Melons are all "Cucumbers" (Cucurbits or Cucurbitaceae) to
the botanist, along with squash, gourds and actual cucumbers. To the
agriculturist they are are all "vine crops". All are technically "fruit" but
in culinary practice all are treated as "vegetables" except the melons which
are treated as fruit.
©2006 Clove Garden
General & History
There are two broad categories of melon and one odd one.
Melons are generally eaten mature when the flesh becomes sweet, which contrasts with gourds, squash and cucumbers which are eaten immature. The rind is tough but not hard and the flesh is always watery. Most are eaten raw but some are cooked, particularly in soup. Most have thick walls and a hollow center containing seeds, but the Watermelons are solid and uniform all the way through with seeds embedded in the flesh. Most melons will store at room temperature maybe a week and not much longer refrigerated, but there are a few, such as the Hami and Christmas melons that will store much longer at room temperature.
All Melons (with the exception of Watermelons) are of the same species, C. melo, so can be interbred to create new varieties. There are, however, several recognized C. melo varietal groups.
Afghan Melon - [reticulatus group]
This melon is similar to the Persian Melon but
greener with rather sparser netting. They are only moderately sweet so should
be selected with a fair amount of flex at the flower end to assure ripeness. I
haven't seen these for awhile, but they're sure to become more common in the
future. When the U.S. pulls the troupes out of Afghanistan anyone who
cooperated will have to leave the country and they'll head straight for
Los Angeles where every other ethnic group has settled. Soon they'll be
opening restaurants and demanding Afghan melons in the markets.
Ananas Melon - [Middle Eastern melon]
Market size varies widely from 6 inches long and 1-1/4 inches diameter to 21 inches long and 2-1/2 inches diameter but they can grow to a yard long and over 3 inches in diameter. They are very much like a cucumber in structure and in taste, if raw. The skin is very thin and tender and is almost never peeled. Smaller sizes are often pickled and the resulting pickles have a rather different flavor from cucumber pickles.
Armenian cucumbers are seasonally available fresh in Southern California
(May to July) and are grown as a garden vegetable in Florida and other
suitable areas, but I understand they're almost impossible to find fresh in
Armenia. Pickled they can be found in any market serving a Western Asian or
Near Eastern community. They're usually packed in Lebanon or surrounding
regions and labeled "Mikti" or "Wild Cucumber". The front photo specimen
was 12 inches long (uncut), 2 inches diameter and weighed 14-5/8 ounces.
The middle one was 14-1/2 inches long (if straight) 1-3/4 inches diameter
and weighed 10-1/8 ounces
Details and Cooking.
Canary Melon - [Juan Canary,
Jaune des Canaries, Amarillo, PLU #4317, C. melo (Indorus group)]
This bright yellow mellon, oblong and pointy at the ends like an
American football, is now grown by the truck load in California. A fully
ripe Canary is about as sweet as melons get. The flesh is firm, almost
crisp, white to faintly greenish, and light pink or orange around the
seed cavity. Select melons that are bright yellow and springy at the flower
end but not mushy. This melon is a yellow variety of the
Piel de Sapo, a melon popular in Spain. The photo
specimen was 9 inches long, 6 inches diameter and weighed 5 pounds 7 ounces.
This cross between a cantaloupe and a honeydew has been grown more in
South America than in North America, but is becoming more available here.
It's marketed as "Orange Flesh Melon" and "Kandy Melon". The flesh tastes
similar to cantaloupe, is firm, almost crisp, and quite sweet right to the
thin rind. The rind is smooth with some scattered netting and when ripe
becomes quite pale, sometimes almost white. Also look for some springiness
at the flower end. The photo specimen was 6 inches diameter and weighed
3 pound 13 ounces.
The true Cantaloupe is seldom grown outside southern Europe, mostly
Italy. Unlike the Muskmelon the skin is hard, deeply grooved, warty and
lacks the orderly netting of the Muskmelons. See Dulcinea
"Tuscan Style" Cantaloupe and Muskmelon for
melons available in the U.S..
