With the arrival of summer comes a wide array of in-season fruits which you can taste while in Japan. This is said to be the best season to have a fruit feast since there are so many varieties for you to choose from.
Japanese melons are very expensive fruits whereby I always gasp at their price tags in supermarkets. However, that’s not to say that you can’t get affordable and tasty melons or desserts made from melons in Japan, so join me on this journey to find out more about these precious green jewels!
Ibaraki Prefecture which boasts of the highest output of melons and the highest consumption of the fruit per person among all prefectures
At the mention of melons, the first place that comes to mind would probably be Yubari City in Hokkaido Prefecture (北海道夕張市). But did you know that Ibaraki Prefecture (茨城県) is actually the No.1 prefecture that produces the most melons in Japan? Surprisingly, not many people know about this and the fact that Ibaraki has been hogging the top spot for more than 10 years. Even the locals are hardly aware of this achievement. In a bid to increase awareness about Ibaraki being a top producer of quality melons where the long harvest season lasts from April to November, there are weekly ‘melon events’ held between May and July. This allows the public to find out for themselves what’s so good about Ibaraki melons.
In order to produce delicious melons, well-drained lands with a good water supply and a large difference between the day and night temperatures are key conditions. Within Ibaraki Prefecture, Hokota City (鉾田市), Ibaraki-machi (茨城町), and Kashima City (鹿嶋市) definitely fit the bill due to their locations which face the Kashima Bay and the well-drained volcanic ash soil. The melons there are grown in the most natural way possible and are housed in a kamaboko-shaped pipe house covered by plastic sheets. To ensure the taste of the melons and produce the characteristic mesh patterns on the exterior, care is taken especially during the last two months before the harvest season.
In Ibaraki, the melon harvest season starts as early as mid-April and ends mid-November, so the chance of you being able to sample these green jewels is high. Here are six common types you can find in Ibaraki, arranged in the order of their harvest seasons.
Otome Melon (オトメメロン) which means young girl melon, is the earliest to be harvested from mid-April to late May. The key characteristics of this type are its refreshing sweetness despite the high sugar content and its whitish-green flesh.
Ibara King Melon
The Ibara King Melon (イバラキングメロン) which means ‘King of Ibaraki melon’, is a new type resulting from extensive research and the use of sophisticated agricultural technology. It follows on the heels of the Otome melon and is harvested from late April to late June. Key features would be its light sweetness, thick and juicy flesh with a smooth texture, and its colour which is dark yellowish-green.
The Andes Melon (アンデスメロン) is harvested between early May and late June and is said to be a more reasonably-priced version of the luxurious musk melon since the aroma and taste are similar. Besides the refined mesh patterns on the outer skin of the melons, it also features thick flesh and a rich flavour.
The Quincy Melon (クインシーメロン) has a mellow sweetness and smooth texture, with its flesh being orange in colour. It boasts of a high beta-carotene content and can be kept for a longer time compared to other types. Look out for this one between late May and mid-July!
The Takami Melon (タカミメロン) which is in season between June and late July, is shaped like a rugby ball and has fine mesh patterns on its skin that can hardly be felt. Its flesh is green, has a high sugar content but is still sweet in a refreshing way. As its flesh is slightly harder than the other species, it can be kept longer and is one of the more common types found in supermarkets.
Earles Melon (Musk Melon)
The Earles Melon which is more commonly called the Musk Melon is tops in terms of appearance, taste and aroma, and is regarded as Ibaraki’s autumn melon. It is available from mid-August to mid-November.
Sometimes it is inconvenient to buy a whole piece of fruit especially since you need to cut it up and may need days to finish it. Price may also be a concern, but fret not, as there are also many signature desserts made from melon in Ibaraki, so here are three recommendations for your consideration.
The Marugoto Melon from Hitachi Wayogashi Ichikawa (日立和洋菓子いちかわ) is part of their Marugoto series whereby the entire dessert is made up of seasonal fruits utilised to their fullest. In the Marugoto Melon, beneath the cover on top which is made of the melon flesh lies a sponge cake full of melon juice and a rich custard cream with sesame cookies. There are two types available, green and orange. If you are someone who prefers a juicy melon with a softer texture, go for the orange version. However, if you prefer the chewy version with a refreshing taste, choose the green version. As the melons used are the 3L-sized ones, this dessert can be enjoyed by at least three people. The price of this dessert varies though due to the seasonal prices of the melons. Visit their website to find out more about the wide variety of delicious-looking desserts they offer!
Where regular melonpan doesn’t contain any real melon, the melonpan from Kokado is made entirely from melons’ flesh and juice without using water. Unlike the usual melonpan, this version features a melon-flavoured custard cream sandwiched within. At a price of 194 yen (inclusive of tax), it can be ordered online and delivered in a chilled package to your home if you live in Japan.
The melon baumkuchen from Farmkuchen Fukusaku won the top prize in the First Ibaraki Omiyage Contest held in 2014. Being a baumkuchen specialty shop which has won awards at the 5 international baumkuchen contests and having its own melon farm to produce the puree lead to the development of this unique dessert. If you are staying in Japan you can order this from their website. There are two sizes available where the smaller version costs 1,750 yen (inclusive of tax) and medium one costs 2,350 yen.
If you are feeling indulgent, why not go for the premium version which uses the puree from one whole melon? It is shaped like a melon and contains melon-flavoured sweet red bean paste in the centre. Despite its comparatively high price of 6,300 yen, the premium version is so popular that it will take some time before they can get to your order.
After reading all about these delicious green jewels, how about enjoying a melon feast in Ibaraki during the upcoming summer holidays?