For many gardeners and cantaloupe-lovers raised in the US who may only be familiar with the bright-orange flesh and netted rind of the fruit available at the supermarket, a world of exciting cantaloupe varieties remains to be discovered.
Whether you’re an Asian-American gardener looking to bring a piece of heritage to your garden, or an aspiring melon connoisseur searching for authentic Asian flavors, keep reading to explore the most popular Asian Cantaloupes.
What is a Cantaloupe?
While what is and isn’t a cantaloupe may seem straightforward, there is plenty of controversy about the fruit. Cantaloupes are known as muskmelons, sweet melons, rock melons, or spanspek depending on who you ask.
Cantaloupes are a subspecies of muskmelon. The term “muskmelon” in botany refers to Cucumis melo, a group of melons. They are descendants of the gourd family, known as Cucurbits.
In short, all cantaloupes are muskmelons, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes.
The True Cantaloupe
Classical distinctions between cantaloupe varieties include European, North American, Asian, Japanese, Galia, and Charentais.
Cucumis Melo Cantalupensis is the botanical classification of true cantaloupe. The Europeans received this melon from abroad, either Africa or Asia. It was then named for the location in Italy where it was harvested after arrival, Cantalupo. The fruit has been erroneously designated as European Cantaloupe ever since.
Each of the melons in this post is a species within C. melo, and some are hybrids that blur the line between true cantaloupe and other melons.
While some varieties of Asian cantaloupes are known as Oriental melons in the US, “Oriental” is a historical pejorative that’s best exchanged for more accurate terminology.
Most Popular Asian Cantaloupes
The eponymous “Asian Cantaloupe” usually refers to the Persian Melon, also called the Hami Melon. Asian cantaloupes are botanically classified as Cucumis Melo Reticulatus.
It is believed that true cantaloupes originated in Persia, which is why this variety has been called the Persian Melon. “Hami” is a Chinese term for a variety of these crisp melon cultivars that grow well in the winter.
The flesh of these melons ranges from watermelon-red to pink, green, and even white. These melons tend to be oblong and relatively small in diameter, similar to papaya. Hami Melons can have yellow or green rinds reticulated with light netting.
These impressive melons can weigh between six and nine pounds, even storing well enough to retain their flavor for weeks to months. The Red-Pink Hami and Tiger-Skin Hami are some regional favorites in China, and can be frozen into melon balls or partially dried for autumnal enjoyment.
Sarda is the Southeast Asian term for the Galia melon, which originated in Israel. The scientific name of Galia melons is Cucumis Melo var. Reticulatus. It is a hybrid of a cantaloupe and a melon, and looks somewhat like a cantaloupe from the outside, but a honeydew melon from the inside.
Galia melons aren’t as big in size as European and North American cantaloupes, and are mostly eaten fresh or chilled. Weighing between three and six pounds, Galia melons are juicy and have a wide variety of minerals, vitamins, and bio-flavonoids.
The low-calorie, zero-fat melon is a popular post-dinner dessert in South Asian countries. They are very sweet, possessing a banana-like flavor. The flesh can appear pale yellow or lime green, while the netted rind is bright yellow when ripe.
This melon variety is thought to be native to India, eventually traveling the Silk Road to China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. The beloved fruit has many names throughout Asia: chamoe which means “true melon” in Korean, huangjingua meaning “fragrant melon” in China, makuwa in Japan, and dura gan in Vietnam.
Although not originally from Korea, this melon has become a symbol of summer there, which is how it became known as the Korean Melon.
It’s significance to Japan is demonstrated by the melon’s botanical name: Cucumis melo var. Makuwa. Makuwa was the village home of melon cultivation and trade in ancient Japan.
Korean Melons offer cooling hydration on hot summer days, while also aiding indigestion. Sliced melons can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to three days, and chopped Korean Melon can be added to salads, smoothies, yogurt, fruit bowls, jams, and popsicles.
There are many hybrids and new cultivars of the Korean Melon, each with their own distinctive qualities.
Ginsen makuwa (Japanese) or euncheon-chamoe (Korean) is the most popular variety of Korean melon. It so well-established that it is considered a traditional vegetable. It became the dominant commercial melon in Korea after its introduction in 1957, and its descendants continue to reign over other varieties.
Since the 1980s, the geumssaragi-euncheon (meaning “gold dust euncheon”) has been a Korean market favorite. This oblong yellow melon measures half a foot, and weighs about a pound. While many of these bear the traditional white stripes and white flesh of the Korean Melon, some cultivars are green or white.
