The dog days of summer may have passed us by, but watermelon isn’t just a treat for July and August barbecues anymore. In the United States, watermelon is available year-round, with domestic produce sold from April through November — and imported watermelon from Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama available from October through June. The US ranks 5th in total watermelon production, with chief producers in Florida, Texas, California, Georgia and Arizona. Check this handy chart to see where your watermelon may be coming from at any particular month of the year: http://www.watermelon.org/assets/Retailers/PeakProductionCalendar.pdf
Types of Watermelons
Over 1,200 varieties of watermelon exist – and they’re not all the pink-and-green melons we’re familiar with. According to Saveur Magazine, there are many cultivars of watermelon available in the United States, each with their own distinctive flavors. Here are a few different kinds you may run across:
- Yellow Baby – Weighing 8 lbs or less, this yellow melon is tender and tastes best in a salsa.
- Crimson Sweet – Try this prized, bright red, sugary melon to balance flavors like mint and feta.
- Sweet Favorite – With a blue-green rind and ruby flesh, this variety pairs well in relishes.
- Starbrite – Blend this juicy firm-fleshed variety into a smoothie or sorbet.
Watermelon sometimes gets a bad rap due to its high positioning on the Glycemic Index. At 72, it’s listed right up there with Corn Chips, Honey, Bagels and Mashed Potatoes. However, as Glycemic Index For Dummies points out, watermelon actually “has a very low-glycemic load” because it’s comprised mostly of water and is packed with healthful antioxidants like Vitamin C, Vitamin A and Lycopene – not to mention, it’s low in calories and high in fiber.
Key Health Benefits of Watermelon
Heart & Bone Health: Carotenoid phytonutrient Lycopene is what makes tomatoes such a widely lauded fruit. However, watermelon has recently been highlighted in research studies as another high-lycopene food worthy of mention (along with pink grapefruit and guava). In fact, a study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that watermelon juice yielded as much “bioavailable lycopene” as tomato juice and a cup of watermelon actually has 1.5 times the lycopene of a large, fresh tomato!
Cancer & Stroke Prevention: Lycopene’s ability to reduce inflammation in the body may not only help to protect against diseases of the heart and bone, but also may help to reduce cancer and stroke risk as well. Lycopene has especially been linked to the prevention and treatment of prostate cancer in recent studies, though the claims are still under investigation. Since watermelon has been identified as one of the best dietary sources of Lycopene, we’re likely to see more links to watermelon and longevity in the future.
Cardiovascular Health: The presence of amino acid Citrulline in watermelon (about 250 milligrams per cup) has caught the attention of health scientists as well. The kidneys and other organs converts Citrulline into amino acid Arginine. Increased levels of arginine may help to improve blood flow and may reduce fat accumulation in the cells, according to 2011 animal studies published in the journal Cell Biochemistry and Function. Another study found that drinking unpasteurized watermelon juice prior to a workout reduced muscle soreness and reduced recovery heart rate the following day.
Hydration: Comprised of 92% water and electrolytes, watermelon is an excellent food to have on hand to prevent dehydration – which is probably why it’s so beloved at hot summer picnics. In fact, a widely-cited 2009 study at the University of Aberdeen Medical School found that watermelon may actually be more effective at adequately hydrating the body than water or sports drinks.
Tips For Finding, Buying & Storing Watermelon
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your watermelon…
- Finding: Farmer and Culinary Institute of America Professor Darryl Mosher recommends the following tips for choosing the perfect watermelon: look for symmetrical shape (which means it grew slow but steady with adequate water supply); look for more vibrant skin (rather than dull) and avoid produce with white, pale green, orange or yellow “field spots” (that indicate it was left to sit in a field for an extended period of time); lastly, choose a heavier feeling melon (which indicates there’s lots of juice inside).
- Buying: Just about every supermarket will have watermelon in stock, but you can also check out LocalHarvest.org for a Farmer’s Market near you. The Agricultural Marketing Resource Center lists several production facilities with longstanding histories of watermelon cultivation that ship nationally as well, including: Beggs Family Farm in Missouri and Frey Farms Produce in Indiana. The University of Missouri, Washington State University and the University of California Davis are also well noted for their cultivars of watermelon.
- Storing: Research conducted by the US Department of Agriculture in 2006 found that watermelon stored just shy of 70 degrees Fahrenheit (or, for all intents and purposes, “room temperature”) had higher pH, chroma and carotenoid content compared to refrigerated watermelon. In fact, compared to fruit 55-degree fruit, there was 11-40% increased Lycopene and 50-139% increased Beta-carotene. So, in most cases, it’s best to store and eat that watermelon at room temperature! Some people also say that “the best watermelon” is heated in full sun on the blacktop, sliced fresh and salted for a more aromatic, tropical – almost mango – flavor.
However, if you bought a refrigerated watermelon, you’ll want to keep it refrigerated to maintain freshness. Also, once a watermelon’s been cut, you’ll need to store it in the refrigerator, where it can be kept for up to 3-5 days (cut) or 2-3 weeks (uncut) in an airtight container. You can also freeze the melon for use in smoothies, lemonade, iced tea or fruit soups by placing cut cubes onto a cookie sheet lined with wax paper and transferring to a storage bag.
Here are a few watermelon recipes to tickle your fancy:
- Dry Rubbed Steak & Shrimp With Watermelon Salad (The Kitchn)
- Mock Watermelon Margaritas
- Watermelon, Raspberry and Pineapple Smoothie
- Watermelon, Cucumber and Basil Salad
- Grilled Mahi-Mahi With Watermelon Pico de Gallo (Delight Gluten-Free)
- Quinoa Salad With Berries, Watermelon and Grilled Chicken (The Gluten Free Goddess)
- Coffee-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin With Watermelon Rind Relish (Fine Cooking)
- Layered Watermelon and Coconut Shakes with Salty Lime Sugar (How Sweet It Is)
- Gluten-Free Strawberry & Watermelon Cake (Trissalicious)
- Watermelon Gazpacho (A Spicy Perspective)
- Contest-Winning Watermelon Salsa (Taste of Home)
- Tropical Watermelon Sorbet (Food Network)
- Tomato, Watermelon and Feta Skewers With Mint and Lime (Southern Living)
Visit Watermelon.org for a tremendous assortment of watermelon recipes. Bet you never knew this fruit was so versatile! Also, to get started on a healthier, more nutrient-packed, allergen-free diet, contact me for a personalized consultation.
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