GASTÓN GONZÁLEZ

How to pick the perfect melon: consider the feel, colour, smell and even the sound of your fruit

If you are faced with mountains of melons when you walk into the greengrocer or supermarket and have no idea how to pick a good one, here are a few tips

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Melon and watermelon are arguably the best fruits to eat to combat the intense heat and keep hydrated in summer; they are 90 per cent water, have only 35 calories per 100 grams and provide vitamins and antioxidants.

Experts advise eating them two to three times a day. But the first thing is to know how to choose the perfect melon. And it's not as easy as you might think!

Everyone will be familiar with the scenario: You walk into the greengrocer or supermarket and are faced with mountains of melons and watermelons but have no idea how to pick one that's neither too unripe nor too ripe. You touch them, smell them, pick them up to check their weight and end up asking the shop assistant to choose.

Experts from the Spanish consumers' organisation (OCU) and the Food Safety Agency have published advice on how to select the perfect melon and how to keep it once you've got it home. A word of advice: Buying whole melons is much more hygienic than buying ones that have already been cut.

How to pick the best

The watermelon season lasts from May to September, and the melon season lasts until October. Although they may taste sweeter than some other fruit, they actually contain less sugar than apples, pears or oranges.

On top of the pile. The melons that are at the top of the pile in the shop suffer fewer knocks and are usually in better condition.

Feel them. If they are not hard to the touch, it means that they are overripe or have suffered damage. The perfect melon will give slightly when squeezed gently at the base and the other end (the stalk) will bulge a little.

Colour and 'sound'. When tapped, a watermelon should make a hollow sound, which means it is full of water and therefore ripe. Another way to check is by looking at the spot at the base, which is made by direct contact with the ground and should be creamy yellow in colour.

A green or whitish mark indicates that the melon has been harvested too early and that its flesh will be less tasty. Dark green melons are not at their peak; watermelons have more nuances.

Smell. The area around the stalk should smell fresh.

Keeping it fresh at home

If you buy an unripe melon.You can ripen it at home by storing it in a paper bag (not plastic) together with an apple or a banana in a cool, dry room.

In the fridge. After purchase, melons should be refrigerated immediately and at less than five degrees Celsius. Remove both ends (not necessary for watermelons) and remove the seeds. What is left over should be kept in the least cold area of the fridge and well wrapped so that it does not pick up other odours.

Be careful with cut fruit

Ready cut melon and watermelon can get contaminated, especially on hot days and if they are not in refrigerated areas of a shop. Avoid picking very ripe fruit and if you do choose cut fruit, it is very important to get it in the fridge as soon as possible.

If you don't eat it all. Refrigerate the rest immediately and always protect it with cling film or similar. You can also put it in a container with a lid to avoid contamination. Even so, it's best to eat it as soon as possible warns the OCU.

Handling fruit in shops

Hygiene standards in shops where fruit is cut should be kept very high and it is important that the pieces are wrapped. Very ripe fruit and that with surface damage should not be used for cut fruit.

How long will it last? Cut fruit at the point of sale can remain at room temperature for up to three hours - as long as it does not exceed 25 degrees Celsius. The fruit should be displayed away from heat and sunlight.

Not all fruit is the same. The Spanish Food Safety Agency points out that pineapple presents a greater risk of contamination and damage than watermelon, melon and papaya, which are often sold cut.