The melon. A fruit most often associated with hot summer days and cold fruit salads. Depending on the variety and the region in which they are grown, melons may be ready for harvest anywhere between the months of May to September. You’re most likely to begin seeing them featured front and center at your local market starting in June or July. How lucky for us that these refreshing, juicy, and large fruits come into season right when we need them the most!
Not all types of melons are popular at the picnic table however, in fact, there are many types of melons which remain largely underutilized. We’re going to walk you through all of the melon varieties, a few you’re likely already familiar with, and a few more which you should surely get to know!
What Are Melons?
Let’s first cover the basics of these big ol’ fruits. Melon fruits belong to the gourd family Cucurbitaceae, which they share with cucumbers, zucchini, winter squash, and gourds. Most melons are further classified into the genus Cucumis, while yet others fall into the groups known as Citrullus (watermelon!), and Momordica.
Regardless of which particular melon family each fruit belongs to, they all have some fairly common characteristics. A melon fruit typically features a thick skin (more often than not, inedible at that) which effectively protects the juicy, crispy flesh from the outside world. The flavor of the flesh of edible melon varieties may vary from sugar-sweet to tangy, downright bitter to floral, or even sometimes slightly spicy! A cluster of large melon seeds usually marks the center of each fruit and depending on the size of the fruit, these seeds can often be impressively large.
It is believed that melons originated in the hot climates of regions of Asia and Africa, but as human civilization traveled, the melon traveled with them. Cultivated melons can now be found in almost all areas of the world and major crops are produced by the countries of China, Iran, Egypt, Spain, the United States of America, and Mexico among many others. These hefty fruits have long been a staple of the human diet as not only are they amazingly tasty, but melons deliver plenty of health benefits as well.
The Many Types of Melons!
There are actually way too many different types of melons to even cover in a single article--who knew there were so many! Let’s start off with a few of the most common varieties and then we'll introduce you to the multitude of other types of melons that are out there.
The cantaloupe is an easy melon to spot. It has a soft beige rind with a webbed texture and is not at all shiny or waxy like many other melon varieties. It is perhaps due to this gray skin that it earned its secondary name, the rock melon. Once you get through the rough exterior, the cantaloupe will reveal a vivid orange flesh, which is so sweet and juicy, it’s no wonder that this is one of the most popular melons worldwide.
Along with several other melon varieties, the cantaloupe is what is known as a muskmelon. While this particular species does emit a slightly musky odor when ripe, not all muskmelons have the aroma. There are a few different melons which are referred to as cantaloupes and confusingly enough, they appear quite different from one another. The North American cantaloupe features the gray netted skin, while the European cantaloupe is much lighter in color, features stripes, and is often not netted at all. Yet another cantaloupe varietal, the sugar melon, is an extra sweet type!
Perhaps the most famous melon of them all--watermelon! The first image of watermelon that comes to most folks’ minds is likely to be that massive dark green striped fruit, with brilliantly red and sweet tasting flesh. But, did you know there are other watermelon varieties as well?
Picnic Watermelons vs. Icebox Watermelons
Picnic watermelons are the large, traditional types that are often ovular or oblong in shape, while icebox watermelons are much smaller and usually round. Need some help breaking down one of these oversized fruits into manageable pieces? Refer to our guide How to Cut a Watermelon!
Seedless vs. Seeded Watermelon
Another watermelon variety is the seedless watermelon. These differ from the standard seeded types in the sense that instead of those thick, large, chocolate brown-black seeds, they contain thinner, softer, white colored seeds instead. No need for seed spitting here!
Yellow Watermelon vs. Red Watermelon
In an unexpected turn of events, slicing open a watermelon may surprise you with yellow or golden fruit instead of the red you are expecting! Golden or yellow watermelons tend to be smaller than red melons, rounder in shape, and may be either seeded or seedless.
Honeydew melons are one of a few types of melons which you are likely to find in your local grocery store or market. These melons have a smooth, pale green skin on the outside and a similarly colored, spring green flesh on the inside.
There are a few different types of honeydew melons you may encounter. There is the bailan melon (also known as the Lanzhou honeydew melon) and the golden honeydew melon--which looks just the same as a standard honeydew except its soft green skin and flesh are replaced by bright and sunny yellow!
