Sweet, juicy, and refreshingly pleasureful, these plump melons have more to them than a filler for your fruit salads. These are 8 facts you might not know about cantaloupes.
1. The cantaloupe was believed to have killed a famous pope. Pope Paul II became famously obsessed with melons during his reign. His chef believed eating them on a full stomach could have serious consequences. The next year, Pope Paul II ate "two good big melons" in one sitting, and then died. Whether it was melons or not is not certain, but the pope's chef published a cookbook in 1470 explicitly recommending that melons be eaten as appetizers.
2. It is believed that the cantaloupe originated in Armenia. Origins are unknown but can be traced somewhere between South Asia and Africa. They were found on the tables of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome by way of Armenia.
3. American cantaloupe is different than European cantaloupe. The North American cantaloupe has a reticulated ("net-like") peel, it is firm, orange, and has moderately sweet flesh. In contrast, the European cantaloupe has greenish skin, lightly ribbed with sweet and flavourful flesh. These European cantaloupes, known as Charentais and Cavaillon melons, are well-known in France and Spain to this day, but have not grown well in North America.
4. Cantaloupe is named after Spanish bacon. In South Africa, a cantaloupe is known as spanspek which means Spanish Bacon. The 19th-century governor of Cape Colony, Sir Harry Smith, ate bacon and eggs for breakfast, while his Spanish-born wife Juana María de Los Dolores de León Smith preferred cantaloupe, so South Africans nicknamed the eponymous fruit Spanish bacon.
5. The most expensive fruit in the world is a $13,500 cantaloupe. Gifting fruit is a social custom in Japan and cantaloupes, in particular, are considered a common luxury gift. One particular type of melon, the Yubari cantaloupes are known to sell for high prices. In 2017, the sale price record for two premium Yubari cantaloupes tipped the scales at $27,000 USD. That is around $13,500 CAD per melon!
6. A hollowed melon makes an excellent cup for sipping wine. At least, that is how Pope Innocent XIII (1721-1724) liked to sip his Port wine.
7. Cantaloupe is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A. In practical terms, that means cantaloupe is great for your immune system, muscle recovery, and eye health.
How to Pick the Right Melon:
The blossom end of a ripe melon will slightly yield to pressure. You may even notice a sweet musky smell from the stem of the melon. If you have an unripe melon, set it aside at room temperature for a few days to ripen.