"Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus, Family Cucurbitaceae) is both a fruit and a vegetable and plant of a vine-like (climber and trailer) herb originally from southern Africa and one of the most common type of melon. This flowering plant produces a special type of fruit known by botanists as a pepo, which has a thick rind (exocarp) and fleshy center (mesocarp and endocarp); pepos are derived from an inferior ovary and are characteristic of the Cucurbitaceae. The watermelon fruit, loosely considered a type of melon (although not in the genus Cucumis), has a smooth exterior rind (green and yellow) and a juicy, sweet, usually red or yellow, but sometimes orange, interior flesh. The flesh consists of highly developed placental tissue within the fruit. The former name Citrullus vulgaris (vulgaris meaning "common" - Shosteck, 1974), is now a synonym of the accepted scientific name for watermelon, Citrullus lanatus." -Wikipedia
No other fruit says summer like the subtly crunchy, thirst quenching watermelon. Although watermelons can now be found in the markets throughout the year, the season for watermelon is in the summer when they are sweet and of the best quality.
When I was around 14 years old, Daddy planted five acres of crimson sweet watermelons, if memory serves me correct on the acreage. Crimson sweet are the dark green round ones with lighter green stripes. This variety, in my opinion, is the sweetest of watermelons although I've had others that were sweet. Crimson sweet are guaranteed to be sweet when ripe.
My younger sister, Shena (who was 11) and I would make a stack in the front yard using hay for the underbelly and sell watermelons for extra summer allowance. She and I ate a great deal of the profits. I recall slicing several open for display and the two of us eating the display. We would have seed spitting contests. Our cousins and next-door neighbours; Brenda, Glenda and Vaughn would join us in these contests. We'd also keep some chilled for those wanting to eat it straightway.
As a member of the Cucurbitaceous family, the watermelon is related to the cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin, other plants that also grow on vines on the ground. Watermelons can be round, oblong or spherical in shape and feature thick green rinds that are often spotted or striped. They range in size from a few pounds to upward of ninety pounds.
Watermelon is not only great on a hot summer day; this delectable thirst-quencher may also help quench the inflammation that contributes to conditions like asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and arthritis.
Concentrated in Powerful Antioxidants
Sweet, juicy watermelon is actually packed with some of the most important antioxidants in nature. Watermelon is an excellent source of vitamin C and a very good source of vitamin A, notably through its concentration of beta-carotene. Pink watermelon is also a source of the potent carotenoid antioxidant, lycopene. These powerful antioxidants travel through the body neutralizing free radicals. Free radicals are substances in the body that can cause a great deal of damage. They are able to oxidize cholesterol, making it stick to blood vessel walls, where it can lead to heart attack or stroke. They can add to the severity of asthma attacks by causing airways to clamp down and close. They can increase the inflammation that occurs in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and cause most of the joint damage that occurs in these conditions, and they can damage cells lining the colon, turning them into cancer cells.
Fortunately, vitamin C and beta-carotene are very good at getting rid of these harmful molecules and can therefore prevent the damage they would otherwise cause. As a matter of fact, high intakes of vitamin C and beta-carotene have been shown in a number of scientific studies to reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce the airway spasm that occurs in asthma, reduce the risk of colon cancer, and alleviate some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. A cup of watermelon provides 24.3% of the daily value for vitamin C, and, through its beta-carotene, 11.1% of the DV for vitamin A.
More on Watermelon's Lycopene
Watermelon is also a very concentrated source of the carotenoid, lycopene. Well known for being abundant in tomatoes and particularly well absorbed from cooked tomato products containing a little fat such as olive oil, lycopene is also present in high amounts in watermelon and mangoes. Lycopene has been extensively studied for its antioxidant and cancer-preventing properties. In contrast to many other food phytonutrients, whose effects have only been studied in animals, lycopene has been repeatedly studied in humans and found to be protective against a growing list of cancers. These cancers now include prostate cancer, breast cancer, endometrial cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancers.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that in patients with colorectal adenomas, a type of polyp that is the precursor for most colorectal cancers, blood levels of lycopene were 35% lower compared to study subjects with no polyps. Blood levels of beta-carotene also tended to be 25.5% lower, although according to researchers, this difference was not significant. In their final (multiple logistic regressions) analysis, only low levels of plasma lycopene (less than 70 microgram per liter) and smoking increased the likelihood of colorectal adenomas, but the increase in risk was quite substantial: low levels of lycopene increased risk by 230% and smoking by 302%.