Also known as wax gourds, winter melons are quite large and oblong. On first glance, you might even think of one as an oversized, smooth-skinned cucumber! The tough skin of this melon has a powdery film all over, earning it a secondary nickname--the ash gourd.
Once dusted off and sliced, the wonderful interior of this fruit is revealed. Winter melons feature a brilliant white flesh which is crisp in texture and equal parts tart and sweet. The taste is deeply vegetal, like a more flavorful cucumber. The catch with this melon though is that it can’t be eaten raw! It is therefore generally cooked into other dishes and is widely popular in many Asian cuisines.
Also known as bitter gourd, this melon looks very much like an irregularly shaped, lumpy cucumber. Not very cute, but an important food nonetheless. As you might guess from its name which leaves little to the imagination, this melon has an extremely bitter taste. It is best when soaked before eating, as this helps to remove some of that astringency, and it is typically served cooked as opposed to raw.
In addition to being used across a number of cultures as a stable food source, the bitter melon is also thought to provide many medicinal benefits, and you may have even seen some forms of bitter melon extract in pharmacies and health food stores! It is believed that the special compounds within the bitter melon are especially useful for relieving digestive upset, balancing blood sugars, and preventing cancers among other things.
Honey Globe Melon
Honey globe melons have a silky smooth skin which is white or soft green in color. The thick rind carefully conceals a pale green flesh, which is thick and ultra-creamy in texture. The appearance of these melons is strikingly similar to that of honeydew melons, and you may even find yourself having a tough time telling the two apart! You will be able to taste a difference however, as the honey globe melon is most renowned for its high sugar content.
When first laying eyes upon a Christmas melon, you wouldn’t be crazy to think “now why would I eat that?” It goes by many other names--Santa Claus melon, camouflage melon, frog skin melon, to name a few. It is also fondly referred to in Spain (its country of origin!) as piel del sapo which translates to "skin of the toad". This melon earns its festive monikers due to the fact that, unlike most other melons, this fruit ripens just in time for the winter holidays. And, all of these amphibious nicknames also make perfect sense as soon as you catch an eyeful of these things.
Christmas melons may be dark green to brown in color and have mottled, almost crack-like longitudinal lines all over--giving them the appearance of a weathered frog or toad! Luckily, in stark contrast to the outer rind, the interior flesh of the frog skin melon is both attractive and delicious, with a sweet taste and creamy texture.
Banana melons take their name from the famous yellow fruit itself! Not only is the banana melon smooth skinned and yellow, but it also has an elongated shape with tapered ends, giving it an appearance much like that of a banana as well. These melons can grow anywhere between 5 to 7 pounds (now that’s a big banana!) and reveal a pale orange flesh once they are sliced or peeled. Their flavor is sweet and juicy, offering a subtle hint of banana as well.
Sky Rocket Melon
The sky rocket melon is one cool looking fruit! The exterior skin has a webbed appearance, much like a cantaloupe, but the flesh inside looks very different. Instead of the coral pinkish-orange you count on to find in a cantaloupe, sky rocket melon is yellow-green in color, taking on an almost neon brilliance! The fruit is uniquely chewy as opposed to crisp and juicy like other melons, therefore, many people opt to use this melon for juicing as opposed to eating it fresh.
With a name like canary, it’s no shock that these melons are yellow in color. What is a shock, however, is just how bright this yellow coloring is! In the world of melons, canary melons are fairly small, only ever reaching about 5 inches across. They have a characteristic football shape, with a smooth rind that might feel a bit waxy to the touch. Beneath the bright yellow skin is a crisp white flesh that has a very sweet yet slightly acidic flavor. Canary melons are commonly grown in the warm, arid regions of Japan, South Korea, and the United States.
Another melon variety with an avian name makes our list, however, this melon was actually named after its inventor as opposed to the aquatic bird species! The crane melon is an heirloom melon variety invented by Oliver Crane in the well-known agricultural hub of Sonoma County, California. To create this fruit, he crossed multiple species of melons including the Japanese melon, Persian melon, and white melon, among others. The result? A rounded or teardrop-shaped melon with dark green blotchy skin and a bright orange flesh.
