The melon corner of the produce section sounds a little like a drum circle with all that tapping from customers seeking a perfectly ripe cantaloupe, honeydew or watermelon.

Fortunately, each kind of melon has some very specific indicators to let you know it’s ripe. This week we’re going to spell out once and for all exactly what you can do to select a watermelon, cantaloupe or honeydew that’s sweet and satisfying every time.


These sweet and juicy summertime staples will not ripen after they’re plucked from the vine. What you buy is what you get, period.

Start by giving the watermelon a good look. A watermelon’s skin goes from shiny to dull as it ripens, so avoid any with a high gloss. There will be a pale spot on the rind where it was in contact with the ground, and that spot develops a deeper yellow color the longer it stays on the vine, so pass on any where that patch is white or very light yellow.

Now pick that watermelon up. It should feel heavy for its size and have a mild, sweet aroma. Pass on any with bruises or soft spots. If you happen to find small, dry, brown lines in little patches on the rind, that’s a good sign of sweetness, showing where sugar has slowly seeped out of the fruit.

The thump test — what you’ve probably seen countless times in the grocery store — is a very effective indicator of ripeness for all three kinds of melon. Just give the watermelon a gentle whap with your fingers. The deeper the tone — you don’t want a tinny, hollow sound, but rather a full, resonating report — the more sweet juices you’ll find inside.


Cantaloupe will continue to ripen on your counter after being picked, but not once it’s been cut into, so timing is everything.

The color should be a sandy tan bordering on yellow. Skip over any exhibiting a green tint under the meshlike webbing on the skin’s surface if you’re hoping to eat it when you get home. You want a sweet, floral aroma that will be strongest near the stem end. A heavy musk smell means the cantaloupe is overripe.

Ripe cantaloupes feel heavy for their size and are mostly firm, but have a little give in the flesh around the stem and blossom ends when pressed with your thumbs. If that part is completely solid, it’s underripe, and too much squish means the fruit is past its prime.

You can also use the thump test here, listening for a deep tone, as with watermelon. You may also hear a slight rattle when giving a ripe cantaloupe a gentle shake as the mature seeds inside break loose.


Honeydew might be the trickiest of the trio, as immature fruits won’t ripen at all after picking, but mature honeydew can continue to ripen on your counter once picked.

Like cantaloupe, honeydew also changes color as it ripens. Pale green generally means crunchy and bland. A white honeydew needs a few days do develop the best flavor. An even, pale yellow hue — now that’s the sweet spot, indicating a well-ripened fruit. It should have a pleasant, sweet smell that intensifies as the fruit matures, but honeydew won’t give off the same muskiness of a cantaloupe to let you know it’s overripe.

Ripe honeydew will feel fairly smooth and firm on the surface with a slight bit of softness at the stem end. For extra assurance of ripeness, give honeydew the same thump test used for watermelon and cantaloupe and listen for loose seeds rattling inside, as well.

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