Ripeness is what we're all looking for when we cut into a melon, right? No one likes flavorless fruit. Because of their size and weight, melons are more expensive than many other seasonal fruits but you get more servings. Still, it's no fun when those servings are a disappointment.
Fortunately, harvested melons that you'll find at the grocery store and the farmers market give off some clues about their ripeness.
When you cut into a cantaloupe and find the fruit hard and pale instead of juicy and orange, there's nothing you can do about it. You're stuck with unripe fruit. The California Cantaloupe Advisory Board has advice on how to pick a ripe cantaloupe:
- Look for raised, cream-colored ridges (the part that looks like a net) over most of the cantaloupe. If one portion is lighter and has fewer ridges, that's where the cantaloupe touched the ground as it grew, and that's normal.
- Make sure the melon is free of bruising.
- The stem should be smooth, round and yield to light pressure.
- The melon should have a sweet musky aroma.
- If you aren't cutting into the cantaloupe immediately, store it in the refrigerator. If you only cut part of the melon, leave the seeds in the uncut part, wrap it tightly and store in the refrigerator.
Don't judge honeydew by the flavorless chunks you've gotten in supermarket fruit salads. It's possible for honeydew to be ripe and sweet. In fact, it can be even sweeter than a ripe cantaloupe. Albert's Organics offers these tips on how to pick a ripe honeydew:
- Don't pick a green honeydew; pick a white or yellow one. A white one is not yet ripe, but it will ripen over time on the counter. A yellow one is ripe.
- Feel the outside of the smooth rind. Is it a little sticky? If so, that's a good thing. That means there's ample sugar and some is coming to the surface.
- The blossom end (opposite of the stem) should give a bit when light pressure is applied.
- The whole melon should have a strong, sweet smell.
- If you shake a ripe honeydew, you may be able to feel the seeds rattling around.
- A ripe honeydew should be stored in the refrigerator, and like a cantaloupe, it's best when cut right before serving. Leave the seeds in any uncut part, wrap tightly, and return to the refrigerator.
- The field spot, the part where the melon touched the ground, should be golden, creamy yellow or orange-yellow. White or green field spots mean the melon was picked before it was ripe.
- The melon should be fairly symmetrical.
- Make sure it's free from blemishes and bruising.
- It should be very heavy. A watermelon that feels too light won't give you the flavor you're looking for.
A note about melon safety
Ripeness isn't the only thing you should consider when you're choosing a melon, though. Melons are one of the foods that may contain salmonella. While it's impossible to see salmonella or other contaminants on melons, there are some steps you can take to minimize the chance those contaminants will make you or your family sick. Michigan State University Extension offers these tips:
- Don't buy melons with cuts, bruises or blemishes.
- Wash all melons before storing or cutting. Any contaminants on the outside of the melon can be transferred to the fruit inside when the knife passes through the rind and into the flesh.
- Wash your hands before cutting melons.
- Make sure your knife and cutting board are clean.
- Keep cut melon in the refrigerator or an ice chest so any germs that might be on the fruit don't have a chance to grow.
- Throw away any cut melon that sits out at room temperature for longer than two hours.
- Take any melon recalls seriously. There's currently a cut melon recall. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) says 60 people in eight states — Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina and Ohio — have been infected with salmonella from cut melons, and 31 of those people have been hospitalized. The cut melon was supplied by Caito Foods of Indianapolis, Indiana, and has been sold in clamshell packaging at Costco, Jay C, Kroger, Payless, Owen’s, Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, Walgreens, Walmart, and Whole Foods/Amazon. These melons should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase for a refund.