Where to get a crane melon
The unique background of this fruit makes it an attractive target for many folks who want to experience the taste of a crane melon for themselves! However, this special melon is not an easy one to come by, as it is vine-ripened therefore is not readily available in major grocery stores or markets. These melons tend to stay in the area in which they originated and are a well-known local delicacy.
Also known as the Oriental melon, the Korean melon has a cheerful yellow skin that features lighter yellow stripes which run from pole to pole around the entire fruit. The taste of the pale flesh is comparable to a very sweet cucumber, albeit with a more fruity taste, somewhat like a pear. Korean melons are distinguishable from many other melons in the sense that they are harvested when quite small, generally a pound or less. While it’s unclear whether or not these melons actually originated in Korea, they are indeed one of the most popular melon varieties in all regions of Asia and presently, most of them are grown in the North Gyeongsang Province of South Korea.
Horned melons, or kiwano melons, are tough to miss. These bright yellow to yellow-orange fruits are covered in spines, which can at times be quite sharp. Upon slicing into one of these crazy looking fruits, you’ll easily be able to see why they are also known as jelly melons! The interior of the fruit consists of a bright green, gelatinous flesh which suspends the multitude of seeds resting at the center of the melon. Some people compare the texture of the jelly melon to that of passion fruit, while the flavor itself actually tastes more like banana or kiwi.
How Do You Eat a Horned Melon?
The best way to eat a horned melon? Just slice the fruit in half and grab a spoon, scooping out the succulent flesh one bite at a time. When consumed, this jelly-like flesh takes on a texture more like that of a thick liquid--one which is punctuated by tons of melon seeds which are usually too tough to chew! Therefore, you may choose to eat the fruit from around the seeds before spitting them out. Traditionally, the seeds are just swallowed whole though!
Chinese Hami Melon
Known more simply as the hami melon or snow melon, this fruit features a fairly irregular-looking netted rind, which is not at all like the uniform texture of a cantaloupe’s skin. The hami melon is typically oblong shaped, somewhat like a spaghetti squash, although there are tons of individual varieties of hami melons. Therefore, these melons actually come in a range of sizes and colors! Depending on variety, the hami melon may taste nearly identical to a cantaloupe or it may have a more floral flavor and a crunchier texture.
Casaba melons originated in the Mediterranean, but are now grown in many other hot, dry regions of the world. They are closely related to and extremely reminiscent of honeydew melons, however they are not quite as sweet. The taste of the casaba melon is more refreshing and grassy, like a cucumber, as opposed to that iconic sweet-as-honey honeydew flavor. A casaba melon may grow to be round or teardrop-shaped, with a pointed end like an acorn squash while the furrowed exterior rind starts out green and gradually becomes more and more vibrantly yellow as it ripens.
The galia melon is an important one, as it is a hybrid melon--that is, a cross between--of two of the most widely recognized melons out there: the honeydew melon and the cantaloupe melon! Simply put, these melons have the exterior appearance of a cantaloupe, but once sliced open, it’s the creamy green flesh of the honeydew that you’ll find. Galia melons are widely grown in areas of Central and South America as well as the Middle East and Europe.
Sugar Kiss Melon
If you have a sweet tooth, then sugar kiss melons are for you! Likely to be one of the sweetest melons you’ll ever taste, the sugar kiss melon looks very much like your average crenshaw melon or a cantaloupe, but has been bred to be as sweet as possible. The flesh is bright orange with a creamy texture that simply cannot be beat. Some folks even liken it to having a melt-in-your-mouth effect (like cotton candy!), offering plenty of juice as it does so.
Autumn Sweet Melon
Autumn sweet melons have a golden-yellow outer skin with a mottled appearance, and a bright orange inner flesh which greatly resembles that of cantaloupe. The flavor is all their own though, delivering an extremely sweet flavor through a crisp, pale flesh. These melons take their name from the fact that they ripen much later than many other melon varieties, as they are typically ready to be picked in late summer or early fall.
