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How to pick the perfect watermelon

Picking a melon can feel like a giant leap of faith if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Let’s be honest, you can’t pick the perfect watermelon, cantaloupe, or honeydew just by looking at the fruit. And nothing is worse than showing up to a barbecue with a melon only to cut into it and have it be… ick.

So what’s the secret to selecting the juiciest, most delicious melon?

While there are specifics you should look for with different types of melons, there are two things to know before about all types: 

  • Melons should feel heavy for their size. A higher density (more melon per melon, if you will) means it’s packed with more juice, more sugar and more flavor.
  • Melons have a stem end and a blossom end. The stem end is where it connects to the plant, and the blossom end is where the flower of the plant grows. The stem end curves in a bit (sort of like a belly button), while the blossom end domes out.

The most important thing to remember when choosing a melon is to compare and handle several. A lot of picking the best melon is finding a happy medium. You want one that’s firm but not too firm, fragrant but not too smelly. It’s essential to check out a few to compare. 

The most popular melon of the summer, watermelons, can be tricky to choose. 

1. Look for a matte rind. If it’s shiny, that means it’s underripe.

2. Look for webbing. Watermelon webbing can look like scaly brown dots or scars on the exterior of the melon. While you would avoid such things on, say, apples because it looks like damaged fruit, they’re a sign of flavor on a watermelon. It comes from bees pollinating the blossom, and more pollen equals more flavor.

3. Look at the field spot. A good watermelon should have an orange or yellow blotch where the melon was in contact with the ground. No spot or a white spot means it won’t be flavorful. 

4. Give the melon a little thump. A ripe melon will sound hollow and rumbly, whereas an unripe melon will sound solid and thick.

5. Choose the round ones. A round melon is more flavorful than an oval or oblong melon, so look for the smaller, more circular melons for the best flavor. 

How to pick a cantaloupe 

Cantaloupes can have the biggest range in taste between bad and super delicious. Since they don’t continue to ripen after they’re picked, it’s crucial to nab one that was harvested at the peak of ripeness.

1. Go over the rind. A ripe cantaloupe will be a yellow-beige color under the crackled webbing. If you see green, it’s not ready yet. 

Additionally, since a cantaloupe naturally detaches from the plant when it’s ripe, if there’s any stem intact, it was likely cut from the plant before it reached maturity.

2. Give it a light squeeze. It should be firm with a bit of give. Press your thumb onto the blossom end too. If it’s hard like a watermelon, it’s not quite ripe.

3. Tap and listen. It should make a low tone. Unlike a watermelon, a hollow sound means it’s not ripe.

4. Give it a smell. The melon should have a robust and sweet fragrance. If you get any hint of rotten fruit or a funky, garbage-like smell, avoid it as it means the fruit is starting to rot. 

How to pick honeydew

For honeydew, most of the cues about ripeness come from the rind.

1. Look for a creamy yellow to white exterior. Even though the interior is a light green, there should be no green tint on the skin.

2. Avoid cracks or bumps on the surface. While honeydew melons have a textured surface, they should not have cracks or bumps. Some scarring or scales around the stem end are OK and indicate a higher sugar content.

3. Dull and matte skin is best. Some brown spots are OK, similar to a banana. This means there’s a lot of sugar but only pick these if you’re planning to eat it the same day because these spots can make it rot quickly. On the other hand, green spots are indicators of under ripeness, and like cantaloupes, if honeydew is picked before it’s ripe, it won’t ever reach full ripeness as it sits.

4. A bit of stickiness is OK. Honeydew naturally produces a type of oily surfactant, so a perfectly ripe honeydew should feel a little bit sticky. When you give it a light squeeze, it should be firm but with a little give, just like a cantaloupe.

5. Press the stem and blossom end. Both should be slightly soft. Anything too soft, though, indicates its overripe.

6. Smell the stem end. It should be the most fragrant and have a light, clean scent without a sharp, overly sweet scent.

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