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There are thousands of different varieties of melon, most having developed from crossing different varieties to produce an ever sweeter fruit. But when selecting melons in your local supermarket, would you know which one to pick?
Firstly, there are two main type of melon: melon and watermelon. All varieties are largely grouped under these two headings.
Watermelon is grown right the way around the world, yet originate from Africa where they are an important source of water; they consist of over 90% water. There are roughly 1200 different varieties, which include a seedless variety (such as Extazy, Eve and Mielhart watermelon).
They are particularly rich in vitamins A and C, and the minerals magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium.
Nutritionally, watermelon (like many plants) is rich in antioxidant phytochemicals – these are compounds within the fruit that are protective against damage caused by our environment (that is, they help eradicate “free radicals” that we all accumulate from the air we breath and the foods we consume).
Watermelon’s particular phytochemical is lycopene, the same compound that tomatoes are renowned for! However, watermelon has almost no fat, and therefore the lycopene can only reach our blood if we eat watermelon with something else that contains fat.
Watermelons are ripe and ready to eat when they’re bursting with water. This means the melon should feel heavy compared to its size.
The skin should have a nice dark green colour without too many blemishes or bruises except for a web-like scarring! This indicates a sweeter taste! Apparently, this occurs due to bees having pollinated the melon flower multiple times!
There is a spot on the watermelon, however, called the “ground spot” that is like an indicator telling you whether it’s ripe or not. If you turn the melon over, you should see a creamy yellow spot on the bottom where it’s been sitting on the ground, basking in the sun. If this spot is greenish, then it isn’t ripe. It needs to be yellow. A white spot is OK, but yellow is best!
The shape may also give away its sweetness. The rounder (like a ball) the fruit is, the sweeter it’ll be. The longer and more elongated it is, the more watery it’ll be. Apparently, farmers call these “girl” and “boy” melons!
The most common melons in a British supermarket include: honeydew, cantaloupe, and rock melons. Most melons are imported, so they’re likely to have been picked before they are fully ripe –this is often why melons taste much better overseas than they do at home! Melons do not get any sweeter when ripened at home, they’ll just get juicier and that’s it.
The nutritional value of melons is very similar to their watermelon cousins, although they don’t contain as much lycopene
Many melons can be tested for their ripeness at the end of the fruit where the flower was. You’re looking for two things: a sweet, fragrant smell and a slight soft give. Don’t aggressively squeeze melons because you’ll unnecessarily bruise the fruit for the next customer or the seller!
If they smell a bit too fragrant, then they’ve probably over-ripened and you’ll open up a messy melon when you get home.
Rockmelons have no smell, so you’re left with only the look and feel of them: they should be firm, free of blemishes, cuts or sunken spots with a regular and symmetrical shape. This pretty much goes for most melons to be honest.
The end of the melon that was attached to the vine shouldn’t have a stalk, or if it does, it should be pretty dead looking. If there’s a green stalk, it means it was harvested too early and isn’t ripe. You’ll have something hard and unappetising when you cut into it.
Honeydew melons will also detach their seeds when ripe, so shaking it could give a clue! If you hear the seeds rattle, it’s good to buy.
Thumping melons: you may see people knocking a melon and listening for the sound when you’re out shopping – this isn’t a good indicator! It might work on some varieties, but I wouldn’t rely on it!
Once you’ve cut your melon, store it in the fridge in a plastic bag or container, because they give off gases that can spoil other fruit and vegetables you may be keeping in your fridge.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat. He writes for www.veggieandspice.com and www.itsaboutnutrition.com