Melon: properties, benefits and use in the kitchen
Melon is one of those fruits that symbolize summer, although some varieties are found in the middle of winter. It is thirst-quenching , remineralizing and rich in fiber . Its precious nutrients make it an ideal fruit for the warmer season, rich as it is in properties and with health benefits. Thanks to its low caloric intake, it is particularly suitable for those who follow a dietary regime: its high satiating power is a valid ally for those who want to lose weight without missing a good supply of water, minerals and vitamins .
Melon: what it is
The melon, Cucumis melo , is the fruit of an annual cycle herbaceous plant belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family , native to Asia but, according to some botanists, also of tropical Africa.
The plant develops with a prostrate stem, that is creeping on the ground, but it is also a climber thanks to the tendrils of the stems of the stem, which allow it, if accompanied with supports, to stick and grow in height.
The leaves are rough, broad and made up of rounded lobes. The root system extends both on the surface and in depth.
The flowers are formed in an axillary position with respect to the hairline of the leaves. They are yellow and with a bell-shaped corolla. The fruit (peponide), called melon, or popone, is fleshy, rich in watery juice, weighing between 1 and 4 kilos, of different shapes (spherical, cylindrical, ovoid), with epicarp (outer skin) variable in color ( from full yellow to straw yellow, plain or striped green or light green) depending on the variety and with a smooth or wrinkled (reticulated) surface.
Inside it contains numerous seeds arranged in the central part of the fruit. The pulp , which is the edible part, is sweet, with a strong aroma and flavor.
Summer and winter melon
The melons are divided into two basic groups: the summer melons , with yellow-orange flesh, and the winter melons , with a generally whitish pulp. They are very appreciated in the warm season for the refreshing and refreshing properties. But even in winter they are a delicacy, thanks to the vanilla aroma. Melon cultivation requires high temperatures, in a not too humid environment, with loose, deep and perfectly drained soils.
The history of melon
The origins of the melon are not entirely certain because it is difficult to trace an initial wild species. Many scholars favor the Asian one, but the African track is not completely excluded. Certainly the fruit has entered the food habits of man very early, so much so that it is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the oldest epic poem in the history of mankind , set in Mesopotamia in the III millennium BC
The first certain evidence of melons in the Mediterranean countries is due to an archaeobotanical group from the Conservation and Biodiversity Center of the University of Cagliari, which found seeds in the well of Sa Osa (Cabras) dating back to the Bronze Age ( between 1310-1120 BC).
Numerous historical documents prove the consumption of melons by the Greeks and Romans .
In Herculaneum the fruit appears in some frescoes and, as Pliny the Elder reports in his chronicles, the Roman emperor Tiberius was particularly fond of it. Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the influx of melons from Asia Minor also ceased. Only in 800 AD , thanks to Charlemagne, they returned to being consumed, but without becoming popular enough to enjoy extensive cultivation.
With the discovery of the New World also the melon was introduced in America.
Currently the melon is widespread all over the world and Italy is among the major producers with cultivations that concern many regions, both in the North, in the Center and in the South. Asia is still the leading producer of melons worldwide
How the combination of melon with salt was born
Until the end of the 1800s its consumption was not much encouraged because it was suspected that it could be poisonous . It is possible that some melons have given digestion problems due to their perishability. A belief advised to eat at the beginning of the meal or in combination with savory foods (such as ham) to avoid negative effects . From this derives probably the traditional summer dish still in vogue today.
Melon: nutritional properties
The melon is composed of about 90% water and is therefore a thirst-quenching fruit. It is low in calories and has a consistent fiber content that gives it a high satiating power.
Its composition changes considerably between summer and winter varieties.
It is an excellent source of mineral salts , especially for its important content of potassium, zinc, calcium, phosphorus and magnesium, which contribute to making it a refreshing and regenerating fruit. Among the vitamins, the high content of vitamin C stands out , less in the winter variety, and a notable presence of folate , vitamin B3 and vitamin B6 .
