Watermelon, more than just for picnics

stem and flowers

stem and flowers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Watermelon is so much more than the quintessential summer picnic food. Originating in African deserts, it has been valued by African and Asian explorers in history as a portable water source. A pretty heavy water source, you might note, if you have ever tried to cart one from the farmer’s market out to the car. Sometimes I miss grocery carts!

The heaviness of the melon is a sign of ripeness. Luckily, there are a couple other ways to tell rather than trying to heft all the watermelons in the bin at the store. In the field, a watermelon grows as it lays on one side. That side is greenish or white while growing, but turns a yellowish color when ripe and ready to pick. Many people swear by “thumping”, but I wonder how many watermelons one must thump to be able to use thumping reliably?

Watermelon contains an amazing array of nutrients and healthy compounds for a food that seems all water. They are great sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. Red-fleshed watermelons  contain the same prostate cancer-fighting and cardiovascular health-supporting lycopene that red tomatoes contain.   Also found in watermelon is  the good for heart-health amino acid citrulline. Yellow-fleshed watermelons contain more citrulline then their red ripe cousins do, but not as much lycopene.

A  2012 study  in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry reported two groups of mice, both fed a diet high in saturated fat. One group was also fed watermelon juice. The latter group had lower cholesterol and arterial plaque than the control group. Interestingly enough, the mice fed watermelon juice also weighed less.  Now, watermelon has always been a good diet food. It makes sense that ingesting anything that contains so much water and fiber could help one lose weight. However, the mice were fed the juice instead of the fruit itself and biochemists are looking more closely into citrulline as a weight loss factor. I might have to look a little more closely into yellow watermelon!

Seedless or seeded? Seedless watermelon come from hybrid seed, as obviously they don’t produce seed to perpetuate themselves. The white seed coats found have no viable seed inside. 85% of watermelon grown in the USA are the seedless variety. Frankly, I prefer the seeded melons for both looks and taste. The black or brown seeds are really quite easy to cut/pick out, as they grow in a pattern in the melon and are not distributed willy-nilly. I throw my seeds out, but in some Asian countries the seeds are toasted and enjoyed much as we toast and eat pumpkin seeds here.

Growing watermelon in the garden takes a lot of space in a backyard. I am growing an heirloom variety, “Moon and Stars” at present. They seem fairly easy for a novice gardener. Plant a seed, and pouff, a few days later it germinates and begins to grow. (It is a bit of a waste to purchase transplants with such a quick germination time!) If started in a spring garden bed of lettuce and early peas the watermelon vines can take over as the spring things are harvested. Watermelon like long hot summers and deep rich compost. I am a little ambivalent about my plants. Perhaps the space they take up would be better spent on other food producing plants. It might just be a good shopping staple for the Farmer’s Markets.

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