Wild for Watermelon
The quintessential fruit of summer, watermelon is one of nature’s most refreshing treats, and backyard barbecues and picnics are seldom complete without a juicy bite of melon. From the Cucurbitaceae family, watermelon refers to both the plant and the fruit itself, and is related to cantaloupe, cucumber and squash as gourd-bearing vines.
Indigenous to Africa, Egyptians cultivated watermelon as far back as 4,000 years ago, reaching the Americas in the 1600s. There are now over 1,200 varieties of watermelon, ranging from one-pound mini melons to massive fruit that reaches over 200 pounds.
Watermelon flesh is 92% water, giving it a refreshing, thirst-quenching taste while still delivering satisfying crispness. Though perfectly delicious on its own, watermelon has been finding its way onto restaurant menus in just about every category, from savory watermelon salads to sweet sorbets for dessert. Ever versatile, even the sturdy shell can be carved into a basket and used as a unique container.
What’s more, the red, ripe flesh contains lycopene, a phytonutrient that has been shown to be essential in heart and bone health. Watermelon also contains a host of other antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients, including vitamins A and C. The lesser-known white and yellow fleshed varieties do not contain the same levels of lycopene, but still boast an impressive nutritional profile.
Watermelon season ranges from spring to early fall, with peak harvest falling during the summer months of June through August. When choosing your fruit, look for a firm watermelon that is free of noticeable dents, cuts or bruises. It should feel heavy when lifted, as the ripest watermelons contain the highest amount of water. The rind should be bright green, with a whitish-yellow spot on the underside where the watermelon rested on the ground.
Here are just a few fun facts about this summertime favorite:
- The average American consumes 15 pounds of watermelon a year.
- Seedless watermelons, which now account for nearly 85% of the watermelons grown in the U.S., contain white digestible “seeds” that are actually empty seed coats.
- Watermelons are grown in 44 states with Georgia, Florida, California and Texas consistently topping other states in production.
- The world record for largest watermelon was grown in Arkedelphia, Arkansas, and weighed an astounding 268.8 pounds.
- Ancient hieroglyphics depicted watermelon harvests, and watermelon seeds were actually found in the tomb of Egypt’s King Tut.
No matter how you slice (and serve) it, nothing says summer like a crisp, refreshing bite of sweet watermelon.