Cooking with Cantaloupe
Cantaloupe is one of the popular melons consumed in the United States. Although referred to as a cantaloupe, the cantaloupe in the United States is in fact a muskmelon. The true cantaloupe exists in Europe and has a rough and warty surface unlike the netted characteristics found in the United States.
In the United States, cantaloupes are primarily grown in California, Arizona, and Texas with the peak season being June through August. However, the fruit is available year around in most grocery stores.
Planting and Harvesting Cantaloupes
Cantaloupes are planted in February and can be grown in 60 degrees, yet the optimal temperature is 85 to 90 degrees. Pollination of the plant depends on bees, thus conditions such as rain, wind, cold, and cloudiness which are unfavorable for bees can decrease the crop yield.
The melons are harvested by hand when the fruit will cleanly separate from the vine sometime in June through October. Harvest occurs 8 to 10 times every 10 to 14 days and the melons are separated by size to be shipped in boxes. Immediately after harvest the fruits needs to be cooled to maximize post harvest life. This is done by pressure cooling, which allows for storage up to 2 weeks at 34 degrees to 40 degrees.
Shopping For and Storing Cantaloupes
When shopping for a cantaloupe one should consider the following, the shape, the color, and the stem end. First, the melon should have a spherical and uniform appearance without bruises and indentations. Second, when ripe it should have a khaki colored skin, not green. Finally, there should be a smooth stem end without any signs of any tear. This indicates that the melon was not harvested too early.
Once cantaloupes are harvested it cannot further produce sugar. Therefore, leaving the melon on the counter at room temperature will not make the melon sweeter, but it will turn softer and juicier. However, do not leave the cantaloupe at room temperature for more than 4 days. Once ripe or cut, the melon should be refrigerated and consumed within 2 days.
Cantaloupe Nutrition Facts
Cantaloupe is related to squash and has a nutrient value between that of summer and winter squash. Its orange flesh is rich in beta carotene and provides potassium and vitamin C. In addition, cantaloupe has high water contents and is good to consume on hot days to help staying hydrated.
Nutrients per 1 cup of raw cantaloupe:
Calories: 56, Fat: 0, Carbohydrate: 13g, Protein: 1.0g, Fiber: 1.0g, Sodium: 14mg, Potassium: 494mg, Vitamin C: 68mg, Vitamin A: 515 RE or 5158 IU, Water: 144g
Safety Tips for Handling Fresh Cantaloupe
Cantaloupes are grown in close contact with the ground, which may occasionally introduce bacterial contamination from soil, water, and animals. Contamination from human contact may arise during or after harvest.
Eating cut cantaloupe has been linked to food borne illnesses caused by Salmonella or Escherichia coli 0157:H7. In most cases the source of contamination cannot be determined; however, bacteria present on the melon rind at the time of purchase or harvest from a home garden can transfer to the edible flesh when the melon is cut. It is important to follow the washing instructions below before preparation. Storing cut melons at room temperature or other warm conditions such as in a hot car or at a picnic can lead to rapid growth of harmful bacteria on the flesh.
Food borne illnesses associated with melons have also occurred when dirty utensils or cutting boards (especially those used to handle raw meats) have been used to prepare melons. For this reason it is important to wash hands before and after preparing melons and always use clean equipment, utensils, and cutting surfaces.
Cantaloupes should be washed just before preparing and eating. It is best not to wash cantaloupes before storage; this helps ensure a longer shelf life for the uncut fruit. The spaces within the netted rind on the cantaloupe acts as protection for bacteria, often making bacteria difficult to remove.
Most bacteria can be removed by scrubbing the whole melon with a clean vegetable brush under clean running water. After washing, blot the melon with clean paper towels to remove excess water. Place on a clean surface, and cut off the stem end about three-quater to 1-inch from the end. Cutting within a kitchen sink is not recommended. Place the melon on a clean cutting board, plate, or other surface with the cut end facing down. With a clean knife, cut the melon from the blossom end to the stem end. Wash the knife with clean running water and set aside. Gently scrape out the seeds with a clean spoon. COntinue to cut into slices or as desired.
Always peel, cover and refrigerate cut cantaloupe. Refrigeration inhibits the growth of bacteria.
Cut ripe, firm cantaloupe into chunks or balls and flash freeze (lay onto a pan in one layer and freeze solid. Put into bags or containers. Note that if the cantaloupe is too ripe, it could get mushy but if it is not ripe enough, it could get too hard! Just the right stage of ripeness is important when freezing cantaloupe.
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