Watermelon, summer’s sweet delight


Watermelon, summer’s sweet delight

Nothing quite says “summer” like biting into a juicy watermelon. Out of all melons, watermelon is one of the most flavorful that few of us would disagree with. Bite into a slice of sweet, succulent watermelon on a hot, humid day and you’re biting into the quintessential fruit of summer.  The cool, refreshing flavor packs a far higher nutritional punch than you may realize.  It’s not just all water and sugar – there’s a lot going on underneath the surface of that watermelon rind.

Is watermelon a fruit or vegetable?

Now wait a minute – aren’t watermelons a fruit?  Botanically yes.  Just like the pepper, tomato, and pumpkin, watermelons are the fruit of a plant originally from a vine of southern Africa.  But watermelon is also a member of the cucubitaceae plant family of gourds. It is related to cantaloupe, squash, pumpkin and other plants that grow on vines on the ground.  If you’ve ever grown watermelon you know they grow from seeds and since watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, it is also considered a vegetable.

Surprising health benefits of watermelon

Because watermelon just seems so…watery (92 percent water content), we may not really believe it offers much nutritional value.  But dig a little deeper and you will find a fruit loaded with far more dietary goodness than what the eye can behold.  Here are some of the surprising health-promoting qualities they have:

·      Has more lycopene than a tomato – Tomatoes may get all the credit for the antioxidant lycopene known for its possible fight against prostate cancer, but watermelon is the true lycopene leader having 40 percent more of this antioxidant on average than a raw tomato.  Compared to a fresh tomato, one cup of watermelon contains 6 milligrams while one cup of a tomato contains 4 milligrams. In fact, watermelon has the highest concentration of lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable.   

·      Protects against muscle pain – When experiencing muscle soreness, slice up some watermelon or drink watermelon juice.  An amino acid called L-citrulline may benefit exercised-related muscle pain along with improving post-workout recovery.  One cup of watermelon provides 240 milligrams of L-citrulline.

·      Improvements in blood pressure and cardiac stress – Watermelon’s content of citrulline can be converted to arginine, a non-essential amino acid, helping improve blood pressure and overall cardiovascular health.  Arginine is a precursor to nitric oxide which is necessary for blood vessels to stay relaxed and open for blood flow helping lower blood pressure. 

·      Very hydrating – No surprise here but watermelon gets its name partly because it is more than 92 percent water.  What a fabulous way to keep hydrated on a hot, humid summer day.  Here’s a fun fact about watermelon – It has a reputation as a “living canteen” that began in Africa where it originated and then spread to Egypt where it was first cultivated over 5,000 years ago. 

·      Don’t throw out the seeds or rind – The rind of watermelon is edible (remove the outer peel) and provides a rich source of lycopene, flavonoids, and vitamin C.  Not sure what to do with the rind?  Slice them into stir-fry recipes, or puree them into a chilled soup.

Watermelon seeds are also edible and very healthy for us.  They contain iron, zinc, protein, and fiber.

Choosing the perfect watermelon

There are three simple steps to picking the perfect watermelon for your next picnic:

1.     Pick it up. It should feel heavy for its size no matter how big or small it is.

2.     Look for the yellow spot.  A yellow spot on a watermelon is where they rested on the ground before they were harvested.  When the spot is a creamy yellow, this indicates it’s ripe and ready to eat.

3.     Give it a thump. Tap the underbelly and listen for a deep hollow sound.  If the sound is dull the watermelon is either under-ripe or over-ripe.

4.     The most flavorful melon has deeply colored seeds and flesh that has no white streaks. 

5.     Store uncut watermelon at room temperature for maximum antioxidant benefits.  Watermelons stored just under 70 degrees F have increased levels of lycopene and beta-carotene compared to refrigerated melons.  However, once cut, store watermelon in the refrigerator.