The summer varieties are very rich in beta – carotene , a precursor of vitamin A, an antioxidant carotenoid that is also responsible for the production of melanin , a protective substance in the skin that helps make the tan more intense in summer.
Let’s see what the health benefits are if we put the melon in our diet.
Antioxidant and anticancer
The varieties of summer melons have an important feature: the abundance of beta – carotene , or provitamin A. This, vitamin C and other antioxidant compounds (in particular alpha-carotene, lutein, beta-cryptoxanthin and zeaxanthin, but also flavonoids such as luteolin, acid ferulic, caffeic acid and cucurbitacin B and E) are a set that can counteract the oxidative stress produced by free radicals “
Modern medical and genetic researches attribute to vitamin A an important role in the protection from cellular alterations and from tumoral pathologies , above all of the stomach, the colon, the prostate and the breast.
Strengthens the immune system
In synergy with other carotenoids and antioxidants, beta-carotene strengthens the immune system and plays a protective role for many biological functions, thus managing to prevent and combat many diseases and dysfunctions. In particular it seems to have the ability to increase resistance against infections and intervenes in the liver toxin disposal processes . Carotenoids such as vitamin A stimulate the production of T lymphocytes, white blood cells that act as scavengers to defend the body.
It helps the circulatory system and the heart
The anti-inflammatory activity of cucurbitacine is also useful for diseases caused by high levels of inflammation of the cardiovascular system.
This action is associated with potassium, which produces beneficial effects on blood circulation and blood pressure . Then there is the action exerted by adenosine , a nucleotide that is used in pharmacological preparations for the treatment of a series of cardiocirculatory problems, such as stroke, angina pectoris, tachycardia and heart attack.
Finally, the combination of vitamin C and E can slow atherosclerotic progression in hypercholesterolemic people.
A fair amount of vitamin K also promotes the function of blood coagulation.
Perfect for sight, skin and cartilage
The beta-carotene is also involved in the visual process by protecting the retina and increasing the capacity of vision in low light conditions. Other carotenoids, such as zeaxanthin, assist the function of beta-carotene, feeding the retinal eye tissue and providing protection from UV rays . Vitamin A also plays a preventive role against macular degeneration, a typical senile pathology.
Furthermore, beta-carotene is essential for the formation and maintenance of healthy skin , cartilaginous tissues and mucous membranes , including those of the lungs, mouth and nose. Promotes the formation of a tan, protecting the skin from sunlight.
It is no coincidence that the melon pulp is very useful for the preparation of rehydrating and restructuring masks of the skin of the face, preventing dryness and roughness.
Prevents metabolic syndrome
Melon consumption has been associated with a lower risk of metabolic syndrome, a health condition characterized by a set of problems such as:
high blood lipid levels
Helps maintain the line and facilitates intestinal functions
The melon ensures a good supply of dietary fiber with an excellent ” fiber index “, which is the ratio between the quantity of fiber and the calories of the food. In this sense it is particularly suitable if a low calorie diet is followed.
The fibers regulate intestinal functions, both in diarrheal states and in cases of constipation.
Thanks to the presence of water and an assorted cocktail of mineral salts, the melon is the ideal fruit in summer: it prevents dehydration and helps to replenish mineral salts lost through excessive sweating. It is an effective tonic and performs a diuretic , purifying and refreshing action on the body.
Improves insulin metabolism
It has been shown that the phytonutrients present in the melon can improve the metabolism of insulin and blood sugar and that, in people with diabetes, they can help improve insulin resistance.
Excellent during pregnancy and during breastfeeding
Melon juice and pulp are particularly suitable for pregnant women as they contain a good dose of folic acid , which is important for the normal development of the fetus.
Melon, if taken in large quantities, can cause an electrolyte imbalance due to the low sodium / potassium ratio. Prudence in the consumption of melons is recommended to those who are diabetic and to people suffering from gastric disorders such as acidity and digestive difficulties.
Method of use
The melon is usually consumed fresh.
The fruit is divided into two parts in a longitudinal direction and with the help of a spoon the seeds grouped in the central part are eliminated . If the fruit is ripe to the right point, these come off very easily. After removing the seeds, the melon can easily be sliced.
