What is a watermelon?
The juicy flesh of the watermelon crushed with mint or simply eaten off the rind is a favourite with both children and adults. The distinctive aroma and flavour of watermelon is also a delicious complement to salty foods such as feta cheese or meats.
The watermelon originated in South Africa, where it grew wild. It is related to the cucumber, squash and pumpkin. Watermelon was cultivated in the Nile Valley over 3,000 years ago and it is mentioned in the Bible. The Ottoman Empire introduced watermelon to Europe in the 13th century and it is now produced in many countries around the world.
Given their high water content, watermelons are cultivated in the semi-dry deserts of Africa as an important source of water during dry periods.
Watermelon skin comes in shades of green and can be mottled or striped. Round, cylindrical and oblong varieties can be found at supermarkets and fresh food markets.
A common variety in Australia is green with pale green stripes, dark-pink flesh and black, glossy seeds. The Warpaint and Allsweet varieties are usually found in supermarkets. Red Tiger is another popular variety that is long and cylindrical with dark green skin and very sweet, dark-red flesh. This variety has few dark-brown seeds. The Viking is a medium-to-large cylindrical watermelon whereas the Sugar Baby is small and round.
New seedless varieties are becoming more common. One seedless watermelon has green skin and another, called Champagne, has yellow flesh.
Why watermelon is good to eat
- Watermelon contains vitamin C, lycopene (an antioxidant) and carotenoids (which are converted to vitamin A).
- It also contains minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure), manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Sucrose, fructose and glucose (all natural sugars) provide the sweetness in watermelon flesh.
- Watermelon contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of watermelon flesh has 125 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Watermelons need a long, warm-to-hot growing season. They can be planted from spring through to summer and take up to four months before they are ready to harvest.
The watermelon plant is a ground-hugging vine but its long shoots (extending up to 3 m) can also help the vine to climb. The plant grows best in soil that is fertile and well drained. Male and female flowers grow on the same vine and are pollinated by insects. Usually the first few female flowers on each branch produce the best fruit.
To check if your watermelon is ripe for picking, tap the fruit with your knuckles and listen for a hollow, dull sound. The stem of the watermelon shrivels and dries out when the fruit is ripe. Cut the stem from the vine (leave some of the stem) and handle the watermelon carefully to minimise damage to the skin.
Choose watermelons that are heavy and firm for their size. You should choose watermelons with glossy skin and avoid ones that are damaged or are soft to the touch. A ripe watermelon sounds hollow when you tap it.
How to store and keep watermelon
Store uncut watermelon at room temperature for a short period of time (up to two weeks). Watermelon does not ripen easily after it is picked. Store cut pieces of watermelon in a sealed bag in the fridge.
How to use
- Try a refreshing soup – whiz chopped watermelon, red and yellow tomatoes, garlic, red chilli, a little vinegar and some olive oil in a blender until smooth, then chill, season with salt and pepper and garnish with fresh mint (or basil) before serving.
- Serve a simple entrée – sear slices of fennel until brown and arrange on a plate with slices of watermelon, then crumble goat’s cheese on top, garnish with fresh mint and finish off with a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of salt and pepper.
- Make tacos – combine diced watermelon, chopped red chilli, diced avocado, sliced red onion, chopped coriander leaves and lime juice, then add to taco shells with chunks of grilled fish and slices of lettuce and serve with lime wedges.
- Whip up a fiery salsa – combine diced watermelon, chopped coriander leaves, sliced spring onions, chopped red (or green) chilli and garlic with a squeeze of lime juice and oil, then serve with grilled chicken or fish or as a dip.
- Prepare a refreshing salad – mix chunks of watermelon, diced mango, sliced red onion, mixed salad leaves and crumbled feta cheese, then dress with vinaigrette and chopped fresh mint leaves.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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