The Surprising Health Benefits of Korean Melon 참외

It’s almost impossible to believe this palm-sized fruit is a melon. At first glance, it looks like something tropical, something that catches your eye from afar at a street market in Taiwan because its color is blindingly bright, like a skinned and scored pineapple, and when dozens of them sit wrapped and piled high in vendors’ bins, they look like little balls of sunshine in a bag. (If you get that reference, I’ll love you forever.)

I’d been giving Korean melons a healthy dose of skeptical side eye ever since they started reappearing in markets last month, but after seeing some 아줌마 (middle-aged women) cut into one at Namsan park and exclaiming that it was sweet as honey, “완전 꿀이야!” I took the plunge and bought 5 of them.

Having eaten it, I can confirm that it is a melon, albeit a strange one. Korean melons are about the size of a papaya and can be eaten whole, though most prefer to skin and de-seed it. The flavor of its white flesh is a cross between a cucumber and cantaloupe. Expecting the overwhelming sweetness of a watermelon will result in mis-categorizing it as bland but an open mind will appreciate its light, refreshing flavor. 

It’s not hard to understand why it’s one of the most popular early summer fruits in South Korea. It’s portable, easy to cut and serve, and like other melons, its high water content (90%) will keep you hydrated despite the sweltering heat. Plus, it’s a low-calorie, high-volume fruit, meaning you can stuff your gullet without racking up the calories; this has earned it a spot as one of the most popular diet foods in Korea.

But there are a host of other benefits that keeps me coming back for more.

  1. Good for Cardiovascular Health
    Rich in potassium and low in sodium, Korean melons can be a great addition to your diet if you’re trying to manage your blood pressure and prevent hypertension. Potassium counteracts the effects of sodium. The more potassium you consume, the more sodium you pee out, meaning there’s less of it hanging out in your bloodstream. Plus, potassium reduces the tension in your blood vessels, thereby further reducing blood pressure [1].
  2. Anti-cancer Properties
    Korean melons are very high in vitamin A (beta-carotene) and vitamin C, all of which have been linked to cancer prevention in NCI studies. Their study on breast cancer reports that vitamin A and Vitamin E prevent lipid oxidation, and  their studies on cervical cancer, show that beta-carotene, folic acid, and vitamin C have a protective effect against the development of cervical abnormalities. [2]
  3. Supports Healthy, Radiant Skin
    The high water, electrolyte (potassium), and vitamin C content make Korean melon a tonic for your summer skin woes. Chronic dehydration can really screw up your skin [3, 4], so the Korean melon can be a great way to sneak in some extra hydration in the summer when you’re sick of guzzling liters of water. Additionally, your skin naturally contains high concentrations of Vitamin C, which works to protect against photo damage caused by UV rays and power collagen production, so consuming foods high in vitamin C is key to keeping collagen synthesis and UV protection going strong. It’ll keep you looking youthful for longer, assuming you’re also reducing environmental stress on your skin. [5]
  4. Supports Strong Bones
    Who said you need dairy to have strong bones? Korean melon also contains some calcium and vitamin K, both of which are necessary for bone health. If you’re trying to work more of these nutrients into your diet naturally and without supplements, then try adding it to your diet along with fruits like figs and oranges (especially my fellow plant-based homies). While the concentration isn’t as high as other vegan sources, every little bit counts!
  5. Fiber Bombs
    Korean melons, good for your heart…the more you eat, the more you fart? Well, not quite, but the fiber in this melon can help keep you regular. It has both soluble and insoluble fiber, which aids digestion, prevents constipation, and flushes toxins and other unwanted nastiness from the body. Just make sure you’re eating the seeds to get the most fiber; traditionally in Korea the seeds were used to treat indigestion [6]. (Don’t worry, they’re tiny and easy to chew.)

The sad thing is, unlike Asian pears, it can be hard to find Korean melons outside of South Korea and maybe Japan. They must be eaten rather quickly after harvest (within a week), so it doesn’t export particularly well. Some folks abroad have taken to growing it locally if the climate is appropriate, so Korean melons might be available at big Asian food markets or via online sellers in your country, but beware the price point! The online listings I saw for the US sellers were ridiculously expensive.

Luckily, a lot of the benefits mentioned here aren’t exclusive to the Korean melon; it is a muskmelon, and other melons in this family share similar nutritional properties. But if you’re tired of honeydew and cantaloupe (and the laborious act of cutting and dicing them) and want to switch it up, then it’s a nice option. Diversify your palate!

Right now I’m in love with them because they’re cheap, portable, and easy to store in my super tiny apartment here in Seoul. And delicious of course! Korean melons make a refreshing midday snack or dessert. I hear some people pickle it, but it’s so good as is that I just enjoy it as is. Eating more chilled fruits (I am a mango maniac) and veggies is one way I’ll be keeping cool this summer. What about you guys? What summer fruits are you loving right now?

(P.S. Here’s a lovely post that talks about the history of Korean melons, if you’re curious and nerdy like me: http://bburikitchen.com/chamoe)

 

11 thoughts on “The Surprising Health Benefits of Korean Melon 참외”

  1. Love them! They’re actually extremely cheap and easy to find here in Houston, but only because we have H Mart. I’d still pick up Korean pears first, but Korean melons are always on the shortlist when I can’t get pears. Right now I’m also enjoying white peaches, which are kind of similar I guess. Subtly sweet, crisp, and juicy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Haha what a pleasant read! 😁 I cant believe you’ve only tried them recently! I on the other hand feel like I’ve had so many of them already that I’m more attracted to other fruit! Those with more diverse flavors, best if sweet and sour and juicy! 🤩

    Like

  3. Didn’t know they were so rare outside of Korea and how healthy it was! I just have one sitting in the fridge that I’ll probably take out and eat tonight after reading this! Thanks for spreading the info~~

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, I’d never seen one until coming here, but maybe it’s easier to find them in larger cities in the U.S. (I have no idea about Europe…) Thanks for reading and enjoy the melon!

      Liked by 1 person

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