The antioxidant function of lycopene-its ability to help protect cells and other structures in the body from oxygen damage-has been linked in human research to prevention of heart disease. Protection of DNA (our genetic material) inside of white blood cells has also been shown to be an antioxidant role of lycopene.
Watermelon is rich in the B vitamins necessary for energy production. Our food ranking system also qualified watermelon as a very good source of vitamin B6 and a good source of vitamin B1, magnesium, and potassium. Part of this high ranking was due to the higher nutrient richness of watermelon. Because this food has higher water content and lower calorie content than many other fruits (a whole cup of watermelon contains only 48 calories), it delivers more nutrients per calorie-an outstanding health benefit!
Protection against Macular Degeneration
Your mother may have told you carrots would keep your eyes bright as a child, but as an adult, it looks like fruit is even more important for keeping your sight. Data reported in a study published in the Archives of Ophthalmology indicates that eating 3 or more servings of fruit per day may lower your risk of age-related macular degeneration (ARMD), the primary cause of vision loss in older adults, by 36%, compared to persons who consume less than 1.5 servings of fruit daily.
In this study, which involved over 110,000 women and men, researchers evaluated the effect of study participants' consumption of fruits; vegetables; the antioxidant vitamins A, C, and E; and carotenoids on the development of early ARMD or neovascular ARMD, a more severe form of the illness associated with vision loss. While, surprisingly, intakes of vegetables, antioxidant vitamins and carotenoids were not strongly related to incidence of either form of ARMD, fruit intake was definitely protective against the severe form of this vision-destroying disease. Three servings of fruit may sound like a lot to eat each day, but watermelon can help you reach this goal.
How to Select and Store
The best way to choose a flavorful melon is to look at the color and quality of the flesh, which should be a deep color and absent from white streaks. If it features seeds, they should be deep in color. Oftentimes, however, we do not have this liberty when purchasing watermelon since it is more common to buy a whole, uncut fruit. When choosing a whole watermelon, look for one that is heavy for its size with a rind that is relatively smooth and that is neither overly shiny nor overly dull. In addition, one side of the melon should have an area that is distinct in color from the rest of the rind, displaying a yellowish or creamy tone. This is the underbelly, the place that was resting on the ground during ripening, and if the fruit does not have this marking, it may have been harvested prematurely, which will negatively affect its taste, texture and juiciness.
The quantity of carotenoids from watermelon, particularly lycopene and beta-carotene, increases if this melon is stored at a room temperature, indicates a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. So, increase the lycopene and beta-carotene your watermelon delivers by storing it at room temperature.
Yet, once cut, watermelons should be refrigerated in order to best preserve their freshness, taste and juiciness. If the whole watermelon does not fit in your refrigerator, cut it into pieces (as few as possible), and cover them with plastic wrap to prevent them from becoming dried out and from absorbing the odors of other foods.
Watermelon is not a commonly allergenic food, is not known to contain measurable amounts of goitrogens, oxalates, or purines, and is also not included in the Environmental Working Group's 2006 report "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce" as one of the 12 foods most frequently containing pesticide residues.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Purée watermelon, cantaloupe and kiwi together. Swirl in a little plain yogurt and serve as refreshing cold soup.
- In Asian countries, roasted watermelon seeds are either seasoned and eaten as a snack food or ground up into cereal and used to make bread.
- A featured item of Southern American cooking, the rind of watermelon can be marinated, pickled or candied.
- Watermelon mixed with thinly sliced red onion, salt and black pepper makes a great summer salad.
- Watermelon is a wonderful addition to fruit salad. And fruit salad can be made days ahead since cut fruit, if chilled, retains its nutrients for at least six days.
Cho E, Seddon JM, Rosner B, Willett WC, Hankinson SE. Prospective study of intake of fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and carotenoids and risk of age-related maculopathy. Arch Ophthalmol. 2004 June
Edwards AJ, Vinyard BT, Wiley ER et al. Consumption of watermelon juice increases plasma concentrations of lycopene and beta-carotene in humans. J Nutr 2003 April
Ensminger AH, Ensminger, ME, Kondale JE, Robson JRK. Foods & Nutrition Encyclopedia. Pegus Press, Clovis, California 1983.
© 2007 Avis Ward of AWard Consulting, LLC