The common market "Cantaloupe" in the U.S. is actually a Muskmelon,
not a True Cantaloupe. I realize the entire fruit and
grocery industries go along with calling it "cantaloupe", but I'm going to
call it a Muskmelon anyway - and besides, that's
what my Connecticut based family called it when I was a child.
Cantaloupe - Athena
A specialty of Dulcinea Farms in California - it is, of course, a
Muskmelon, not a true Cantaloupe.
[PLU #4320, C. melo (Inodorus group)]
This fairly large mellon (4 to 10 pounds) has a wrinkly skin and is usually flat at the flower end and with a point where the stem attaches. The white to slightly yellow flesh has little flavor and is only lightly sweet when the melon is fully ripe. It ripens unevenly, very soft near the seeds and still rather firm near the rind. Personally, I don't see the point of this melon since sweeter, more flavorful melons are available at the same price per pound.
Casabas are ripe when the flower end has plenty of give but is still springy.
This melon has no odor so that isn't an indicator of ripeness, and it does not
slip when ripe so stems or stem tears are not an indicator it was picked too
soon. The photo specimen was 8-1/2 inches diameter, 7-1/2 inches long and
weighed 9 pounds 3 ounces. The Casaba melons originated in western Asia and
in the U.S. is grown mainly in California.
A French variety of the True Cantaloupe from the town of Cavaillon.
It is considered very highly for flavor and is now grown in various places
around the world including the USA. Some are grown in California but I have
yet to see them in the markets - they probably all go to the fancy chef
set. The flesh is a light orange and they are
said to be ripe when a small crack appears at the stem end.
This is a small European melon, globe shaped with a smooth to slightly netted gray, gray-blue or yellow-green rind with distinct but shallow sutures. Flesh color ranges from greenish to intense orange depending on cultivar. Some sources say if the color of the rind becomes yellowish they are over-ripe, but, again, that seems to vary with cultivar - these were just about perfect. as shown.
This is an aromatic melon with flesh that's exceptionally sweet right out
to the very thin rind. Flavor is quite attactive and somewhat lighter than
cantaloupe. This is the favorite melon of the French, who commonly use it as
a breakfast melon. Cut in half it will serve two. They also split them in
half, scoop them out and fill with a sweet wine such as Marsala or Madeira
to serve as an appetizer. The larger of the photo specimens (the cut one)
was 5 inches diameter and 2 pounds 3-1/4 ounces.
Christmas Melon [Santa Claus,
These 5 to 8 pound football (US) shaped melons have a mottled yellow
or green rind and pale green or pale orange flesh depending on variety.
The photo specimen was 8-3/4 inches long, 6 inches diameter and weighed
5 pounds. They are very sweet when ripe and are similar to
Piel de Sapo with some varieties looking very much like
that melon but others are smoother and some have a little or a lot of netting
as in the photo. These melons get the name Christmas or Santa Claus from
their late season harvest excellent keeping properties - even to Christmas
if stored in a cool place.
Citron Melon [Pie melon (U.S.),
Tsanna Citrullus lanatus var. citroides]
This melon is thought to be ancestral to the Watermelon and originated in Africa. It now grows wild in Baja California though no one knows how it got there. It is also both cultivated and considered a weed in much of the Southern U.S. though rarely in pure form there due to accidental cross breeding with commercial watermelons.
This melon is not to be confused with the citrus fruit
Citron, though they are both used mainly
candied or as preserves and pickles. Citron melon is very high in pectin
so is a desirable ingredient for preserves. The flesh is much stiffer and more
strongly flavored than that of watermelon.
Details & Cooking.
Collective Farm Woman Melon
[Cranshaw, C. melo (Inodorus group)]
This is a hybrid between the Casaba and Persian melons that weighs in
at 5 pounds or higher. It is a bit flattened at the stem end giving it an
acorn shape. The skin, though still wrinkly is a bit smoother than the
Casaba. Yellow when ripe, older varieties have green flesh and newer ones
have salmon pink flesh.