This variety, botanically classified as Cucumis melo Chinensis Group, is one of the major domestic cultivars of chamoe in Korea. This fruit is sometimes called gaeguri-chamoe, or “frog chamoe,” for its green and white-speckled appearance. These melons are even more nutrient-packed and disease-resistant than related Korean Melons.
Like the previous variety of Korean Melon, gotgam-chamoe is known for its nutrient-rich and disease-resistant qualities. The term gotgam means “persimmon,” which is used to describe the aroma and flavor of dried persimmon that distinguishes this chamoe.
The New Melon is another variety of the Korean Melon, developed as a Japanese specialty fruit in the 1950s. It grows best in sunny locations with soil temperatures warmer than 50 °F, and is most enjoyable when eaten fresh.
Typically weighing a few ounces shy of a pound, these little beauties offer a burst of flavor. Cutting open the bright green skin of this globe-shaped melon reveals a refreshing aroma and a sweet flesh that has pale lemon hues.
The Prince Melon is the descendant of the New Melon and the Charentais melon (a French melon). This crossbred cultivar results in a fruit that’s larger, sweeter, and more easily produced than the New Melon.
The melon’s grey-white skin and carrot-colored flesh is distinctive. After its introduction to the Japanese melon market, it was so well-loved that the sale of other non-hybrid varieties of melon have since declined.
The Sun Jewel (also known as Golden Melon or Japanese Cantaloupe in the US) is a delicate melon with a golden-hued exterior and white indentations stretching across its oblong shape.
Inside, this vibrant fruit is white, crisp, and juicy like an apple. The melon can be consumed whole, seeds and skin included. It’s flavor is like that of a cucumber with cantaloupe nuances, making it suitable for savory and sweet dishes.
Sun Jewels can withstand a drought, blooming in late summer and autumn. In Korea, the common preference for pickling the melon in spices is called chamoe jangajji. Pickling is necessary for long-term enjoyment, as these do not store well. They are easiest to grow in cooler climates.
Characteristics of Asian Cantaloupes
Now that you know more about the diverse aesthetics, aromas, and flavors of Asian Cantaloupes, two additional qualities are worth knowing.
When growing your cantaloupe knowledge, you’ll come across references to brix level. The brix level refers to the amount of sucrose in your melon, measured as percent by weight. Sucrose is the naturally-occurring plant sugar compound that white table sugar is derived from.
Asian Cantaloupes are mostly water, and contain a wealth of fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium. They also impart Vitamin K, magnesium, and a range of B vitamins. Their antioxidant flavonoids, anti-inflammatory compounds, and phytonutrients reduce your risk for cancer. They also help lower blood pressure, and clean your digestive tract.
An array of omega-3 fatty acids, present in the seeds, can improve fetal brain development in pregnancy, improve your vision, support your brain health, and even uplift your mental wellbeing.
Where to Buy Asian Cantaloupes
Many Asian Cantaloupe varieties are best purchased from local vendors in their country of origin. However, harvested fruits and live plants can be acquired from some online vendors.
In most cases, melon-lovers in the US will have the best luck finding these melons at Asian markets, specialty produce markets, and local farmers’ markets.
Seeds can be harvested directly from Asian cantaloupe. Or, if you’re interested in buying an accessible Asian-descent cantaloupe, you can find Hami cantaloupe seeds online. You can also grow Korean or Galia melons from seeds as well. Order in time to give your cantaloupes a nice, long growing season — the sweet, juicy fruit will be worth the wait!
Growing Your Own Asian Cantaloupes
Growing your own Asian Cantaloupes is easy with a bit of professional guidance. You can save money growing as many melons as you can fit in your garden, without needing to splurge on individual fruits.
Vine-ripened melons are juicier, fresher, and more flavorful than commercial melons that have been treated with preservatives and artificial ripening agents. Growing Asian Cantaloupes, or sourcing them locally, introduces you to new flavors that are unavailable in US commercial markets.
Since some varieties of melon have greater disease-resistance, such as sunghwan-chamoe and gotgam-chamoe, these can be a friendlier starting place for new melon farmers.
Should you be lucky enough to get your hands on an Asian cantaloupe, here are some great ways to enjoy it.
Be on the Lookout for Asian Cantaloupes!
Now you know more about the vibrant, mouthwatering world of Asian Cantaloupes. Which melons are considered true cantaloupes is hotly debated, yet each variety pairs potent flavors with stunning visual features. You can also appreciate the cultural significance of these cherished melons as you integrate them into your garden at home.
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