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All About Watermelon

Watermelon Facts, Picking and Storage Tips, and Recipes

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Watermelon Comes in a Staggering Number of Varieties

Watermelon Comes in a Staggering Number of Varieties

© National Watermelon Promotion Board, used with permission.

A Watermelon Smile

Have you ever noticed the similarity between a slice of watermelon and a smile? The shape is the same. And whether it's the embarrassment of having sticky, sweet juice trickle down your chin, or the memories of youthful seed-spitting contests, one slurpy bite is guaranteed to leave most faces beaming.

Eastern European Watermelon Recipes

Balkans like to pair the sweet taste of watermelon with salty cheeses like Bulgarian feta, mint, sweet red onions and salty olives. While other Eastern Europeans prefer watermelon pickled, made into jam or chilled in soups.

Watermelon History

According to the National Watermelon Promotion Board, "Watermelon is thought to have originated in the Kalahari Desert of Africa. The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife."

Watermelon spread to countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships. By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China which, today, is the world's number one producer of watermelons.

Watermelon reached Russia via China, and by the 13th century the Moors were sharing watermelon lusciousness with the rest of Europe. Some food historians feel watermelon made its way to the United States with African slaves.

Watermelon Is Good For You

What gives watermelon its sensual red color? The National Watermelon Promotion Board says it's lycopene -- a fat-soluble antioxidant. So, not only is watermelon refreshing and sweet, it's a healthy food choice that may help reduce the risks of cancer and other diseases.

Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamins A, B6 and C, and contains fiber and potassium. Watermelon has virtually no fat or cholesterol, earning it the American Heart Association's heart checkmark, and two cups of watermelon rack up around 90 calories.

Watermelon Varieties

Watermelon's official name is Citrullus Lanatus of the botanical family Curcurbitaceae, and is a cousin to cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.

By weight, watermelon is the most-consumed melon in the United States followed by cantaloupe and honeydew. About 200-300 varieties are grown in the States and Mexico, although there are about 50 varieties that are very popular, with the five listed below as the most common.
  • Seeded Watermelon: Oblong in shape and weighing from 15 to 45 pounds with small to large brown or black seeds throughout.

  • Seedless Watermelon: This is the most popular variety in the United States. It is round and weighs 10-20 pounds on average with an occasional white, tender seed.

  • Mini or Personal-Sized Watermelon: Small and round in shape, they weight 1 to 7 pounds and have red or yellow flesh that can be seeded or seedless.

  • Yellow Flesh and Orange Flesh Watermelons: Round in shape, the average weight is between 10 and 30 pounds. They usually have seeds.

How to Pick a Watermelon

There are so many myths about picking a ripe watermelon. There's the thumping and shaking techniques, but most experts agree the only way to know if you have a good watermelon is to cut it open and taste it. Since you can't do that at a market or grocery store, try these tips:
  • Look the watermelon over. Choose a firm, symmetrical watermelon that is free of bruises, cuts and dents, and light in color. The lighter the green, the riper it is.

  • Lift it up. The watermelon should be heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92% water, accounting for most of its weight.

  • Turn it over. On the underside of the watermelon there should be a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.

  • Old Wives' Tale: Set the melon on the ground and place a straw from a broom on top. If the straw moves at all, it's ripe!

How to Store Watermelon

Once you've brought your watermelon home, store it on the warm side. Compared to most fruits, watermelons need a more "tropical" climate -- 55 degrees is ideal. However, whole melons will keep for seven to 10 days at room temperature. Store them too long and they'll lose flavor and texture. After two days at 32 degrees, watermelons develop an off-flavor and lose color. Freezing causes rind to break down and produces a mealy, mush texture. Once a melon is cut, it should be wrapped and stored at between 37 and 39 degrees.

How to Select Pre-Cut Watermelon

  • The flesh of the watermelon should appear dense and firm.

  • Refrigerate cut melons to preserve maximum freshness.

  • Cover the cut surface of a melon with plastic wrap to prevent the flesh from becoming mushy.

  • Store chunks of watermelon in covered plastic containers.

Watermelon Artistry

If eating watermelon isn't your thing, they present ample opportunity to bring out the artist in you. Watermelons are particularly well-suited to carving and the staggering number of varieties allow for different colors and shapes. Here are carving tips, ideas and diagrams.
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How to Cut a Watermelon

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