Watermelon, Honeydew, and Cantaloupe may hog the spotlight when Summer starts, and we all start getting those cravings for their refreshing, juicy sweet flesh – but as the Season runs deep so do our options as a plethora of delicious and unique Melon varietals also come into season throughout the entire summer. These refreshing gems are some of Summer’s best kept secrets, and guaranteed to be in the arsenal of your favorite top Chef!
So get ready to explore some of these oft missed treats, and be sure to snag them if you see them at the Farmers Market (many of them have very short shelf lives, making them hard to find in any sort of commercial retailer, and one of the prime examples of “freshly foraged” produce you can only find via the Farmers Market). Plus whether you try some of these new varietals, or slice up a timeless favorite, be sure and explore the creative recipe ideas (at the bottom) for making the most of your melons: there’s more to juicy melon’s than just fresh eating!
Specialty Melon Varietals:
Ambrosia Melon: A petite variety of the netted Muskmelon family, the Ambrosia resembles a smallish Cantaloupe. They feature a fairly thin rind, a light orange and very juicy flesh, and a small seed cavity. The flesh is very sweet and aromatic with floral notes (when ripe they should give of a pleasant sweet melon aroma), and soft and lush in texture. They have a short shelf life once harvested, so can be hard to find – finding yours freshly foraged at the Farmers Market is the perfect place to score this sweet and juicy favorite. When selecting look for the same ripeness cues as you would with Cantaloupe, but with a more fine netting.
Charentais Melon: The Charentais is a petite varietal of melon, with a hard and smooth green to greyish tinged skin featuring darker green stripes. It’s bright to light orange flesh is particularly dense and firm, and yet succulent – and is favorited for its aromatic and highly sweet flavoring, with notes of tropical fruit and floral undertones. With its robust aroma and delicious flavor, the Charentais is a Chef favorite. The Charentais is a perfect candidate for fresh eating out of hand and other raw preparations, and unlike other Melon varietals the Charentais is not well suited to cooking. Its short shelf life once picked makes them hard to find except at Farmers Markets and other Farm to Table Venues. When selecting yours, use your nose, as they have a rich tropical aroma when ripe, and the green-grey rind may have a hint of yellow.
Galia Melon – A medium sized round member of the netted Muskmelon family, the Galia is an Israeli hybrid (related to the Ha’Ogen) with a vibrant yellow to orange skin, covered with the families signature tan netting. The flesh is a light green with a crisp succulent texture, and known for its exceptional and rather unique spicy sweet flavor and perfumed aromatics. It’s this unusual and incredible flavoring that make them highly desirable, despite their short shelf life.
Galia Melons are best eaten fresh and used in uncooked preparations like fresh green and fruit salads, along with breakfast and main dishes. They pair well in both sweet and savory applications. Less about knocking and touching, the Galia Melons ripeness is best determined by the development of its distinct musky aroma, along with the depth of orange hue to the skin – the more orange coloration in the skin the higher the sugar content will be of the melons flesh. Like so many of the Melons on this list, you won’t find them in commercial supermarkets due to their short shelf life, but snag yours freshly foraged and their incomparable.
Gaya Melon (Ivory)/Snow Leopard Melon – Rare and hard to find. Snow leopard is a small cream colored melon with a splattering of bright green spots and streaks, a thin outer rind, and a dense seed cavity. Its creamy white flesh is crisp, becoming softer and juicier the closer you get to the center, and has a bright sweet cucumber like flavor, with undertones of honey and pear. It’s similar to a honeydew in texture and taste, but with softer and slightly sweeter flesh. Storing it at room temperature will bring out the flavor and sweetness even more (and permeate your kitchen with a lovely rich sweet melon aroma). It’s petite size and particularly sweet flesh make the Snow Leopard ideal for fresh eating out of hand, as well as an addition to fruit and green salads, as well as purees (it’s also an ideal choice to add to your kebobs!).
Ha’Ogen Melon: Another smallish or “personal size” melon, originating in the kibbutz of Israel. Unique, and fairly easily identifiable with its yellow skin and green stripes. This rind is thinnish and gives way to a luscious and juicy green flesh, known for its sweet tropical flavor and strong notes of honey. Like many of the other varietals here, its size makes it ideal for eating fresh out of hand, however its distinctly sweet and tropical flavor make it an alluring addition to many of the recipes below. When selecting yours, find one which has a nice yellow peel in between the green stripes and sniff for a nice fresh tropical aroma.
Orchid (Sweet Orange) Watermelon: A small oval varietal of Watermelon featuring a beautiful and super sweet orange flesh, with hints of Sherbert. Orange Watermelon varietals are known for their crisp, juicy texture and brightly sweet flavor. The fruits are a small oval-round (about 5lb each) so a perfect personal size melon for fresh eating out of hand. They may also be used similar to Red Watermelon in recipes, and their particularly sweet flavor makes them a great addition (they can also be grilled or seared, caramelizing their natural concentration of sugars).
