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They’re juicy, aromatic, and ever so sweet -- is it any wonder that melons have been cultivated for thousands of years? The fruits fall into two species: Cucumis melo, which includes muskmelons, cantaloupes, and honeydews; and Citrullus lanatus, also known as watermelons. Look for locally grown melons at the market through fall.
Melons don’t get sweeter after they are picked. To judge the ripeness of a watermelon, tap it and listen for a dull “plunk” sound. With honeydews and other winter melons, the blossom end should give to slight pressure. And with muskmelons and cantaloupes, sniff for a strong fruity aroma.
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While not entirely seedless (it has soft, white immature seeds), this variety has become only more popular since its hybridization more than 60 years ago. Red watermelons contain the highest level of the antioxidant lycopene per serving of any fruit or vegetable.
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Its yellow-fleshed fruit has a more honeyed, mellow taste than that of its red counterpart. Chill it a few hours before serving for a thirstquenching treat (remember, watermelons are 92 percent water!).
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Though this watermelon is small (typically only 6 to 12 pounds), it more than makes up for its diminutive size with an intense, concentrated flavor. Since it grows compactly, it saves space in the garden and, after harvesting, in the refrigerator.
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Also known as piel de sapo or Christmas melon, because it’s harvested later in the season and can keep through the holidays, the winter melon is subtler than other varieties. The yellower the rind, the sweeter the fruit.
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Moon and Stars
Named for its speckled rind that resembles the night sky, this old-fashioned watermelon has bright-pink flesh, large seeds, and a robust flavor.
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Native to China, this elongated muskmelon tastes like a cantaloupe but boasts sweeter, crisper flesh. Adding a squeeze of lime juice helps balance out the sugariness.
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One of the sweetest varieties available, the Crenshaw ripens from midsummer through autumn. The thick, pink-orange flesh has a heady aroma and works well with prosciutto and other charcuterie.
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A supermarket staple, the smooth-skinned melon lasts a long time thanks to its hard rind. Honeydews don’t have as strong a fragrance as muskmelons, but they can be equally sweet.
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Also known as a French cantaloupe, this highly fragrant melon features firm dark-orange flesh, enticing musky notes, and a shallow seed cavity. The petite and relatively delicate variety (typically the size of a grapefruit) doesn’t ship well, so it’s best found locally or grown at home.
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The oblong yellow fruit resembles a cantaloupe in flavor but has a pleasant tanginess. Like honeydews and other winter melons, it will start to ripen toward the end of summer and continue through the beginning of autumn.
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Supermarkets often sell them as cantaloupes, but these melons, originating from Iran, are actually muskmelons. The aromatic fruit starts appearing in markets come June.
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Featuring a floral perfume, this oblong melon is admired for its restrained, pineapplelike taste and a smooth texture that almost melts in your mouth.
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An Israeli hybrid, the Galia has a netted rind like that of cantaloupes and smooth lime-green flesh like that of honeydews. Its sweet banana flavor pairs well with tart summer fruits.