From the long list of melons, not all that many are widely eaten in the United States. After watermelon, cantaloupe is undoubtedly the most familiar and popular. The quality of these muskmelons varies greatly depending on their state of ripeness. When they're at their peak, they have vibrant orange flesh with a sublime sweetness, a soft texture and lots of juiciness. Before they're ripe, all these characteristics are muted, but once they've started going bad, they become pretty unappetizing.
Bad Cantaloupe Symptoms and Signs
Spoiled cantaloupe appears sickly inside and out. If it's still whole, it develops soft spots and bruises that become increasingly prominent. The entire melon gets soft and eventually becomes unable to hold its shape. You might notice liquid seeping out through the rind, and the cantaloupe gives off an unpleasant odor. The flesh becomes darker orange and mushy, too.
Mold inside cantaloupe or growing on its rind is another sure sign that you should throw out the fruit. Fungal growth can take on a variety of appearances, but it's often white or darkly colored. Sometimes it's fuzzy.
Salvaging a Cantaloupe Just Past Its Prime
If you catch a cantaloupe slightly beyond the point where you want to eat it straight – it has no bad smells, obvious signs of rotting or mold growth, but the flesh has gotten a bit too soft – you don't have to toss it.
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Instead, try one of these uses:
- Add it to a smoothie.
- Blend it with lemonade or ginger ale for a unique, refreshing beverage.
- Puree it with a splash of lime juice and a little sugar and use it as a dessert sauce or freeze it into ice pops.
- Puree it with juice from three limes per whole cantaloupe and with honey and cardamom to taste, refrigerate it and serve it as a chilled soup garnished with mint leaves.
How to Tell if a Cantaloupe Is Good
Taking an extra minute or two to select a ripe cantaloupe is well worthwhile. Always check for three things:
- A ripe melon gives off a sweet scent even through its rind. If there's no smell or just a faint one, the melon isn't ripe yet; if there's an astringent or sour smell, the cantaloupe is already spoiling.
- If a cantaloupe is ripe, some of its seeds bounce around inside when you give it a shake. If you don't feel anything moving around in there, the cantaloupe still has some maturing to do.
- A cantaloupe that's ready to eat gives a little when you press down on the stem area at the top. A completely firm melon is as of yet unripe, while one that's too yielding is on the decline.
To pick out the best cantaloupes, look for ones that are larger and feel heavy for their size, with no soft spots, bruises, cracks, other damage or mold. Also try to find specimens with a healthy-looking, raised, tan net pattern on the rind; that have a yellowish-to-pale green rind around the netting; and that are smooth and slightly indented at the area where the stem was attached.
How to Store Cantaloupes
Properly storing cantaloupes is an important part of getting to enjoy them at peak ripeness and quality. Don't cut a cantaloupe until you're ready to eat it. If it's not ripe yet, leave it out at room temperature for more efficient maturation; you can also accelerate the process by putting it in a closed paper bag. It'll stay good for about five to seven days whole and left out on the counter.
Cantaloupe ripens slower but also lasts longer in the refrigerator, where it typically stays good for about 10 days. Once it's cut, keep it in the fridge for up to a few days, wrapped well in plastic wrap, or, preferably, in an airtight container. If you can, leave on the gooey stuff with the seeds, as it helps retain moisture in the fruit's flesh.
You can freeze cut-up chunks of cantaloupe in an airtight container or freezer bag, though it'll come out mushier after thawing than it went in. It will stay safe to eat indefinitely, but its quality goes downhill over time; definitely try to use it in under one year.
Eric Mohrman is a food and drink, lifestyle, and travel writer. He spent 10 years working front- and back-of-house in a few casual and upscale restaurants, adding professional experience to his love of eating and cooking. He lives with his family in Orlando, Florida. His stories on food and beverage topics have appeared in numerous print and web publications, including Visit Florida, Orlando Style Magazine, CrushBrew Magazine, Agent Magazine, Dollar Stretcher Magazine, The 863 Magazine and others.