Melon Families and Qualities

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
The most common Western melons fall into two families:
  • Summer melons are highly aromatic and perishable, and usually have rough rinds. They include true cantaloupes and muskmelons.
  • Winter melons are less aromatic and less perishable, and usually have smooth or wrinkled rinds. They include honeydews, casabas, and canaries.
The differences between the two melon families are caused by differences in their physiology. The aromatic summer melons are generally climacteric fruits that (with the exception of cantaloupes) separate from their stems when ripe; and they contain active enzymes that generate more than 200 different esters from amino acid precursors, and thus help create their characteristically rich aroma. The winter melons are generally nonclimacteric fruit like their relatives the cucumbers and squashes, and have low ester-enzyme activities and therefore a milder flavor.