Jade Dew Melon
Arguably the most poetically named melon on our list, the jade dew melon follows suit with other “dew” melons and sports a pale skin which may be various shades of light or darker green. This skin is sparsely webbed, as opposed to the tight and uniform netting of a cantaloupe skin. Inside, the flesh is creamy yellow or yellow-green in color, and is plenty crunchy and sweet. These melons top out around 2 pounds and the jade dew melon plant itself is prized for its ability to stand up to several diseases and other ailments which gravely threaten other melon varieties.
Sprite melons are tiny little things, only ever growing about as large as a grapefruit! The outer rind of these melons is cream-colored, and the inner flesh is a similar color as well. Those who are lucky enough to taste a sprite melon will say it has notes of watermelon as well as pear. Due to their small size, there is no “tough” region between the flesh and the rind, as there is with watermelon. These melons are extremely juicy and a single one makes for the perfect snack!
Golden Prize Melon
With a bright yellow rind similar to that of the canary melon, the golden prize melon is one prize you hope to win indeed! These melons are elliptically shaped, as each end tapers to a point while the center remains plump and round. The golden prize melon has orange flesh which is quite sweet, and the super thick rind means this melon will keep itself fresh for much longer than other, thinner-skinned melon varieties.
Step aside oranges, there’s a new Valencia in town and it’s in the shape of a melon! The Valencia melon is a type of winter melon which has a dark green skin and pale green to white inner flesh. As with other winter melons, and winter squash for that matter, the Valencia melon is harvested in late fall and is able to be easily stored at cooler room temperature for many months before spoiling.
The gac melon is yet another crazy looking melon! Not only is it absolutely bright orange in color, like a jack-o-lantern, but the gac melon also sports a coating of stubby spines. No wonder this fruit is also called the spiny gourd! As if the exterior weren't loud enough, once opened, the inner flesh of the gac melon shows off its even more pungent color--a deep red, much like that of a blood orange.
Surprisingly, despite all of this bright coloring, the flavor of the gac melon is underwhelming. The taste is likened to that of a cucumber that has a rather spongy flesh. Also, the bright orange and red pigments of this melon advertise its high content of pigment compounds such as lycopene and beta carotene. Give the carrots a rest and pick up a gac melon instead!
The charentais melon is a type of French melon and is sometimes also referred to as French cantaloupe. Unlike the common cantaloupe though, these melons stay relatively small in size, only ever growing to be about the size of a grapefruit and weighing in around 2 pounds. The rind of charentais melons is quite striking with a dappled gray-green rind that almost looks as if someone dashed it with a coating of watercolor paints. Inside, you'll find rich and juicy orange flesh, which is highly sought after in the regions in which the melon is native.
Yubari King Melon
The yubari king melon is infamous for one particular thing: its cost. Widely considered to be "the world's most expensive fruit", it has a richly sweet taste and texture to match this designation. Unfortunately, most folks will never experience this pleasure for themselves. The reason for the astronomical price tag on these melons is not only for the fact that they take a full one hundred days to grow, but also, they may only be grown in a very small and specific region of Japan. This is similar to the way that true Champagne can only be produced in the region of Champagne, France.
Not to be confused with bananas, the ananas melon is something all to itself! The word actually translates to "pineapple" in several languages, hinting at what to expect upon taking a bite of this fruit. While it may not taste like a pineapple per se, it is extremely sweet yet acidic and does deliver tropical notes, both in flavor and aroma! Ananas melons may also be referred to as sharlyn melons, Israeli melons, or Middle Eastern melons.
So Many Types of Melons, So Little Time!
Who knew the world of melons was so rich and varied! Next time you encounter a unique looking melon at the grocery store or specialty market, we hope that the information in this guide to the many types of melons has inspired you to pick it up and give it a chance. Pay attention to the texture, color, smell, and overall appearance of the melon for clues on what it may taste like. You may guess correctly, as is the case with the banana melon, or you may be completely surprised by what's inside--we're looking at you gac melon.
Need some inspiration for what to do with the types of melons which are more common or readily available to you? How about a new recipe! Try our Healthy Watermelon Sorbet or one of our other mouth-watering watermelon recipes!