Friday, May 23, 2014

This Honeymoon Ain't Over

Last week I bought what I thought was cantaloupe. It certainly looked like a cantaloupe, with the characteristic netted pattern on its skin. The fruit stand's sign called it a cantaloupe. The fruit stand vendor called it a cantaloupe. 

But when I cut the cantaloupe open, I discovered a surprise: green flesh!

Cantaloupe? Cantaloupe with honeydew characteristics? I happened to have  a honeydew on hand, so I figured I'd compare the two melons.

Round one: Unopened, the two melons didn't have much in common beyond their shared shape. The honeydew was significantly larger and had smooth, pale green skin. The new melon looked like a cantaloupe, with the netted skin and peachy undertones. 

Round two: interior appearance. The slice of the new melon was pale green. The honeydew was a slightly darker pale green, and its rind was thicker.

Round three, the most important round as far as I was concerned: taste. In the interest of science, I decided to hold a blind taste test, using diced melon, closed eyes and a plate that I spun around a few times so I couldn't memorize locations. I jazzed it up with a wild card, some "traditional" cantaloupe I had bought previously. 

Results:  The honeydew was sweet and mellow. The new melon was also sweet, a little milder in flavor, and extremely juicy. The cantaloupe was mediocre. I pronounced a tie between the honeydew and the new melon. I banished the cantaloupe to a fruit salad, where it could rest on other fruits' laurels.

I love both cantaloupe and honeydew. To me, honeydews are more consistently good - I have found most honeydew melons that I've bought are at least pretty good - but I enjoy an outstanding cantaloupe more than I do an outstanding honeydew. Let's hedge some bets by eating them both!

But what kind of melon exactly was this green flesh cantaloupe?

Over the years, I've had orange flesh honeydews, which I have not liked as much as regular honeydews. They looked like regular honeydews from the outside, except sometimes they had an orange-y glow to their skins. Inside, they looked like cantaloupes, albeit with thicker rinds. The mix of characteristics of both melons makes sense, since orange flesh honeydews are in fact a hybrid of honeydew and cantaloupe melons.

I also recalled seeing melons labeled  "Honeylopes" at Washington DC's Dupont Circle farmers' market. These were more more or less the reverse of orange flesh honeydews - they wore their cantaloupe ancestry on the outside.

Was my new melon a honeyloupe? 

Another possibility: It could be a galia melon, a small, sweet, cantalope-from-the-outside, honeydew-inside melon that is not as widely available as I'd like it to be. Fairway, a New York market, describes the galia as a cantaloupe-honeydew hybrid; Wikipedia's description is a more circumspect:  a "hybrid melon originating from a cross between the green flesh melon cultivar 'Ha-Ogen' and the netted rind melon culitvar 'Krimka'." (Do the Fairway guys lose credibility points when they mispronounce "galia"? It's GAHL-ya, rhyming with dahlia, not gah-lee-yuh." To avoid these pronunciation pitfalls, you could always opt to call the galia melon a passport melon, or a sarda melon, two seldom-heard names for the same melon.) 

I noticed that my melon had a trademark sticker that read "Honeymoon." "Honey" as in honeydew? "Honeymoon" as the occasion of a romantic engagement between a honeydew and a cantaloupe? Perhaps no meaning at all, just an easy-to-remember name chosen after 10 better names were already trademarked?

I did some research on-line.

According to this press release, Honeymoon melons are "a new cantaloupe" introduced in 2014 by Fresh Quest, a Florida-based produce company. Some further research  - one bit of produce is never enough - on Fresh Quest's website, however, revealed the use of the magic word, "galia," or the puzzling variation, "galia-type." 

So yes, the Honeymoon is a galia. One mystery solved.

Another mystery, however, emerged. What does it mean to be a trademarked melon? 

According to its press release, Fresh Quest was planning to introduce other trademarked melons, and I noticed some cantaloupes with stickers bearing another trademark, "MAG." MAG turns out to be a trademark of the agribusiness giant Del Monte, which has "strict guidelines for growing, harvesting, packing and transporting MAG ensure a high quality product. Melons must also meet a set of standards in terms of appearance, texture and taste in order to be marketed under the MAG melon name."

My recent foray into the world of apple breeding opened my eyes to the complicated world of produce cultivation and marketing. Interestingly enough, it turns out that like apples, melons began their journey as somewhat unpreposessing wild fruit, and modern breeding programs have  focused on making them ever-sweeter and hardier. As the website Fresh Food Central notes, 

It is almost certain that the melons grown then were not the ones we know now; the sweet, aromatic melons we eat were not around back then, and were probably more similar to the cucumber (and were indeed classified alongside cucumbers), and were really not that appetising, and in fact, unripe melons back then were noted to cause vomiting and nausea. 

On behalf of all melon enthusiasts, I'd like to say, Thank you, melon cultivators, for all your hard work since then!

My research also turned up information about a less formal breeding program that resulted in a cantaloupe - honeydew cross.  The program at Rachel's Tiny Farm : inadvertently planting the honeydew and cantaloupe really close together. Result: a honeydew with a surprise - orange flesh - and a taste "like a vanilla sugar cookie." 

Be on the lookout for OrangeVanillaSugarCookie (TM) honeydews (with large stickers, to fit that cumbersome name), coming soon to a market near you.