Melons were introduced to Europe by the Ancient Romans, and travelled to the New World with the Spanish explorers – probably as a way to help them fend off scurvy during their voyages due to their high vitamin C content. Spanish settlers are recorded as having cultivated melons starting in the mid-16th century in parts of South America.
Botanically speaking, melons are actually a type of ‘false’ berry in the Cucurbitaceae family. They will vary widely in size and color, but the ones most people are familiar with are sweet or semi-sweet fruit with a smooth or mesh-like ‘skin’ and a soft, fleshy inside part that can be consumed. Most melons will have small pockets filled with seeds (which in some cases can be eaten and are actually quite good for you) in the center of the edible flesh, while others will have the seeds spread through the flesh.
Normally a quite hardy and adaptable fruit, today melons are grown in many parts of the world although they prefer sunny, warm climates that feature lots of rain and good drainage. Hundreds of millions of tons of melons are produced worldwide every year, with China accounting over 25% of all melon production. Other major producers include Iran, Turkey, India, Brazil, the United States, Egypt and Spain.
Melons are one of the most nutritious foodstuffs around, and provide humans with a number of essential vitamins and minerals, digestive fiber, and – because of their high water content – also serve as an excellent diuretic. Additionally, many melons are downright delicious and can be eaten alone, as part of a fruit or other salad, or used in cooking other dishes.
So, what are some of the most popular types of melons?
Watermelon is one of the most popular of all the different melon varieties, and is probably the first melon to be eaten regularly by humans. Originating in Northeastern Africa, it has been cultivated and consumed by people for over 4,000 years. Watermelons are the fruit of a flowering, vine-like plant in the Citrullus lanatus species of the Cucurbitaceae family.
Today, about 120 million tons of watermelon is cultivated throughout the world annually, with China producing nearly 70% of the yearly crop and Iran, Turkey and Brazil together accounting for another 10%. In the United States, watermelon is grown commercially in over 40 states; the largest watermelon on record weighed just over 350 pounds and was grown by a farmer in Tennessee in 2013.
There are a very large number of varieties of watermelon – over 1,200, as a matter of fact – and they range in weight from under two pounds to over 200 pounds, but most have a few things in common. They are considered to be a tropical or sub-tropical fruit and grow best in climates where the temperature doesn’t dip much below 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 degrees Celsius) during the growing season. Watermelons have one of the longest growing periods of any melon, often taking over 90 days to reach maturity.
Since the 1950s, watermelons have been cross-bred and genetically enhanced to improve their ability to grow in colder climates and improve their shelf-life. Seedless watermelons were first developed in Japan during the late 1930s, and today account for over 80% of all watermelon sales in the United States.
Watermelons normally have about a 90% water content (hence the name) and are completely edible – although many people choose not to eat the rinds (even though they are packed with nutrients) because of the bitter taste, and spit out the seeds. The moist, fibrous fruit is usually red, yellow or orange and is quite sweet. Watermelon is very popular throughout the world during the summer months because the fruit will remain cool for a long period of time without refrigeration due to its size.
Apart from being an excellent snack on a hot summer day, watermelon is often juiced, and sometimes mixed with other juices and fermented to produce wine. The seeds can be dried and roasted and consumed as a snack, while the rinds are often used in pickle-making, or stir fried and served as a vegetable with some Asian dishes. Watermelon seed oil is used frequently in cooking in some parts of West Africa.
Cantaloupes (also sometimes called a mush melon, musk melon or sweet melon) are part of the Cucumis melo species of melons. These melons have can have either a netted or smooth peel. There are actually two main types of melons that are commonly called cantaloupes; the European and the North American cantaloupe.
The European cantaloupe (sometimes called a ‘true’ cantaloupe) normally has a smooth,
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