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Muskmelon vs. Cantaloupe: Exploring the Hierarchy of Melons

If you’ve come across this blog, you might not even be aware that there is a muskmelon vs. cantaloupe argument, since grocery stores seem to use the two names interchangeably. People are frequently confused by the conflicting terminology, and wonder whether the names really are interchangeable, or if the true categorization has been lost—especially when they find out that there are differences between cantaloupe and cantaloupe, too!

Closeup of a plate of cantaloupe and honeydew melon slices. We explore the question of muskmelon vs. cantaloupe.

We’re here to finally set this muskmelon vs. cantaloupe matter straight!

What is a Muskmelon?

Muskmelons are related to watermelons: both are part of the Cucurbitaceae family, also known as the gourd family. That means that muskmelon varieties are also cousins of squash and pumpkins!

Within the gourd family, muskmelons are a species of the Cucumis genus. Its Latin name is Cucumis melomelo meaning melon. Muskmelons over the years have been bred into many different varieties, including but not limited to honeydew, canary melons, Persian melons, and—drum roll please—cantaloupes!

What does that mean? It means that cantaloupes are a type of muskmelon. In other words, all cantaloupes are muskmelons, but not all muskmelons are cantaloupes.

Thus, though all muskmelons are similar, they do come in different colors and textures. Some muskmelons have smooth green rinds, while others have ribbed, net-like skins. Before diving into cantaloupes, let’s take a look at some other muskmelon varieties:

Honeydews are small, heavy melons with a waxy, greenish to yellowish rind, and pale green flesh. When ripe, the flesh is very sweet. The interior is filled with seeds, and the shape of the fruit is spherical. Honeydews lack the fragrant musky smell that distinguishes some of its melon cousins.

Closeup of a honeydew melon cut in half.
The smooth skin of a honeydew sets it apart from cantaloupes.

Canary melons are large oval melons with bright yellow skin—in fact, they’re called canary melons because their color reminds people of canary birds! The flesh ranges from the similar pale green of honeydews to a much brighter white, and they are also filled with seeds. Though sweet, canary melons taste sharper than honeydew.

A whole yellow Canary melon next to a slice and cubes of melon.
The bright yellow Canary melon.

Persian melons, also called Odessa melons, have yellow and green skins and an elongated shape with indented bands running the length of the fruit from end to end. The flesh also ranges from green to yellow, and wraps around an interior filled with seeds.

An elongated Persian melon with a wedge cut out of it.
The elongated shape of a Persian melon makes it easy to spot.

Cantaloupes: The Most Famous Muskmelons

Now that we’ve settled the muskmelon vs. cantaloupe debate, let’s get into the specifics of cantaloupes, which are one of the most common muskmelons sold around the world.

While cantaloupes are a type of muskmelons, cantaloupes themselves are split into two different varieties: the North American cantaloupe and the European Cantaloupe. Let’s take a look at these differences between cantaloupe varieties.

The European Cantaloupe

The European Cantaloupe’s Latin name is Cucumis melo cantalupensis. This melon is widely considered to be the true, original cantaloupe. Cantaloupes were introduced to Europe via Italy from Armenia, and earned the name cantaloupe from the Italian region of Cantalupo where they were cultivated.

A European cantaloupe cut into sections with whole melons in the background.

European Cantaloupes are light green to yellowish in color, with regular, darker-green bands spanning from stem end to bottom end. Some have a branch-like netting between the green bands, and their flesh is a deep orange with a center full of seeds.

The North American Cantaloupe

Historians believe that the European cantaloupe made its way to the Americas with Christopher Columbus, and eventually bred into the North American cantaloupe you can find in your local American grocery store today. Some, however, think that the North American cantaloupe isn’t truly a cantaloupe (its Latin name doesn’t have cantalupensis in it) and that a melon cannot be considered a cantaloupe if it’s cultivated outside of Europe. For the sake of this article, however, we’ll consider the European Cantaloupe and North American Cantaloupe as two varieties of the same fruit, and leave the arguing to the experts!

Sliced North American cantaloupe.

The North American cantaloupe’s Latin name is Cucumis melo reticulatus. As its more commonly used English name suggests, this is the kind of melon you will find in American grocery stores. Reticulatus means reticulated, and refers to the netting-like texture that wraps around the rind. When ripe, the netting is pale in color and prominent to the touch, and the rind beneath it is creamy yellow.

If you’re interested in learning more about The North American Cantaloupe, you can check out our profile of the popular summer fruit here.