An Israeli melon with a netted rind similar to a
Muskmelon but paler in color and not as distinct. The
flesh is pale green to white, similar to a Honeydew,
and has a banana like aroma. These slip their stems when ripe so any stem or
stem tears indicate picking before fully ripe. They are now common in
Southern California, grown here, in the U.S. South and South and Central
Gaya Melon There are several varieties of Gaya mellon, so different from each other you would wonder why they have the same name. The two here are the most available, and both are most likely to be found in Asian markets.
Gallicum - see Ogen Melon.
Green Melon - 
These were sold not quite ripe with crisp, moderately sweet flesh, as would
be expected for a pickling melon. The flesh becomes soft and almost crumbly
when fully ripe, with just a touch of crispness near the peel. Even fully
ripe the flesh is only moderately sweet and the flavor is a bit bland.
Hami Melon - [reticulatus group]
They are generally football (US) shaped with a yellow-green lightly
to only vaguely netted rind and orange, salmon, white or green flesh. The
flesh is distinguished by being fairly crisp, even brittle, and most are just
medium sweet. The flesh freezes well so they are good for frozen deserts.
Hamis keep well and will store for a couple of weeks or more at a cool
Japanese Melon - [ reticulatus
A round to slightly oval melon with strong netting on a green rind.
They are generally 3 to 4 pounds with very sweet white to green flesh.
In Japan these are very expensive "gift melons" selling for around US $100
each. They are hothouse grown with controled heat to assure highest
possible sweetness, and then expensively packaged. These melons don't slip,
but stem tears would be unthinkable, so they are normally sold with a piece
of the vine still attached. Young melons are sometimes scratched to produce
scars if the netting pattern needs a little filling out. In California these
melons could be field grown, but nobody seems to bother.
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Attribution-Share Alike 2.5.
Kiwano - [#4302, Horned Melon, Melano,
Horned Cucumber, Jelly melon, English tomato, Metulon (France),
This odd African melon is grown in the Kenya, Israel, New Zealand and the U.S. as a decorative fruit and in Australia as a noxious weed. Now grown commercially in California they have a long shelf life and are easily shipped so you will find a few in supermarkets but often at prices that will leave you gasping. The photo specimen was 4-3/4 inches long, 2.8 inches diameter and weighed 11-3/4 ounces, from a small chain supermarket for $2.99 each or $4.07 / pound. Major supermarkets may charge as much as $4.99 per melon.
They are sold mainly as a curiosity and are not expected to be a viable
food crop until varieties with a higher sugar content are developed. Currently
they have a light refreshing flavor but are not real sweet. It's the seed mass
you eat as there is very little edible flesh inside the hard rind.
Note: seed merchants are also selling purely decorative varieties
which look about the same but are very toxic. You won't eat those by accident
because the toxin is extremely bitter.
Details and Cooking
Korean Melon - [Yellow melon,
Oriental melon; Yeoncheon, Dua Gan, Cha Mae, Chamoe (Korean)]
A small pale yellow melon with shallow white sutures commonly found in
Chinese and Korean groceries. It's moderately sweet white to pale peach
flesh. The rind is very thin and the seeds very small, so they can be eaten
without peeling or seeding. The photo specimen was typical at 1 pound
4 ounces, 5.25 inches long, 3.63 inches diameter and was clearly purchased
from a Chinese / Southeast Asian market - the Koreans have little more
tolerance for skin blemishes than the Japanese do. This is a perishable
melon and should be eaten within 5 days of purchase. I have read one
reference that says it's actually a gourd, but I'm not moving it to gourds
until I get a good confirmation.
Korean Melon - [Hybrid Golden Honey]
[Cantaloupe (North America), reticulatus group]
Ogen Melon - [Gallicum]
Orange Flesh Melon - see Cantaline Melon.
Of course in Asia these melons are very carefully grown
to make sure appearance is perfect, because the two most potent flavor
enhancements used in Asia are perfect appearance and an absurdly high price.
The photo specimen was 5-3/4 inches long, 4 inches diameter and 1 pound 9-3/4
ounces. I'll have a cut photo up in a bit when I'm sure mine are ripe enough
Persian Melon - [Reticulatus
Similar in appearance to a Muskmelon but larger
(generally around 5 pounds) with sparser netting over a greener background.
