How To Season Cantaloupe For Extra Sweet, Juicy Flavor

Dreams of fresh cantaloupe on a hot summer day conjure cravings for divine sweetness and juicy, flavor-packed goodness. Spiciness doesn't always jump into that equation — but maybe it should. Even pure melon devotees are broadening their expectations these days, often finding that spicy and sweet flavors complement one another in unexpected ways. Curiously, spices can increase the telltale sweetness of a gloriously ripe cantaloupe

Just ask those residing in the Deep South of America, who have been peppering up their cantaloupe indulgence for longer than anyone can remember. A simple grind of black pepper can transform a cantaloupe slice quicker than "a flash of lightning in a summer storm," as the Southern adage goes. The juxtaposition of spicy black pepper and sweet natural sugar play off one another, punching up the mildness of the melon while making its sweet personality shine even more. Adding oil and vinegar can increase that striking contrast. 

But back pepper isn't the only way to infuse a bit of twang and sass into sliced, diced, or balled cantaloupe flesh. Sea salt has an effect similar to black pepper, while a whole host of other unsuspecting spices and herbs lie in culinary spiced-fruit wait. 

Perk up cantaloupe chunks with spirited spicy goodness

Fruit and spice hookups have been around for ages, from common apples and cinnamon to strawberries and vanilla, cilantro and lime, and countless others. Popular chili-based spice mixes such as Tajin even purposefully entered the spice scene in Jalisco, Mexico, as an accompaniment to fresh fruits and vegetables, including melons. When visiting Latin American countries, you may encounter melon sticks dipped in Tajin or other spice combinations — but it's simple to just create your own. 

From "spicy spices" to the genteel, earthy ones, they're all fair game as cantaloupe cohorts. Chilled ripe cantaloupe is a willing recipient for intoxicating spices such as coriander or cardamom paired with punchy paprika and a crunch of sea salt. Or go for an earthy flavor with a dusting of cumin, curry, turmeric, achiote, chili powder, or garlic — in any combination you're brave enough to try. When creating an Italian or Mediterranean meal, finish it off with cantaloupe steeped in tarragon, thyme, oregano, marjoram, or rosemary.

Holiday hot-chocolate pairings such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves work equally well with melons, giving extra depth to the sweetness factor. Some communities, such as the Pennsylvania Dutch, advocate making a spiced cantaloupe spread by boiling cantaloupe and adding a variety of spices, sugar, and vinegar. 

Spicy cantaloupe salad with fresh herbs, cheeses, and meats

Spiced cantaloupe salads can range from appetizers to main meals or desserts, sporting fiery, gentle, aromatic, or light peppery seasonings. This is where you can expand the possibilities to include fresh herbs along with powdered or crunchy spices. Think fresh leaves of basil, bay, mint, or rosemary. Top some cantaloupe chunks with sliced cherry tomatoes and fresh mozzarella balls, and tuck in thin rolls of prosciutto or salami. Just before serving, add freshly picked leaves of sweet, lemon, holy, or Greek basil, scattered with ground coarse black pepper or smoked paprika. 

For a light, satisfying, and nutritious lunch, try a chopped cantaloupe salad using diced fresh mint, accompanied by cucumbers and feta cheese tossed in olive oil and lime juice. Toss in some peppery arugula for an extra kick. Add a finishing salt, and sprinkle with your favorite punchy powdered spice to taste. You'll get loads of vitamins and antioxidants from the cantaloupe while promoting immune, intestinal, and gut health from those soft little briny bits of feta.

So many ways to eat spiced cantaloupe, so little summertime to enjoy it in season! No worries, you can fall back on the original, simple, black-pepper Southern tactic or preserve some of the goodness for the upcoming winter months. Just make a cantaloupe melon jam with crushed peppercorns, sugar or honey, and lemon juice.