloupe.

Santa Claus: Large with mottled green and yellow skin, kind of a camouflage pattern. Flesh is a beautiful light green color.

Seedless Watermelon: Have we become so lazy that we need these? Yes I believe so. They are such a pleasure to eat without having to worry about the pesky seeds.

Yellow Watermelon: It may look like your average red watermelon on the outside, but once cracked open, it reveals yellow flesh that is incredibly sweet.  


Tips for Buying Melons

Finding the right melon in general is often a crap shoot. Sometimes, slicing open a ripe melon leads to love at first bite while other times it’s a total disappointment. Keep in mind that the longer a melon ripens on the vine, the sweeter it will be. Here’s a chef's tip for picking out the perfect melon in the produce section or at your farmers' market.

Using your hand, gently slap the side of the watermelon several times with your ears close by. A high-pitched, dry tone indicates an under-ripe melon. A monotone dead thud indicates an over-ripe melon. A deep-pitched tone indicates a melon that is ripe. Also, smell the stem or other end of the melon for a slightly sweet aroma. 


And They’re Good for You Too

Melons are low in sodium, and very low in saturated fat and cholesterol. They are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin K, potassium, and copper, and a very good source of vitamin C and vitamin B6.


Some Wacky Melon Facts

Watermelons can range in size from seven to 100 pounds.

The world record for the largest watermelon grown is 255 pounds, grown by Vernon Conrad of Bixby, Oklahoma.

The world record for watermelon seed-spitting is 66 feet 11 inches, held by Jack Dietz of Chicago.

Americans purchase and consume about 3 billion pounds of watermelon annually.


Click here to see Tips for Grilling Sweet Summer Fruit. 

Click here to see the Refreshing Watermelon-Feta Salad recipe.

Click here to see the Chilled Cantaloupe-Ginger Soup recipe.