Celebrate National Watermelon Day
If you haven’t already enjoyed America’s most consumed melon this summer, August is the perfect time to start. August 3rd is National Watermelon Day!
First harvested 5000 years ago in Egypt where it still grows wild today, the drought-tolerant watermelon was prized for its ability to hold large amounts of fluid in a convenient package. It made the perfect companion for long treks in the desert! Today, 96 countries cultivate watermelon across the globe. China is the world’s top producer because Asian cuisine makes use of all parts of the melon. The rind is commonly used as a vegetable in stir-fries, pickles, and stews!
Watermelon is nutritious
Watermelon is a nutrient-dense plant food, and therefore, part of the foundation of a healthy diet. The nutrient components of watermelon work together to provide a synergistic effect that boosts nutrient absorption and supports health.
At 92% water by weight, watermelon can (and should!) serve as a source of hydration on hot summer days. A standard two-cup serving of cubed watermelon (about two wedges) provides a nearly equal amount of water and 25% of the daily recommendation for vitamin C. You’ll also get all 2 cups of your daily recommended fruit servings. Watermelon is a source of potassium, a nutrient that many people don’t eat enough of but is needed to balance sodium (salt) in the body. You’ll also find vitamin A from beta-carotene and vitamin B1, vitamin B6, and magnesium—nutrients that support immune system function, normal nerve function, healthy skin, and red blood cell formation.
Watermelon supports health
Watermelon’s distinctive red color comes from a carotenoid called lycopene, which is also found in tomatoes and other red-hued fruits and vegetables. Unlike in tomatoes, the lycopene in watermelon is available directly to the body and does not require heat treatment for absorption. Lycopene is an antioxidant, so it can neutralize damaging free radicals in the body, supporting normal cell growth and division. Lycopene is also known to protect against macular disorders (of the eye) and may impart protection to skin from ultraviolet rays. Research shows that eating lycopene-rich foods can help maintain a healthy blood pressure level and lower risk of some cancers, including prostate and breast cancer.
Boundless watermelon varieties
Although August has a day dedicated to Watermelon, you can enjoy it year-round thanks to complementary growing seasons in North and South America. More than 300 varieties are grown in these locations alone! Picnic, icebox, yellow flesh, and seedless are the most commonly eaten varieties, although 1200 more exist thanks to simple crossbreeding techniques.
To understand why so many watermelon varieties exist, consider the well-known seedless version. Around 50 years ago, watermelon breeders discovered that crossing a watermelon plant that has two sets of chromosomes with a watermelon plant that has four sets of chromosomes produces a plant with three sets of chromosomes. These plants make fruit with non-mature seeds (i.e., the white, empty seed coats found in “seedless” varieties). Non-matured seeds are safe and much easier to eat than the large black seeds in classic watermelon. Seedless watermelons are known as sterile hybrids, meaning their seeds are incapable of reproduction. It’s the plant equivalent of crossing a horse with a donkey to create a mule.
Simple crossbreeding techniques have allowed breeders to select specific traits in many different plants and animals on a commercial scale well before genetic engineering emerged in the 1960s. In fact, many of today’s commonly eaten plant foods like oranges, bananas, almonds, blackberries, and strawberries are the result of hybridization. Direct gene modification, however, allows for faster trait selection in much less time. Gene engineering can be tremendously beneficial when certain plants are at-risk for drought, early rotting, or viruses capable of wiping out entire species.
Selection and storage tips
Choose a watermelon that is firm, symmetrical, and free of bruises, cuts, and dents. Watermelon is mostly water and should, therefore, seem heavy for its size. Lastly, look for a yellow spot on its underside—this is where it sat on the ground and ripened.
If you don’t plan to make use of the watermelon rind, get the most from your melon and reduce food waste by choosing a mini version (also called “petite” or “personal”). Mini watermelons contain more flesh and less rind than a classic watermelon, which is about 70% flesh and 30% rind.
An uncut watermelon retains highest levels of nutrients when stored at room temperature, but keep it refrigerated if you bought it that way. Always rinse your melon (and any fruit or vegetable) with clean, running water before preparing since soil and bacteria may still be present on the rind.
Refrigerate sliced watermelon (below 40 degrees) to preserve freshness and prevent bacterial growth. Sliced watermelon will remain fresh for 3-4 days when appropriately refrigerated in an air-tight container. Freezing watermelon for later consumption is not recommended because it will lose its flavor, texture, and color after defrosting. However, frozen watermelon cubes make great ice cubes for fruit-infused waters!
Eat the entire melon!
Watermelon is 100% edible, although modern American cuisine doesn’t often make use of the rind. Try the recipes below to experience all components of the watermelon in unique ways. But if you ask us, simple wedges or cubes are the way to go! You could also throw a few wedges on the grill over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until sear marks develop, then serve on its own for a super sweet dessert!
- Watermelon Pineapple Salsa
- Fire and Ice Salsa
- Mediterranean Salad
- Grilled Watermelon Kale Salad
- Watermelon Infused Water
- Watermelon Popsicles
- Watermelon Rind Stir Fry
- Watermelon Rind Pickles