How-to: Purchase the perfect watermelon

By CG Lifestyles & People Editor Neal Patten

What is a good old-fashioned American summer without some of everyone’s favorite foods of the season: ice cream cones, corn on the cob, potato salad, baked beans and a range of grilled delights?  No backyard barbeque would be complete, however, without watermelon!

Citrullus lanatus is the scientific name for this sweet treat and believe it or not, by stringent botany specifications it is technically a berry.  However, it is included in the Cucurbitaceae family alongside squash, cantaloupes and pumpkins.  The watermelon originated in the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa over 5,000 years ago.  Its seeds have been found in the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs left there to be grown in the afterlife.  Currently 44 states grow the melon in the U.S. making it the fourth largest producer in the world.  It is also the most consumed melon in the States.

Watermelon is a picnic staple. Photo by Neal Patten.

Having been raised on this edible green balloon of a fruit we tend to forget just how good it is for us.  Parents always pushed broccoli and spinach at us as kids, but they might have saved themselves all the hassle if they only realized that watermelon is as nutritious as it is delicious.

Not all fruit is created equal.  After decades of taking watermelon for granted, scientists have begun to study its nutritional contents and have found it is a standout among its tendriled companions.

Watermelon is composed of 92% water and 8% sugar.  It is an excellent source of Lycopene, a carotene that greatly reduces the risk of developing various cancers, especially breast and lung cancer.  Studies in men who eat watermelon everyday show they are 30 to 80% less likely to develop prostate cancer.  While tomatoes were once touted as being the essential source for Lycopene, it is now known that watermelon provides the highest concentration of the antioxidant of any fruit or vegetable.

It is also rich in Vitamin A – which maintains good vision and boosts the infection-fighting power of your white blood cells, Vitamin C – an immune system booster that prevents cell damage by stopping free radicals, and Vitamin B6 – which helps to convert protein to energy as well as produce disease-destroying antibodies.  Just one wedge of watermelon provides between 30 to 40% of your daily needs for these vitamins.

The whites of the watermelon rind are loaded full of citrulline, an amino acid that relaxes blood vessels for increased oxygen flow.  This also produces a cooling effect for the body.  In India, many street vendors sell watermelon to help beat the heat.

Another amino acid found in watermelon is arginine, which the “American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology, and Metabolism” has published studies on proving it increases glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity – a combination that helps treat type-2 diabetes. (It also boosts your libido!)

A single triangle of this pink superfood contains only 86 calories.  A cup of watermelon balls is roughly 46 calories.  It contains less than 1% of fat and sodium.  However, with 18 grams of sugar it can still satisfy even the choosiest sweet tooth without packing on the pounds.

It lessens the complications of diabetes, lowers the cell damage that leads to cancers, prevents the development of cataracts, regulates blood pressure and temperature,  contains high levels of magnesium that subdue bone loss – all while being virtually fat, sodium and cholesterol free – this melon can truly do it all!

So for this week’s how-to, I will teach you how to pick the perfect Watermelon from your local grocer’s bin.  Here are the juicy details:

1. Sight  

Look the watermelon over. You are looking for a deep green, firm, symmetrical watermelon that is devoid of major bruises, cuts, scars or dents. When lifted, the watermelon should be heavy.  Remember: it is 92% water!

The more yellow the ground spot, the better the flavor. Photo by Neal Patten.

Next, turn it over. On the bottom of the watermelon there should be a creamy yellow spot (“the ground spot”).  This is not a blemish or a sign of pesticides.  It is produced when the watermelon basks in the sun.  If this splotch is white or green it was picked too soon and will not be as flavorful.

2. Sound

You may have once been taught the “tap test” – pound on the watermelon with your knuckles and the resulting sound will indicate ripeness.  The problem with this test is there are varying beliefs about what sound equates ripeness.  It should be a thick thud sound – not too deep – but also not tinny or hollow.  If you have ever knocked on a gallon jug of water, the sound is quite similar.   The accuracy of this test is disputed even among expert watermelon farmers and in my opinion, it’s best to trust your eyes – not your ears.

3. Feel

Finally, an unripe watermelon is shiny and smooth.  A more ripened watermelon will have a duller sheen (but it will still shine – only muted) and will have developed slight ridges you can feel as you run your finger around the perimeter (against the stripes).  When you knock on the watermelon you should feel a slight reverberation as if the fruit were filled with gelatin.

4. Keeping It Fresh

Whole watermelons keep best at room temperature for up to a week and a half.  However once cut, wrap the exposed fruit in foil and store at temperatures between 36 and 40 degrees.

Always wash your hands, knife and cutting board before slicing your melon.

Finally, you should shop locally, support your farmer’s market and only buy organic fruit whenever possible.

One last tip: I was always under the impression that seedless watermelon were among the frankenfruits.  However, it is a persistent misconception that the seed-free variety is a result of genetic modification.  The truth is that the seedless watermelon was created over 50 years ago – long before GMOs.  They are a special hybrid and the seedless variety is a result of sterility.

Enjoy! Photo by Neal Patten.

So this summer while you are catching up on all the recreational activities you missed out on staying inside studying this past semester, skip the sports drink and water – replenish with watermelon, instead.  It is nature’s energy drink!

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