There are also more spherical varieties but the elongated variety is the
one most grown and sold in Southern California. The pink-orange flesh is somewhat
milder than Muskmelon. Unlike Muskmelons the Persian does not slip it's stem
when ripe, so a bit of stem or stem tears do not mean it was picked
Piel de Sapo - [Toad Skin Melon,
C. melo (Indorus group)]
The photo specimen was 8 inches long, 5 inches diameter and weighed
4 pounds 7-3/4 ounces. The flesh is firm and fairly sweet, shading from green
at the rind to slightly orange near the seeds. The rind is about 1/4 inch
thick, and the seed cavity is small but packed tightly with seeds. These are
long lived melons - both the whole and cut ones sat on my kitchen floor for
about 2 months without any sign of degradation.
Red Moon Melon
Santa Claus Melon - see Christmas Melon.
Sharlynne Melon - [PLU #4338]
In appearance it looks like an elongated orange musk melon but the
flesh inside is light yellow-green and tastes more like a bland but fairly
sweet honeydew. The flesh ranges from very soft in the center to firm at the
rind. They are ripe when the background color turns from green to light orange
and there is some give at the flower end. Also check the stem end because
that's where they often start to rot. They are extremely perishable keeping
for only a few days once ripe. The seed mass of a ripe melon is often
completely liquid and can be poured out. The photo specimen was 4 pounds 5
ounces, 8 inches long and 5-1/2 inches diameter - a bit more elongated than
Sprite Melon - 
Vietnamese Melon - 
These melons have started to appear in Los Angeles markets serving
a heavily Vietnamese community. They vary quite a lot in pattern and
coloration but all are quite cylindrical and lightly sutured. The photo
specimen was purchased in mid July from the Hawaii Supermarket in Alhambra.
It weighed just under 4 pounds 5 ounces and was 8-1/2 inches long and
4-1/2 inches diameter. This appears to be a cooking melon. Fully ripe the
flesh was still firm and not very sweet, but it did have a light but
interesting flavor and stayed firm enough for soup when simmered.
Watermelons originated in southern Africa but were already grown as a crop in Egypt 5000 years ago and are now planted throughout the world. China got them in the 10th century CE and is now the largest producer. They were brought to North America in the 16th century where California, Georgia, Arizona and Texas are the major producers.
Watermelon fruit is unlike the Cucumus melons of Western Asia in that they are not hollow in the center but have a uniform pulp throughout. Many sizes have been developed (the examples here are 22 pounds for the large and 3-3/4 pounds for the small) and a number of colors. Yellow and white are fine for decorative accents, but as usual I recommend the standard red color as the best tasting,
Seedless Watermelons are not actually without seeds, but the seeds are all or mostly immature, white and very soft when the melon is ripe. Making a seedless watermelon is quit a feat of genetic engineering, but personally I don't see the point - I've always just swallowed the seeds anyway so they don't bother me. I find the standard watermelon to have better flavor and texture than the manipulated ones.
The ancestral Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus var citroides),
known as the Citron Melon, is still extant and is now
wild in Southern and Baja California, though nobody knows how it got there.
The white flesh is so firm it's sort of "rind all the way through" but its
high pectin content makes it popular for preserves.
Details and Cooking.
Not a melon - see Ash Gourd.
Health & Nutrition
Melons are non-toxic, non-fat and low in calories, but due to their very high water content they have modest nutritional value. Orange fleshed melons are fairly high in vitamin A, some rating even USDA "Excellent Source", and also foliate and potassium. Green or white fleshed melons provide little but potassium.
Melons need almost no digestion. Eaten on an empty stomach they will go on through immediately. On two occasions, to test reports that scientists had found a Viagra-like substance in watermelon, I ate an entire 12 pound watermelon in one sitting. This is not difficult for me because once I start on a watermelon I just can't stop. I'll eat until I'm in pain, then lie down until I can eat more.
No Viagra-like effect whatever was observed (and in one case I ate the rind out to the peel in case it was there), but It swept my guts absolutely bright sparkling clean.