In May 2019, two melons from Hokkaido, Japan sold at auction for just over $45,000. Why the huge markup for what looks like a small cantaloupe? Well, in Japan, the Higo green melon, and others like it, are considered luxury items. Unlike the U.S., this fruit isn't treated as a snack or stock item on a breakfast buffet, but as a major player in the country's gift-giving culture.
Crown melons, which are revered for both their taste and appearance, are only grown in Shizuoka prefecture and can cost over $200. The price, in part, comes from the constant care and attention they're given during the growing process. Each takes about 100 days to grow, and they're produced all year. There are 20 slightly different varieties, each of which receives differing amounts of water in a climate-controlled environment that is adjusted based on the time of year.
Crown melons have four grades: fuji, yama, shiro, and yuki. Melons with even minor defects are marked as yuki, with the other three grades given based on their sugar content and appearance. Just over half of the melons make shiro, the third grade and 25 percent are typically yama. Only one in every 1,000 of the melons are recognized as fuji grade, the highest possible.
Harvesting is done entirely by hand, with painstaking efforts to preserve taste and appearance. As the fruit gets larger, they're wrapped in white paper, and even massaged and polished by hand before being picked. They are then covered and protected from the sun for the final growing period. According to a report on Business Insider, each fruit has a complex balance of flavors that make it juicy and sweet.