Similarities

Besides their rinds, the European cantaloupe and the North American cantaloupe are very similar in their other characteristics. Their flesh is bright orange and juicy, and their shape is usually more rounded than their cousin, the watermelon, and certainly more than the Persian or canary melons. They’re also a bit smaller than most other muskmelons, and their rind is hard to the touch. They both emit a fragrant, musky-sweet smell which you can detect before it’s even cut—it usually comes from the stem side.

Ripe cantaloupes are sweet, succulent, and with a tender texture. If you have to work at stabbing a piece of cantaloupe with your fork, that means it’s not ripe!

Health Benefits of Muskmelons and Cantaloupes

Though the title muskmelon vs. cantaloupe might lead you to think that there are many differences between cantaloupe and muskmelon, the fact that cantaloupes are a type of muskmelon actually means that the two are similar, especially in nutritional value and health benefits.

Muskmelons are armed with high levels of vitamins, specifically vitamin C and A. Vitamin C is widely known to strengthen your immune system and consequently defend against common colds and mitigate nastier infections that impact your respiratory system. Vitamin A supports vision and general epidermal health, as well as the production of white blood cells, which are also essential in fighting infections and diseases.

A bowl of cantaloupe cubes.

Muskmelons also have an impressive amount of antioxidants, including lutein, zeaxanthin, choline, beta carotene, cryptoxanthin, and superoxide dismutase. Antioxidants protect us against free radicals (unstable atoms) that cause oxidative stress within our body: a harmful ratio between these free radicals and antioxidants that bring on early aging and side effects like wrinkles, grey hairs, and fatigue. Antioxidants are even believed to help prevent heart disease and other chronic maladies because of their anti-inflammatory properties. What a super fruit!

For those of you looking to lose weight but not excited about having to curb your diet, look no further! Muskmelons are the perfect snack for you. Besides the fact that its high levels of vitamins help your body function to the best of its ability, muskmelon flesh is about ninety percent water, which means that it keeps you hydrated and has a low calorie count!

The good news doesn’t end there. The fiber in muskmelon doesn’t just help your digestion, but it keeps you satisfied for longer, meaning that you won’t get hungry and reach for other snacks any time soon.

Slices of a green cantaloupe-style melon -- possibly Galia cantaloupe.

Recipes with Muskmelons

Because all muskmelon varieties share similar tastes and compositions, and the differences between cantaloupe types don’t go much deeper than their rinds, you can use them interchangeably in most recipes. They are a healthy, light, and sweet snack, and thus easy to incorporate into any diet.

Most people consume muskmelons fresh, by cutting them into slices or cubes and eating them on the spot. Some even sprinkle toppings onto the melon slices (like this Salted and Spiced Melon recipe) or cut the melon into small pieces and use them as toppings for yogurt or ice cream. Whatever you do, we suggest you don’t cut them ahead of time—cut them right before you intend to eat your muskmelon to preserve its freshness!

If you’re feeling more adventurous, we’ve gathered a list of fun recipes:

Their high water content makes muskmelons easy additions to sorbets and smoothies.

Small glasses of cantaloupe sorbet.
Cantaloupe sorbet.

On that note, if you’re a fan of blending fruits and veggies together, this Chilled Cucumber Melon Soup might just become your next favorite light summer meal.

You’ve probably seen melon cubes included in standard, prepackaged fruit salads in convenience stores, but there are also some unique salad recipes out there, like this Cantaloupe Blackberry Basil Salad, this Tomato, Pickled Melon, and Burrata Salad, and this Shaved Honeydew, Fennel, and Olive Salad.

An Italian aperitive that has become increasingly popular abroad is of course prosciutto e melone, or prosciutto-wrapped cubes of cantaloupe. For this recipe specifically, we suggest sticking to cantaloupe instead of other muskmelon varieties.

Wedges of cantaloupe wrapped in prosciutto.

You’ve definitely heard of spring rolls—but have you ever had summer rolls? This Melon Basil Summer Roll recipe is the perfect fusion appetizer you didn’t know you needed until now!

Surprisingly, you can also consume muskmelon seeds by roasting them, and then eating them as you would pumpkin seeds. Remember that muskmelons and pumpkins are from the same gourd family! You can also sprinkle muskmelon seeds on salads or creamy soups.

Settling the Muskmelon vs. Cantaloupe Question

By now you will have realized that the conversation isn’t “muskmelon vs. cantaloupe” as much as it is which muskmelon varieties are cantaloupes. The good news is that no matter what your local grocery store calls them, you can rely on ripe muskmelons’ sweet and juicy flavor to carry you through the summer.

A plate of different kinds of cantaloupe slices.

Interested in learning more about cantaloupes, specifically? Check out our cantaloupe blog posts!