One of the best parts of summer is eating delicious, thirst-quenching fruit.
And when it comes to fruit, watermelon is at the top of the list.
What better way to savor a hot summer night than with a cool slice of refreshing watermelon?
Watermelon holds the title as the favorite melon in the U.S. With more than 90 percent water content, it is the perfect hydrating refreshment at summer backyard cookouts and family picnics.
Which is why I am excited to be celebrating National Watermelon Day this August 3rd.
You might think you know all about the sweet, melt-in-your-mouth watermelon, but read on for some fun and surprising watermelon facts.
Who Discovered Watermelon?
Watermelons have been enjoyed for centuries.
According to Egyptian hieroglyphic records, the sweet, delectable fruit has been part of the human diet for 5,000 years. For over a millennia, it was cultivated in Egypt and India until the 10th century when the watermelon was introduced in Europe.
The love of watermelon has only grown since then.
Today, in the United States, 44 states cultivate watermelon commercially, with Georgia, Florida, California and Texas as top producers.
Watermelons Are Like a Rainbow
Watermelons are thought to have originated in southern Africa. They grow on vines and prefer warmer climates.
Watermelon is ‘loosely’ considered a type of melon, though it is actually a type of berry or ‘pepo,’ which is a berry with a thick rind and a fleshy center. It is a close cousin of the cucumber, pumpkin, and squash. With its smooth, striped or spotted rind and water-rich, sweet center of red, pink, yellow or white, watermelons come in a huge variety of shapes, sizes, and colors.
There are over 300 varieties of watermelon cultivated in the U.S. and Mexico alone, ranging from the 2 to 4-pound pink, sweet Little Baby Flower, to the world record 350-pound melon grown in Sevierville, Tennessee in 2013.
Here is how you tell the difference:
- Seeded Watermelon: These can be quite large or quite small (ranging from 15 to 45 pounds) and can come in various round, long or oblong shapes.
- Seedless Watermelon: A very popular variety, seedless watermelons are a hybrid of two different types of watermelons. They tend to be between 10 to25 pounds and are round to oblong in shape.
- Mini Watermelon: These little watermelons have thinner rinds and tend to have more flesh per pound. They are round in shape and typically weigh between 1 to 7 pounds.
- Yellow and Orange Watermelon: These tend to be sweeter in flavor. They weigh from 10 to 30 pounds and are round.
Why Watermelon Is So Good for You
Watermelons are healthful, sweet and hydrating.
In addition to the high water and fiber content, watermelon contains high levels of brain-boosting vitamin B6, vision-clearing vitamin A, as well as potassium, vitamin C, and manganese.
Watermelon is also rich in lycopene, the healthful carotenoid antioxidant found in red and pink fruits like tomatoes and grapefruit. Lycopene is what makes the melon’s flesh red. The deeper the red hue, the higher the lycopene.
Just one-half cup of red-fleshed watermelon has 1.5 times the lycopene (6mg) compared to one large raw tomato (4mg). However, it is important to note that the total antioxidant activity of tomatoes (including lycopene bioavailability) is a lot higher when the fruit is cooked.
Lycopene’s powerful antioxidant properties have the potential for preventing and fighting certain types of cancer. Lycopene may also lower the risk of stroke. One meta-analysis study showed that men with the highest blood lycopene concentrations had a 55 percent lower risk of stroke than men with the lowest lycopene levels.
Watermelon contains l-citrulline, an amino acid that may protect against muscle pain. One study found that men who drank natural watermelon juice prior to exercise had less muscle pain the day after compared to men who drank the placebo.
Why You Might Want to Eat Watermelon Seeds
Watermelon is delicious, but most people do not know about the power of the watermelon seed. In fact, watermelon seeds pack a nutritional punch with iron, fiber, protein and zinc.
Not a fan of watermelon seeds? Though seedless varieties may seem artificial, farmers create seedless watermelons naturally, i.e. through hybridization of different watermelon plants, not genetic modification.
And perhaps even more surprising is that the watermelon rind is good for you! It contains more citrulline than the fruity flesh.
Grate the rind over a salad or soup for an unexpected and delicious kick.
7 Ways to Celebrate
To celebrate National Watermelon Day, try cooking with watermelon in new ways.
Have a watermelon potluck and ask friends to bring a dish prepared with watermelon in a creative manner.
- Slice or carve watermelon for a fancy presentation.
- Prepare a cool spicy-sweet watermelon soup.
- Make a watermelon salsa with jalapeño and tomatillo.
- Serve a colorful watermelon salad made of red, white and yellow varieties.
- Grill up some watermelon with your favorite veggies.
- Blend up a refreshing watermelon smoothie.
- Stir up a pitcher of icy watermelon lemonade.
Want to stretch your creativity even further?
Here is a dish that is sure to get rave reviews.
Try Watermelon Poke, which is a dish that uses watermelon instead of raw tuna, the traditional center of poke salad.
Guests always love it.
And you will love it, too.
This dish uses all of the ingredients you find in poke salads – noodles, macadamia nuts, avocado, soy sauce, and green onions. It is an explosion of sensations with crunchy and soft textures, broth, noodles and — instead of fish — sweet, juicy, healthful watermelon.