Watermelons can be a picnic delight. Composed of nearly all water and nutrients, this popular fruit is high in vitamin C, magnesium, potassium and beta-carotene. Because of its high water content watermelon is also known to be a diuretic.
This red, juicy fruit can help reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease, aid in lowering blood pressure and can help to prevent birth defects.
Watermelon range in size from just a couple of pounds to above 90 pounds. This fruit is a member of the Cucurbitaceae family, which includes squash, pumpkin, cantaloupe and other plants that can be found growing on the ground from vines. The watermelon most typically consumed is oblong, round or spherical in shape and can range from light green to dark green in color, with a mottled skin or white stripes.
The flesh of this melon is usually bright red and contains seeds which are black or dark brown. This fruit's flesh can also be orange, yellow, pink or even white. Watermelon seeds can be white, green, brown or yellow. Some varieties of watermelon are completely seedless.
This fruit is native to the Kalahari Desert of southern Africa. As depicted in hieroglyphics on tomb walls dating back to 3000 B.C.E., the first recorded watermelons seem to be from Egypt. The high regard for watermelons is obvious in the fact that they were left as food for the dead in their journey to the afterlife.
Watermelons were taken from Egypt through the countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of seafaring merchants. This fruit was documented to be in China in the 10th century and in the 13th century watermelons were introduced by the Moors to the rest of the European countries. It is believed this delectable fruit made its way to North America with slaves from Africa. The word "watermelon" did not appear in an English dictionary until 1615.
Most of today's commercial crops of watermelon come from the Russian Federation, where watermelon is even used to make a popular local wine. Other world producers of this fruit are the U.S., Turkey, Iran and China.
As mentioned earlier, watermelons have an extremely high content of water, typically about 92 percent. This fruit is very low in calories, with one cup containing only about 48 calories. Even so, watermelons are a very good source for lycopene, vitamin C and beta-carotene. Just one cup of watermelon provides almost 20 percent of the daily recommended value of the important C vitamin. Through its beta-carotene content, watermelon also provides 13.9 percent of the requirement for vitamin A. Watermelon is also a good source for vitamins B1 and B6, biotin, potassium, magnesium, pantothenic acid and dietary fiber.
As its name implies, watermelon is an excellent source of water and is a natural diuretic. Because of the lower calorie content and high water source, watermelons deliver more nutrients per calorie than most fruits, which is an excellent health benefit. This fruit contains some of the most important antioxidants, including lycopene. Lycopene is the red carotenoid pigment that gives the red color in tomatoes.
One study determined that if all women of childbearing age consumed at least 400 micrograms of folate each day, the incidence of birth defects involving the brain and spinal cord would be at least cut in half. Melons are an excellent source of folate. This nutrient is also good for the heart.
Melons are among the foods on which pesticide residues are frequently found. Because they lie on the ground, melons can also contain germs and other unsafe residues and should be thoroughly washed prior to cutting and consuming. Unless the outside of the melon is cleaned well, cutting into the melon can introduce pathogens such as salmonella to the flesh. Because of a melon's large size it is easier to wash it with a wet cloth or paper towel than to attempt to put it in a sink and run water over it.
Selecting and Storing
While many people tap on a watermelon to listen for a hollow sound, this act does not result in selecting a ripe fruit. A better way to pick a watermelon is to select one with a smooth surface and an underbelly that is cream colored.
This tasty fruit should be refrigerated to preserve its freshness, juiciness and flavor. To save on space, cut the melon into pieces and cover with plastic wrap.
Serving Ideas for Watermelons
Watermelon tastes great alone or eaten in fruit salads. Other serving ideas include:
- Freezing purged watermelon in ice cube trays. Gently blend frozen watermelon in a food processor for a frozen granita dessert.
- The rind of watermelons can be candied, pickled or marinated.
- In many Asian countries, watermelon seeds are roasted and seasoned to be eaten as a snack, used to make bread or ground up into cereal.
- Puree watermelon, kiwifruit and cantaloupe together, then add plain yogurt.
- The flesh can be cubed, sliced or scooped into balls.
- Jam, sorbet and juice can also be made from watermelon.
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- Holford, P & Lawson, S. (2008). Optimum Nutrition Made Easy How to achieve optimum health. London : Piatkus
- Murray, M.T. et al.(2005). Encyclopedia of healing foods. London : Piatkus
- Yeager, S. & Prevention Health Books. (1998). The doctors book of food remedies : the newest discoveries in the power of food to cure and prevent health problems from aging and diabetes to ulcers and yeast infections. [Emmaus, Pa.] : Rodale
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