With summer fast approaching there are a plethora of juicy and flavorful fruits to choose from. It’s almost overwhelming when you walk into a produce section – should it be grapes, cherries, perhaps some peaches and nectarines, and of course, we cannot ignore melons. Actually, while I enjoy all of these wonderful fruits, a perfectly ripe melon is probably my favorite. But finding a perfectly ripe melon and feeling confident that you are taking home a ready-to-eat piece of fruit is a challenge for most any shopper. So as melons begin to fill out your racks, I wanted to go over a few very simple techniques for selecting ripe melons; at least covering the big three – cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons.
With cantaloupes there are 5 key indicators of ripeness and maturity: the stem end; the netting; the color; the touch; and the smell.
- The stem end of a cantaloupe is actually one of the key indicators in determining the ripeness of the fruit. The stem itself should not be on the cantaloupe. If you see a stem on the fruit, it should automatically be ruled out from your selection. If some of the stem remains attached, the melon is not mature. This is an indicator that the melon was picked too early. Also check for tears in the rind around the stem end. These too can indicate a premature harvest. The stem end should be slightly indented, indicating that that the fruit easily came away from the vine when it was picked. If it protrudes, this indicates of premature harvesting. Lastly, on the stem end, make sure to avoid fruit with soft moist-looking areas around the indentation.
- The netting on the skin should be thick, course, and pretty well defined, and should stand out more dramatically in some places than in others.
- Color is pretty straightforward – the base skin color of a ripe cantaloupe should be tinted gold, not green.
- Touch is always important when selecting any melon. A good cantaloupe should feel relatively heavy for its size. Pick up several melons on display to compare. Also, the blossom end should yield just a bit when pressed.
- It’s always good to trust your nose when selecting a cantaloupe. The best area of the fruit to smell for ripeness is the blossom end – the end opposite the stem area. Raise the fruit so that the button is just under your nose and take a good whiff. You should detect the scent of a ripe cantaloupe! In general, a ripe cantaloupe will have a noticeable sweet aroma.
If the cantaloupe passes all of these tests you have a wonderful piece of fruit that is ready to eat!
Unlike cantaloupes, honeydew melons have a very smooth rind rather than a course netted skin. As honeydews ripen, they turn from green, to creamy white, to yellow. Avoid green ones, but a creamy white one will (unlike other melons) ripen on your counter in a few days. A perfectly ripe honeydew will yield just a bit to pressure at the blossom end and have a sticky, velvety rind. That tackiness that you feel on the skin is actually the fruit sugar within the melon coming to the surface. Honeydews should have a strong sweet smell when ripe, and this aroma is most evident when the melon is at room temperature.
It’s not uncommon to see people shake their melons as a ripeness indicator. Believe it or not, this can actually work with honeydews. When you shake a ripe honeydew, you can feel the seeds actually rattling around. Shoppers will also try this on cantaloupes, but I do not recommend this as a ripeness indicator for cantaloupes; it yields very inconsistent results.
It’s pretty difficult to tell if a watermelon is ripe by just looking; it must be examined. A really good indicator of ripeness for watermelons is color. Look for the spot where the melon rested on the ground; a yellow-white, yellow, or a cream-yellow color spot suggests ripeness and a white or pale green spot indicates immaturity. A green watermelon will have a white bottom; a ripe melon will have a cream or yellow-colored bottom.
Many rely on the old thumping test as an indicator of ripeness, even though most of us really aren’t sure what it is that we are listening for. When you thump, if the melon sounds hollow, it is usually ripe. The unripe melon will have more of a thud-like sound. This technique however, is pretty challenging to perfect and not all that reliable for the less-gifted ears. The thumping technique is not a guarantee because the hollow sound (which indicates ripeness) can also be heard when the melon is overripe. Many produce experts have likened watermelon thumping to kicking the tires on a car. “It makes you feel good when you do it, but you don’t really know what it will accomplish.”
Well there you go – a little guide to melon season. Eating a perfectly ripe melon is really one of the true eating pleasures of the summer. Help your customers indulge!