Each day in our Moroccan neighborhood, an assortment of vendors make their rounds on foot, pushing heavy wooden carts piled high with fresh produce. While some of the fruits they peddle are available year-round – bananas and apples come to mind – longer days and warmer weather will inevitably yield seasonal favourites such as melons. Fragrant, juicy and sweet, this quintessential summer fruit comes in a delightful assortment of colours, shapes and sizes with textures varying from the soft-fleshed cantaloupe to the delightfully crisp bite of a watermelon. My personal favourite, however, is the oval-shaped canary melon, which sports a bright yellow rind and a pale, sugary-sweet, mild flesh.
Types of melons
Although the melon I like best is especially popular in Spain, most melons fall into one of two categories which can be traced back to either African or Western Asian roots. Watermelons (C. Citrullus lanatus from Africa) are distinguished by the distribution of seeds throughout a solid, uniform flesh. In contrast, muskmelons (C. Cucumis melo of Persian or Armenian origin) have hollow centers which contain clusters of loose seeds and fibers. Of the two, muskmelons are more notable not only for the greater number of varieties – Cantaloupe, Honeydew, Casaba, Galia and Crenshaw are just a few – but also for their musky or perfumed scent. A third type of melon, the horned melon (C. metuliferus of African origin) has a distinctive horned rind with a gourd-like interior.
Melon as a sunnah food
The early Muslims are known to have harvested melons and trade them in the marketplace (as mentioned by Imam Malik), and the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have eaten melons and dates at the same sitting, saying: “The heat of the one is broken by the coolness of the other, and the coolness of the one by the heat of the other” (Sunan Abu Dawood). Although a number of other references extol the health properties of melons and claim them to be a food of Paradise, none of them can be substantiated as authentic hadith. Nonetheless, science has indeed shown that melons are good for us to eat.
Health benefits of melons
Both watermelons and muskmelons are low in calories, nutrient-dense, and high in water and fibre. They contain Vitamins A, B3, B6, C and folate, as well as a number of minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc. These vitamins and minerals vary in quantity from one melon variety to another. Honeydew, for example, is an especially good source of potassium and copper; Casaba is a good source of Vitamin B6; and watermelon contains lycopene, believed to help lower the risk of cancer. Cantaloupe, however, leads the pack in terms of nutritional clout – it contains more Vitamin C and beta-carotene than any other type of melon, and more Vitamin A per serving than carrots.
Chilled, cubed melon is blended to a puree to make a frothy, refreshing summer beverage.
• 3 to 4 cups cubed Honeydew or Cantaloupe (or a mix of the two)
• 2 cups cubed, seeded watermelon
• 1 cup orange juice or pomegranate juice (or other flavour)
• Juice from one lime
• 2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
• ice cubes (optional)
If time allows, freeze the prepared melon for an hour or longer. Place the chilled fruit in a blender along with the fruit juice, lime juice and sugar. Blend on high speed until smooth. Taste and adjust sugar. If desired, blend in ice cubes to further chill the smoothie. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.
FACTS ABOUT MELONS
• Melons belong to the same family as gourds, squash and cucumbers.
• Melons have been around for thousands of years and were reportedly enjoyed by ancient Romans and Egyptians.
• The “vegetable” known as the Armenian cucumber is actually a muskmelon. (It certainly does taste like a cucumber, though!)
• Most muskmelons emit a sweet aroma when ripe, and some varieties are grown only for their fragrance.
• A ripe muskmelon should feel slightly soft on the blossom end.
• Melons picked early will ripen at room temperature; refrigeration will slow down further ripening.
• When refrigerating melon, be aware that the fruit’s aroma can transfer to other food.
• Cantaloupes are a super fruit which deliver a full day’s requirement of Vitamins A and C in a single serving.
Christine (Amina) Benlafquih writes on varied topics including religion, food, health and culture. You can find more of her writing on the web at Moroccan Food at moroccanfood.about.com.