The Region That Grows Over Half The World's Melons

The summer heat is in full effect, which means everywhere you look the world over, you're liable to find thousands of sticky fingers dripping with melon juice. It's a classic addition to fruit salad, but that's only the tip of the iceberg. Chefs around the world use melon for a wide array of dishes, from chutney to pizza and beyond. Melons even rank among the most popular fruits in the world, generating over $27 billion in market revenue in 2018, per Global Trade

They are particularly popular in the U.S., where according to the USDA Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, the average American consumes approximately 24 pounds of melon each year. However, the true epicenter of the melon world is a region thousands of miles away. While the exact origins of melons are unknown, Smithsonian Magazine reports that a general consensus has developed among researchers, placing the early cultivation of melons in northeast Africa. 

This theory is supported by paintings in Egyptian tombs that appear remarkably similar to modern watermelons. Melons, which are actually a type of berry called a pepo, require very specific climate conditions to flourish. According to Cornell University, the optimal temperature for growing melons is between 70 and 90 F. The hot, fertile soil of North Africa and the Middle East is perfect for the job, as is nearly all agricultural land near the equator. Today, the global production of melons is fixed squarely to the east of the fruit's point of origin.

A huge portion of melons come from Asia

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Asia owns nearly 69% share of global melon production. China holds a sizable lead over all other nations, cultivating nearly 14 million metric tons of melons in 2020 alone, per Statista. Believe it or not, China actually consumes even more melon than it produces, with its residents putting away approximately 17 million tons, which account for 53% of the global supply (via Global Trade).

The Asian continent is also home to some of the world's most expensive melons. A Yubari King melon from Japan's Shizuoka prefecture can easily fetch a few hundred dollars on the market. There's no need for you to burn a hole in your pockets though. To find the perfect melon at your local market, just remember to pay attention to the smell and check the stem for quality.