Cantaloupe (also cantaloup, muskmelon or rockmelon) refers to 2 varieties of Cucumis melo.
Cucumis melo is a species in the family Cucurbitaceae, which includes nearly all melons and squashes. Cantaloupes range in size from 0.5 kg to 5.0 kg. Cantaloupe has come to mean any orange-fleshed melon.
The North American cantaloupe is Cucumis melo reticulatus, a different member of the same muskmelon species. It is named reticulatus because of its net-like (or reticulated) skin covering. It is a round melon with firm, orange, moderately sweet flesh and a thin reticulated light-brown rind.
The cantaloupe originated in India and Africa. Cantaloupes were originally cultivated by the Egyptians and later the Greeks and Romans.
Cantaloupes were first introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage to the New World in 1494. The W. Atlee Burpee Company developed and introduced the "Netted Gem" in 1881 from varieties then growing in North America.
Because they are descended from tropical plants, and tend to require warm temperatures throughout a relatively long growing period, cantaloupes grown in temperate climates are frequently started indoors, and grown indoors for 14 days or longer, before being transplanted outdoors.
Cantaloupe are often picked, and shipped, before fully ripening. Post-harvest practices include treatment with a sodium hypochlorite wash to prevent mold growth and salmonella growth. However this treatment can mask the melon's musky aroma.
Because the surface of a cantaloupe can contain harmful bacteria—in particular, salmonella —it is always a good idea to wash a melon thoroughly before cutting and consumption. Only store the fruit after cutting for less than three days to prevent risk of salmonella or other bacterial pathogens.
A moldy cantaloupe in a Peoria, Illinois market in 1941 was found to contain the best and highest quality penicillin after a worldwide search.