Once cut and sliced, it is advisable to consume it within 24/36 hours.
The whole fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for 3/4 days . Care must be taken to separate it from other foods, because they could absorb its strong fragrance.
It is a climacteric fruit , that is, it matures even after being separated from the plant. This is why it is convenient to separate it from the other fruit because it could accelerate the maturation process.
During storage, the temperature should never fall below 3 or 4 ° C , otherwise red spots may appear where a softening can be recorded when the melon is brought back to room temperature.
Although in much of the world this fruit is consumed to taste its sweet and tasty pulp , in some areas of Central America, Asia and the Middle East it is also appreciated for its seeds, consumed as a snack.
How to choose the perfect melon
Melon is a product that can be found on sales counters almost all year round, thanks to varieties that ripen in different seasonal periods and also in greenhouse cultivation techniques that allow to anticipate or lengthen production times.
The natural ripening period of the summer melon goes from May to the end of September , depending on the more or less early varieties and the cultivation area.
The winter melon is harvested between August and October, but, unlike the summer one, it is kept for two or three months after the harvest and therefore it is possible to find it for sale even until the end of January.
The melons for sale do not only come from areas cultivated in Italy, but also from other countries bordering the Mediterranean, such as Egypt and Turkey or, from geographical areas even very distant.
For summer melons it is advisable to focus on the Italian product, both because of the cultivation guarantees they offer, and because we can be sure that they have been harvested at the right level of ripeness. Those who travel too long are still not perfectly mature.
The summer melon is preferable to be consumed at the right level of ripeness to ensure the best in terms of taste, texture and nutritional properties. For this reason it is important to be able to distinguish the product for sale. The sugars are concentrated in the fruit during the last week of maturation: if the fruit has been picked still unripe it will be not very tasty and with the pulp too hard.
How to tell when the melon is ripe
To understand if the melon is ripe at the right point, we must rely on all five senses.
Visually, the skin color tends to yellow / ocher or brownish but not green. The point of attachment to the plant ( peduncle ) must be green. If it is dry, it means that the melon has been harvested too long and there is a risk that the fruit is not too ripe. The perfume must be able to be perceived intensely and clearly.
Taking the melon at the two poles, pressing with these fingers on these ends one must perceive a slight yielding. But be careful, excessive softness may mean too advanced maturation. The petiole that held the melon attached to the plant must be present and be able to detach without offering great resistance but it must not be yielding. If the peduncleit is not possible to detach, it is probable that the fruit has been harvested too soon without having reached the right degree of ripeness. In the latter case, you can buy it and let it ripen out of the refrigerator, away from direct light for a few days. If the peduncle is withered and yellow and comes off very easily, the melon was brought to maturity after harvesting using ethylene.
Knocking lightly with the knuckles of the fingers, if the melon sounds empty it is still unripe and the pulp will be hard and dry inside. The sound that should attract us is the lowest and most muted.
Alternative uses of melon
The melon is also used in the cosmetic field for the preparation of beauty masks able to tone the skin and make it softer and more velvety.
With melon seeds left in infusion you can prepare herbal teas with the emollient and sedative properties of cough .
Melon moisturizing mask
Here is a recipe for the moisturizing mask that fights dry and dry skin on the face and neck, giving it new shine and softness.
1 slice of melon
1 teaspoon of honey
1 tablespoon of liquid cream
Preparation and application:
Cut the slice of melon into a pulp with a fork. Combine a teaspoon of honey and one of cream. Blend the mixture and then apply it to the face and neck. Hold for about 20 minutes. Rinse with warm water.
In case of sensitive or allergic skin, if you want to try this mask, ask your doctor first for advice.
Use in the kitchen
The melon is generally consumed fresh, sliced or in fruit salad.
It can be served as an appetizer , in a salad , as a fruit after a meal or as an accompaniment to a dessert.
It is also used as an ingredient in desserts, ice creams, granitas, juices or smoothies and in yogurt.