Thump, Sniff and Touch - The Art of Selecting Melons
Finding a perfectly ripe melon and feeling confident that you are taking home a ready-to-eat piece of fruit is a challenge for most any shopper. So, as melons begin to fill out your produce displays, let’s go over a few very simple techniques for selecting the ripe ones - at least covering the big three - cantaloupes, honeydews, and watermelons.
With cantaloupes there are 5 key indicators of ripeness and maturity: the stem end; the netting; the color; the touch; and the smell.
- The stem end of a cantaloupe is actually one of the key indicators in determining ripeness. The stem itself should not be on the cantaloupe. If you see the stem on the fruit, it should automatically be ruled out. If some of the stem remains attached, the melon is not mature and indicates that the fruit was picked too early. The stem end should be slightly indented, indicating that that the fruit easily came away from the vine when it was picked. If it protrudes, this is an indication of premature harvesting. Also check for tears in the rind around the stem end, which too can indicate a premature harvest. Lastly, on the stem end, make sure to avoid fruit with soft, moist-looking areas around the indentation, which indicates that the fruit is past its prime.
- The netting on the skin should be thick, with a coarse texture, and pretty well defined, and should be more pronounced in some places than in others.
- Color is pretty straightforward - the base skin color of a ripe cantaloupe should be tinted gold, not green.
- Touch is always important when selecting any melon. A good cantaloupe should feel relatively heavy for its size. Pick up several melons on display to compare. Also, the blossom end should yield just a bit when pressed.
- It’s always good to trust your nose when selecting a cantaloupe. The best area of the fruit to smell for ripeness is the blossom end - the end opposite the stem area. Raise the fruit so that the button is just under your nose and take a good whiff. You want to detect a noticeable sweet aroma. That is the scent of a ripe cantaloupe!
If the cantaloupe passes all of these tests, you have a wonderful piece of fruit that is ready-to-eat!
Unlike cantaloupes, honeydew melons have a very smooth rind rather than a course netted skin. As honeydews ripen, they turn from green, to creamy white, then to yellow. Avoid the green ones, but a creamy white one will (unlike other melons) ripen on your counter in a few days. Well-ripened honeydew melons will yield just a bit to pressure at the blossom end and have a sticky, velvety rind. The tackiness that you feel on its skin is actually the fruit sugar in the melon coming to the surface. Ripe honeydews should have a strong sweet smell, and this aroma is most evident when the melon is at room temperature.
It’s not uncommon to see people shaking melons as a ripeness indicator. Believe it or not, this can actually work with honeydews. When you shake a well-ripened honeydew melon, you can feel the seeds actually rattling around. Shoppers will also try this on cantaloupes, but I do not recommend this as a ripeness indicator for cantaloupes; it yields very inconsistent results.
It’s pretty difficult to tell if a watermelon is ripe unless it’s examined. A really good indicator is the color on the spot where the melon rested on the ground. A green watermelon will have a white or pale green bottom, a ripe melon will have a cream or yellow-colored bottom.
Many rely on the old thumping test as an indicator of ripeness, even though most of us really aren’t sure what it is that we are listening for. When you thump, if the melon sounds hollow, it is usually ripe. The unripe melon will have more of a thud-like sound. This technique however, is pretty challenging to perfect and not all that reliable for those with of us less-gifted ears. The thumping technique is not a guarantee because the hollow sound (which indicates ripeness) can also be heard when the melon is overripe. Many produce experts have likened watermelon thumping to kicking the tires on a car. "It makes you feel good when you do it, but you don't really know what it will accomplish."
So, there you go - a little guide to melon season. Eating a perfectly ripe melon is really one of the true eating pleasures of the summer. Help your customers indulge!