Watermelon 101: Things You Never Knew About This Summertime Staple

shutterstock_266172254

Originally from Africa, today watermelon is a summertime favorite in the United States, especially sliced up on platters at backyard barbecues and pool parties. Not surprisingly, it rivals cantaloupe and honeydew as one of the most consumed melons in the country. Known for its sweet, juicy flavor, this large fruit is loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and yes, water (who says healthy food can’t taste great?). This summer, try adding watermelon to salads, cheese plates, and even lemonade, to reap the many health benefits this tasty, summer-abundant fruit has to offer!

Identification

The quintessential picnic watermelon, often the Jubilee variety, is a large, heavy, elongated fruit, with variegated green strips and those black pits that shout “spitting contest!” It can weigh as much as 40 pounds. Other types of watermelon include the yellow and round Golden Midget, the little oval Yellow Doll with its bold green stripes, and the dark green ball of Sugar Baby, also referred to as an icebox watermelon. You may even luck upon some heirloom varieties at farmers’ markets.

And because there are many more varieties of watermelon than most traditional groceries stock, don’t be surprised if you get to sample watermelon with flesh that is yellow, pink, or even slightly yellow- orange, rather than the usual red. It all depends on the variety.

Do you prefer a seedless watermelon? It’s all a matter of choice, but these are definitely gaining popularity. Even seedless watermelons have a few seeds here and there. There aren’t as many seedless varieties available as seeded, so if having multiple flavor options—or spitting pits—is important, choose seeded.

Taste

Some people say they don’t like watermelon because to them it tastes bland, like a cucumber. These people have perhaps not tried the fruit ripe, and as such, the sugars haven’t had time to develop. A ripe watermelon is detected by the telltale creamy spot underneath the uncut fruit and its firm, heavy feel. Plus, it has an undeniably smooth sweet taste, similar to berries coated in sugar, only without the added sugar.

Availability

Whole watermelon is readily available in US supermarkets and farmers’ markets during the summer months. Many US supermarkets also carry cubed and quartered watermelon from warm weather countries outside the United States, like Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, and Mexico throughout the year.

Season

Watermelon is at its peak in the US from early June to late August, but many stores stock it May through September and cut up, often beyond. Out of season, the United States imports watermelon from warm weather countries like Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Brazil, and Mexico. In Europe, people can enjoy in-season watermelon much longer, usually early June through the end of October, depending on the variety, with fresh fruit less available, but still present, all year long.

Selection

Some watermelons are round, and others are more oval or oblong. When choosing the fruit, make sure it’s symmetrical in its shape and shine. Then turn it over and look for a soft yellow spot; this tells you it ripened in the sun while resting on the ground. A good, juicy fruit is firm and heavy for its size, because it contains more than 90 percent water. A “thump” won’t tell you as much as the ground spot or weight will, but if you want to slap the side, feel free. If it sounds hollow, it’s usually ready to eat.

Since the rind isn’t a hard shell, the fruit must be handpicked by harvesters. Avoid watermelons with dull rinds or cuts, bruises, or dents.

Organic Benefits

When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.

Watermelon ranks at #36, placing it close to the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen” produce list. Therefore, the conventionally grown version is generally considered safe. If you plan to consume the rind, it is best to purchase an organic watermelon.

The Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.

Storage

Refrigerate whole watermelon when possible. If it’s not possible, keep it in a dark, cool place.

Preparation

Wash your watermelon before slicing it. This helps remove grime from harvest and transport, as well as any residual pesticide or bacteria. A rinse in cool, running water is sufficient.

Once you cut into the watermelon, you can cube it, use a melon baller for uniform pieces, or slice it into long strips and eat it on the spot. The whole fruit is edible, including the rind, which can be pickled, stewed, or stir-fried.

And, yes, you can roast watermelon seeds. Just toss with olive oil and a pinch of salt, and roast at 350˚F for 10 to 15 minutes. They have a nutty flavor and are filled with iron. Just an ounce of seeds is packed with iron (11 percent of the recommended daily intake for women), magnesium (46 percent of the recommended daily intake for women) and copper (21 percent of the recommended daily intake for women).

Nutrition Summary

Lycopene

This compound gives red fruits and vegetables their color and is a powerful antioxidant. It helps prevent cell damage and may help cells function more effectively, providing a reduced risk for macular degeneration, heart disease, and cancer.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are plant pigments that give brightly colored vegetables and fruits their distinct floral hue. These specific nutrients may aid in preventing the acceleration of the aging process by fighting against free-radical damage in the skin, organs, and bones. They have also been helpful in decreasing inflammation in muscles and joints and may play a role in cancer prevention.

Vitamin C

This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.

Vitamin A

A fat-soluble nutrient, vitamin A is involved in the development of rhodopsin, a molecule in the eye that promotes healthy vision. Vitamin A is also responsible for promoting the immune system, cell growth, skin health, and the formation of the heart and lungs as well as other bodily organs.

Potassium

Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions

Health Benefits & Medical Claims

Watermelon is a rich source of an antioxidant called lycopene. An antioxidant is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also contribute to cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential to cause damage.

Additionally, watermelon is a great source of water, hence the name! In fact, it’s about 90 percent water. To be sure you’re fulfilling your daily water prescription , consider adding a slice of watermelon to the mix.

Little Known Facts
  1. Watermelon originated in Africa. Egyptian hieroglyphics tell the story of watermelon harvests nearly 5,000 years ago.
  2. Watermelon is from the same family as squash, pumpkins, and cucumbers. This means it’s both a fruit and a vegetable!
  3. Explorers once used watermelons as canteens.
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Yoffie Life disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.