There are two fruits that represent summer in Korea: One is watermelon, and the other is chamoe. When you see chamoe start to appear in the markets, it’s a sign that summer is truly here.
Chamoe (참외, sometimes called yellow melon) is pronounced “chamwae” (or “chamae” when speaking quickly) and can be found everywhere in Korea in the summertime. Koreans have been eating chamoe for hundreds of years, since at least the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC to 668 AD). There are also images of chamoe on Goryeo Dynasty celadon from the 12th century, and an official Joseon Dynasty document from 1766 lists a wide variety of different kinds of chamoe melons, both green and yellow varieties, both with and without stripes. Before the 1960s, many kinds of chamoe were grown in regional areas of Korea: gam chamoe, gangseo chamoe, ggol chamoe, ggul (honey) chamoe, jul chamoe, cheong-sagwa (green apple) chamoe, and more. None of these varieties were particularly sweet, however, hitting maybe 7 to 8 Brix (for comparison, a ripe tomato comes in around 12–14 Brix). Actually, while chamoe were eaten fresh, they were also pickled in doenjang and eaten as a savory side dish—you might compare them more to a cucumber than a honeydew. (The “oe” or 외 in chamoe is related to the word for cucumber, “oi” or 오이.)
In 1957, a new variety of chamoe was introduced from Japan: The Euncheon chamoe. It was sweeter, prettier, yellow-er. It wasn’t hard to see the appeal, and soon, the Euncheon chamoe and its cultivars (including the Shin-Euncheon, developed in the 70s, and the Geumssaragi, or Gold Dust, developed in the 80s) made up the majority of chamoe production.
Today, 70% of Korea’s chamoe are Euncheon varietals from Seongju, in North Gyeongsang Province. You can still find local chamoe here and there (frog chamoe in Seonghwan Village near the city of Cheonan, just south of Seoul, and the yeolgol chamoe in what is now the Oryu-dong neighborhood on the far southwest border of Seoul). But unless you’re planning to make pickles, Euncheon chamoe are the sweetest and most delicious for straight up snacking.
Chamoe isn’t as sweet as other melons, but sometimes fruits that are too sweet just make you feel more thirsty. There’s nothing like taking a crunchy bite of a chilled chamoe on a hot summer day. So here is how to enjoy this fragrant, cute yellow fruit.
how to eat:
The first thing you need to do is peel off the skin. The most important tip for eating chamoe is to keep the innards! That delicate white flesh surrounding the seeds is where most of the sweetness lies. Sonja doesn’t mind eating the seeds but I’m not a huge fan—if you’re like me, then just carefully scrape the seeds out with the tip of your knife, but leave as much of the white segment as possible.
how to store:
Chamoe can be stored over a week in the refrigerator.