What is it? Cantaloupes grow along the ground on vines, just like their botanical cousins cucumber, squash, watermelon, and pumpkin. The gourd supposedly takes its name from either Cantaloup, a village in southern France, or the more commonly cited derivation of an Italian commune, Cantalupo, which was once a papal estate. While the Pope-cantaloupe rhyme is hard to miss, the word cantalupo actually means "howling wolf."

The round, ribbed, sandy-coloured rind of the cantaloupe protects the juicy, orange-yellow flesh inside. Take a sniff: even through that tough exterior, cantaloupe's sweet and slightly heady scent can be detected!

What is it good for? Cantaloupe contains few calories. You can scoop into cantaloupe for a good source of your daily potassium, folate, and fibre. But the biggest benefit of the melon lies in its antioxidant potential: one cup of the melon provides over 100% of the daily recommended intake of vitamins A and C. Vitamin A, from beta-carotene, supports healthy vision, while vitamin C is crucial to the body's immune response.

What does it taste like? Cantaloupe flesh bears a flavour sometimes described as "musky," explaining why the gourd goes by the alternate name of "muskmelon." A mild sweetness combines with that earthy essence to create a unique, pleasant, highly palatable flavour. Cantaloupe is a common ingredient in fruit salads, and it blends well with dairy - diced into yogurt or stirred into cottage cheese. Its gentle taste makes it a natural base for frozen delights like ice cream, sorbet, or sherbet. Blend freshly-squeezed cantaloupe juice into iced sparkling water for a cool, sweet treat. Or puree chopped-up melon into a summery soup.

Notes on selecting and preparing
Cantaloupe poses a food-handling safety challenge. Because of its distinctive "netted" rind, cantaloupe flesh can be easily contaminated with germs like salmonella. And since they grow along the ground, cantaloupes may pick up lots of bacteria from soil, contaminated water, or animals. They can also pick up bacteria during shipping and storage, or when it is handled around other foods.

Do a three-step cantaloupe selection test:

  • eyeball it: Select a gourd that has no obvious bruises or marks.
  • tap it: With the palm of your hand, rap at surface and listen. You should hear a hollow sound.
  • sniff it: Smell the bottom of the cantaloupe. A subtle sweet smell is best. A strong odour could mean that the cantaloupe is overly ripened and fermented.

If you choose an unripe melon, store at room temperature for several days. Once it is ripe or cut, the cantaloupe must be kept securely covered and refrigerated. When you're ready to handle the melon, thoroughly wash and scrub the outside rind with warm water. No special cleaners are necessary, but a produce brush might be helpful. Any utensils or cutting boards must be washed in warm water and soap after coming into contact with cantaloupe.

Amy Toffelmire