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Melons Treated for Longer Market Life Pass Taste Test

By Ben Hardin
December 8, 2000

Honeydew aficionados gave a higher thumbs-up to fresh, ripe honeydew melons if they were dunked whole into a calcium solution before going into commercial storage for up to 3 weeks. Agricultural Research Service consumer preference panelists evaluated cut melon cubes for appearance, texture and taste.

About three years ago, scientists at the ARS Subtropical Agricultural Research Center in Weslaco, Texas, and the Children’s Nutrition Research Center in Houston began researching the calcium treatment as a way to lengthen the marketing shelf life of the melons. Because the shelf life of ripe melons is usually less than 12 days, the treatment may help industry provide nutritious vine-ripened melons in greater quantities to distant markets.

Even before the latest findings, growers and melon marketers were taking interest in the treatment to prolong shelf life and maintain quality. Now Albion Laboratories, Inc., of Clearfield, Utah, a manufacturer and exporter of dietary supplements, vitamins and minerals, is planning to expand production of amino acid-calcium chelate to help meet new worldwide demand for melons. The company has entered into a one-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement with ARS to study treatments of honeydews and cantaloupes still on the vine as a supplement or alternative to postharvest treatments.

From the outset, the ARS scientists have known that, just as people need calcium for strong bones, melon rind tissue needs calcium to maintain firmness that protects against spoilage. Laboratory and greenhouse experiments would show the right amount of calcium solution needed to protect and not injure the rind. The research now includes field-grown melons, which tend to have thicker rinds.

Per-capita melon consumption in the U.S. reached new highs in the 1990's, thanks largely to sweeter, more nutritious varieties. Now the calcium treatment may further boost melon consumption by paving the way for extensive domestic and export marketing of vine-ripened fruit.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.

Scientific contact: Gene E. Lester, ARS Crop Quality and Fruit Insect Research Unit, Weslaco, Texas; phone (956) 447-6322, fax (956) 447-6323,