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Do you know your melons?

I don’t know about the U.S or much about European supermarkets, but I do know that if you visit one in the U.K, your choice of melon is normally restricted to four (if you are lucky) – ogen, honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon. Finding anything more widespread than that just never happens, but most of us are more than happy with those, as they are all the sweetest, more lush melons than other varieties and they go with the basic dishes such as fruit salad, melon and prawns, melon and Parma ham, etc. (I hate to admit it, but these dishes are standard on a British ‘steakhouse’ style menu, not the most adventurous use of a melon!)

My friend went on a melon diet once, thinking that as they have such a high concentration of water, she would rapidly lose weight. Wrong – she forgot the high amount of sugar they contain! Needless to say, she gained weight as to be expected when you chow down on 2 whole melons a day! But she did ‘pee’ a lot…

Melons are pretty juicy and voluptuous, so much so that they can be in slang terms in the U.K., the topic of a woman’s anatomy. Are we just a bit warped in the U.K., or does this happen in other countries?

Are there many different types of melon?

Seriously though, back to knowing your melons. Bearing in mind that melons have been cultivated for over 4,000 years, there is a surprisingly low number of species. To date, there are only 40 different types, and probably around half of those shouldn’t go near your plate if you are after ‘sweet and juicy’. We know that overall, they are round or oval (like a rugby ball) and can be very large (like a watermelon). Overall, they are something not ridiculously expensive for the average supermarket melon but try Japan – the Yubari King Melon is the most expensive in the world, mainly due to its very low and exclusive products, and its detailed inspection service. They are so expensive they are most normally auctioned! We are talking around $30,000 for ONE melon! But it is only a specifically cultivated variety of cantaloupe, coming from a low-inhabited village, hence the extortionate price. It’s hardly likely to gain in value, considering where it ends up! Not an investment, I think.

Selling luxury fruits in Japan is a serious industry, with shops devoted to simply that – melons are often displayed in bejeweled cases, and you can see the rarest varieties in the world. One such variety is the square watermelon – work that out! 

It just shows that melons are an important part of financial gain in certain parts of the world, whether from native roadside or market stalls particularly in the Caribbean and Africa, or lavish gift shops in Japan. For me, it’s the local Saturday fruit and veg market,  with a sniff, a squeeze, and no blemishes on the skin! No melon deserves more money than that, and certainly not a massive price tag.

How do you tell a ‘good melon’ from a bad one?

Make no mistake, some melons despite their appearance, can be bad or ‘off’. As my father used to be in the fruit and veg trade, I learned at a very early age what to look for in a melon (we did do normal things like playing games, I wasn’t turned into the food police!). For those of you who don’t know, here are a few good tips:

  1. Look at the skin carefully, and make sure no bruising, no soft brown areas, and no ‘green’ visible. If there is still green, it is unlikely it will ripen. When I say green, I don’t mean watermelons!
  2. Melons that are a lustrous yellow, must be bright and not faded on the skin. Lighter-colored melons (like honeydew) can be a paler, lighter yellow.
  3. Have a good sniff. Not all melons are fragrant, particularly honeydew and cantaloupe, which can smell a little musty. Pick up one or two and you may notice the difference.
  4. If buying watermelons, give them a light tap to make sure they sound hollow.
  5. Hold the melon in your hand, and then squeeze. It should have some ‘give’, but not be too soft. This will tell you how ripe it is. If the melon is hard, you are best to avoid it and buy one that is a little softer.

Hope this helps. Remember you can make savory foods with melon, and some melons you can cook with by roasting. If you try to roast melon, put the seeds onto another tray and roast them at the same time, they are popular as a snack.

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Bev Perkins

An experienced chef, recipe developer, food writer and qualified nutritionist, Bev’s career has encompassed over 40 years. Educated in London and Paris, and with an unquenchable thirst for travelling, Bev’s passion for cooking evolved with a deep desire to learn about every cuisine in the globe, so whilst resident in Paris she enrolled at Le Cordon Bleu (formerly L’Ecole Culinaire de Paris) and spent two years learning her art. She furthered her experience working in restaurants in all corners of the world from bistros to Michelin-Starred establishments and finally with her own catering company providing food to both corporate and individual clients. An experienced writer and editor, Bev is never happier than with a pen in one hand and cookery book in the other!

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