The name cantaloupe (Cucumis melo) after just referred to an orange-fleshed melon without a netting on the skin. In the United States, it generally refers to some melon with orange, juicy flesh or specific melons with netted skins. Cantaloupes might also be known as muskmelons or Persian melons, and on occasion the names are used interchangeably. Cantaloupes are tender annuals that will not withstand frost, and grow best in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 11.
What some reference as the true cantaloupe (Cucumis melo cantalupensis) comes to us from Europe, though likely originated in Asia or even Africa. Even though there may be some debate concerning the name, this cantaloupe is actually just one species of a larger group of muskmelons. The name “cantaloupe” is derived from the town Cantalupo in Italy in which it had been cultivated. The fruits have light green to tan skin which varies from quite gently netted to completely smooth. Its rind is harder and it has pronounced ribbing. The flesh is orange, juicy, aromatic and sweet. It’s a slightly musky odor and flavor.
North American Cantaloupe
North American cantaloupes (Cucumis melo reticultus) have rough, netted (or reticulated) skins over a light yellow background. Their rinds are softer than the rinds of the European cantaloupe. It bears the same sweet, juicy, fragrant orange peel and has a flavor that is comparable. The fruit may or may not have ribbing. Whether this should actually be called a muskmelon as opposed to cantaloupe is the subject of some debate, but no matter, the fruit is immediately recognizable as a cantaloupe to the majority of North America.
Melons within this category (also Cucumis melo reticultus) are sometimes called hami melons or Persian melons. Their skins are netted, though the netting isn’t as pronounced as the North American cantaloupe. The fruit is oblong and their flesh is light orange, aromatic and lighter in flavor intensity than the North American cantaloupes. Even though North American cantaloupes bears soft flesh, these melons tend to be somewhat crisp by comparison. Rinds can range in color from light green to yellowish.
Cantaloupes arrive in many different interesting variations. A sweet, green-fleshed Japanese cantaloupe is sometimes decoratively wrapped and provided as present and sells for about $100.00 per melon. The Galia cantaloupe hails from Israel, and in addition it has green flesh. It discharges a banana-like aroma. The Charentais cantaloupe is a French heirloom with gray-green to tan ribbed skins and juicy, orange flesh. Often grown in Europe, it is seldom seen in grocery stores in the United States because it is too delicate to ship.