The cantaloupe was named after the comune Cantalupo in Sabina, in the Sabine Hills near Tivoli, Italy, a summer residence of the Pope. It was originally cultivated about the year 1700 from seeds brought from Armenia, part of the homeland of melons.
The most widely enjoyed variety of European cantaloupe is the Charentais, cultivated almost exclusively in France. Pope Innocent XIII(1721-1724) is said to have enjoyed sipping Port wine from a partially hollowed melon half as an apéritif.
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.
For commercial plantings, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends at least one hive of honeybees per acre (4,000 m² per hive) for pollination. Good pollination is essential, not only for the number of fruits produced, but also for the sugar content of these fruits.
A ripe cantaloupe will have a musky sweet smell at the stem end of the melon. An odorless melon is likely to be tasteless.
Cantaloupe is normally eaten as a fresh fruit, as a salad, or as a dessert with ice cream or custard. Melon pieces wrapped in prosciutto are a familiar modern antipasto. Sanjeev Kapoor describes the charentais variety: "the orange, sugary and fragrant flesh makes this fruit popular both as a dessert or main course. These have smooth gray-green rinds and very fragrant orange flesh. It keeps well when stored in a cool, dry place and ripens after several days in a warm room."
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. Optimum preparation procedures involve disinfection with a fine mist of ethanol on the outside of the fruit, but this is rarely carried out (outside of professional facilities) due to the relative non-availability (to the average consumer) of ethanol that is not mixed with methanol (methylated spirits) or traces of benzene (laboratory grade "100%" ethanol).
Cantaloupe can also be extracted to isolate an enzyme known as superoxide dismutase (SOD), essential for maintaining strong antioxidant defenses in the human body. When paired with a wheat gliadin delivery system to protect it from other more destructive enzymes (a complex known as glisodin), cantaloupe extract has clinically-proven benefits for a variety of health applications.
Cantaloupe are a source of polyphenol antioxidants, chemicals which are known to provide certain health benefits to the cardiovascular system and immune system. These chemicals are known to up regulate the formation of nitric oxide, a key chemical in promoting health of the endothelium and prevention of heart attacks.It is good for the liver.
Cantaloupes also are an excellent source of vitamin C and beta carotene.