Rocky Sweet Melons – One of the “netted” Muskmelons (the exterior looks like a Cantaloupe and the interior flesh like that of a Honeydew) – the Rocky Sweet varietal is known for its exceptional spicy sweet flavor and perfumed aromatics. It is round with a thick yellow skin covered with the signature golden tan netting. The flesh is a light green with a smooth and succulent texture. Less about knocking and touching, the Rocky Sweet Melons ripeness is best determined by the development of its distinct musky and sweet aroma, along with a lighter yellow to brown or even orange coloration of the skin – which indicates a higher the sugar content.
Rocky Sweet Melons taste like a bit of a cross between a Cantaloupe and a Honeydew – that being said, unlike most melons these are at their absolute best when chilled – and are best eaten fresh and used in uncooked preparations like fresh green and fruit salads along with breakfast and main dishes. They pair well in both sweet and savory applications. Rocky Sweet Melon’s incredible flavoring make them highly desirable, however you won’t find them in commercial supermarkets due to their short shelf life – which makes them the perfect candidate for our Markets – freshly foraged and direct to you (once cut, keep in a sealed container in the fridge).
Sugar Cube Melon – This “Mini Cantaloupe” is smaller than the traditional Cantaloupe with a more densely compact flesh and is known for its sweet flavor. Often also referred to as the Breakfast Cantaloupe, the bright salmon orange flesh is tender and juicy and has a higher sugar content than other varieties. It also maintains its sugar level longer than other melons, often up to two weeks past reaching ripeness. The exterior has a similar netted tan to cream rind like its larger cousin.
Their size makes them perfect for single or two serving for fresh eating and cut in half with seeds removed their ideal for filling with a variety of ingredients. Sugar Cube is also great to add a blast of refreshing sweetness to smoothies and juicing mixtures as well as pureeing and adding to sorbets, granitas, and frozen cocktails.
Yellow Doll Watermelon – Smaller, sweeter, and with less seeds than your average red watermelon (Lycopene is what gives them there reddish hue, without it Watermelon flesh is yellow) the Yellow Doll has become the darling of the West Coast over the past few years. Similar in appearance on the exterior (light green with darker green stripes) the Yellow Doll is firm and round with a relatively thin rind, and a surprisingly bright yellow flesh which is juicy and unusually sweet, with a honey-like flavor. Great for eating fresh out of hand, they can also be used in the same raw and cook preparations as Red Watermelon – plus its particularly sweet flavor can make it perfect for use in cocktails and grilled or seared in a hot pan to caramelize all those delicious natural sugars.
Yellow (Seedless) Watermelon – On the exterior Yellow Watermelon looks very similar to their more famous red hued cousins – with their familiar circular to oblong shape and dark and light green rind – but the interior of the Yellow Watermelon features a firm golden to bright yellow toned succulent flesh which has a super juicy and extra sweet flavor with surprising honey-like undertones.
In addition to fresh eating out of hand or cubed and tossed into summer salads (where it pairs great with feta and goat cheeses), like its Red Cousin, Yellow Watermelon is also great for juicing, smoothies, and cocktails – plus Watermelon can also be made into Preserves and Jams, and the rind can even be pickled! Additionally its unique color and high sugar content make the Yellow Watermelon perfect for grilling or searing to caramelize those natural sugars.
Melon Nutrition: Sharing many nutritional similarities with its gourd cousins Squash, the Melon combines the high water and low calorie content of the summer squash, with the high nutrient content of the winter varieties, including high values of Vitamins B and C, Potassium, and soluble Pectin Fiber. So during these especially hot and dry summer months, there’s nothing better to take a refreshing and cooling bite out of.
Additional Muskmelon Nutrition: Muskmelon (think your “netted” Melons) varieties, are a particularly excellent source of beta-carotene, folic acid, potassium, vitamin C and dietary fiber.
Additional Watermelon Nutrition: The Orange-fleshed melons are high in vitamin A and C, beta-carotene, carbohydrates, fiber and protein (the Yellow-fleshed melons are very similar but with less beta-carotene) – while in addition the Red-fleshed varieties contain the antioxidant Lycopene (from which they get their red color). Watermelons are comprised of ninety-two percent water, making them an ideal healthy treat in hot weather, replenishing lost body fluids and potassium.
Melon Ideas and Links:
Melon Appetizers and Sides: From How Sweet Eats, Sunset Mag, and Vegetarian Adventures. Clockwise from Upper Left:
Melon Salad Options: From BBC Good Food and Sunset Mag. Clockwise from Upper Left:
Grilled Melon Meals: From the Fit Fork, Popsugar, and Sunset Mag. Clockwise from Upper Left:
Melon Entrees and Specialty Dishes: From BHG Mag, the Parma Crown, the Rosemary Kitchen Witch, and Sunset Mag. Clockwise from Upper Left:
Bonus: Melons are perfect for making your own natural “Gatorade” at home – check out our Blog and Recipe here!