True cantaloupes are European and are not exported to the U.S. North American “cantaloupes” are actually muskmelons. The light orange flesh is mild, sweet, and very juicy.
Cantaloupe (also canteloupe, cantaloup, mushmelon, muskmelon, rockmelon, sweet melon, Persian melon, spanspek (South Africa), or Garma گرما) refers to a variety of Cucumis melo, a species in the family Cucurbitaceae. Cantaloupes range in size from 500 g to 5 kg (1 to 10 lb). Originally, cantaloupe referred only to the non-netted, orange-fleshed melons of Europe. However, in more recent usage, it has come to mean any orange-fleshed melon (C. melo). Cantaloupe is the most popular variety of melon in the United States.
Culinary Uses and Notes
Because they are descended from tropical plants and tend to require warm temperatures throughout a relatively long growing period, cantaloupes grown in temperate climates are frequently started indoors for 14 days or longer before being transplanted outdoors.
Cantaloupes are often picked, and shipped, before fully ripening. Postharvest practices include treatment with a sodium hypochlorite or bleach wash to prevent mold and Salmonella growth. This treatment, because it can mask the melon’s musky aroma, can make it difficult for the purchaser to judge the relative quality of different cantaloupes.
Cantaloupe is normally eaten as a fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice cream or custard. Melon pieces wrapped in prosciutto are a familiar antipasto. While commercial growth of cantaloupes is substantial, their use in commercial products is extremely limited. The melons are primarily used fresh, unprocessed. While generally treated as a fruit, in some cuisines, the sweet flesh is used in recipes as a vegetable. Such dishes as Caponata, a Jewish-Italian vegetable recipe, use cantaloupe as a cooked ingredient.
Because the surface of a cantaloupe can contain harmful bacteria—in particular, Salmonella — it is always a good idea to wash and scrub a melon thoroughly before cutting and consumption. The fruit should be refrigerated for less than three days after cutting to prevent risk of Salmonella or other bacterial pathogens.
A mouldy cantaloupe in a Peoria, Illinois market in 1941 was found to contain the best and highest quality penicillin, after a worldwide search.