Quenching Your Thirst for Watermelon

Watermelons (Citrullus lanatus) are members of the Cucurbitaceae family, along with cantaloupe and other melons, chayote, and squash.

Watermelons likely originated in southern Africa, where they grow wild. At 90% water, the melons were a valuable and portable thirst quencher when natural water supplies were scarce or contaminated.

Watermelons were cultivated in the Nile Valley from the second millennium BC. Watermelon seeds have been found at Twelfth Dynasty sites (1991–1802 BC). The Book of Numbers (11:15) mentions that after the Israelites left Egypt (around 1446 BC), melons were one of the foods they greatly missed, along with leeksgarliconions, and cucumbers. Watermelon seeds were also found in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (1323 BC).

By the 10th century, watermelons were being cultivated in China, which is today the world’s single largest watermelon producer. By the 13th century, the Moors had introduced the fruit to Europe. Albertus Magnus, European writer of 13th century, clearly describes the watermelon and the pepo, a term used by Europeans to refer to the cantaloupe. By the 16th century, watermelons grew in the Middle East, Central Asia, the Mediterranean coasts, and even North America. Early French explorers found them being cultivated by Native Americans in the Mississippi Valley. Throughout the 16th century, European traders and explorers bartered for produce with the Native Americans, who had obtained cucumbers and watermelons from the Spanish, and added them to the crops they were already growing, including several varieties of corn and beanspumpkinssquash, and gourds. Not too long after, they spread to Japan.

“Watermelon” made its first appearance in an English dictionary in 1615. They were introduced in Massachusetts as early as 1629. Enslaved Africans helped introduce watermelons to the United States. They were grown by Native Americans in Florida by 1664 and were growing in what would become the Midwestern states by 1673.

Watermelons were growing in Connecticut by 1747 and in the Colorado River basin by 1799. Watermelons grew along the border of Illinois and Indiana by 1822.

In the 1840s and 1850s in Sumter, South Carolina, Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford (1809-1882) developed a namesake watermelon with a reputation of being sweet, flavorful, and with a tender skin that was good for pickling. The tender skin also made it difficult to ship.  Nathaniel shared seeds of his watermelon with some seed traders in the early 1850s, who developed a very profitable commercial line that became the most popular and widespread watermelon of the 19th century in spite of its resistance to shipping.

By the early 1900s watermelons had been developed with hard, thick skins and tough rinds at the sacrifice of flavor, ultimately more profitable because they were able to be shipped stacked many layers deep on railroad cars with very little breakage.  The commercial line of the Bradford watermelon disappeared, but the Bradford family kept growing the original watermelon.

Seedless watermelon was developed in 1939. Yellow-fleshed watermelon, often sweeter, have grown in popularity as well.

In 1954, Charles Fredric Andrus, a horticulturist at the USDA Vegetable Breeding Laboratory in Charleston, South Carolina, developed a disease-resistant and wilt-resistant watermelon, the Charleston Gray. Its oblong shape and hard rind made it easy to stack and ship. Its adaptability meant it could be grown over a wide geographical area. It produced high yields and was resistant to the most serious watermelon diseases: anthracnose and fusarium wilt.

Today, the Russian Federation grows much of the commercial supply of watermelon. People there even make a very popular wine of watermelons. The other world watermelon- producing leaders are China, Turkey, Iran, and the United States. Farmers in approximately 44 states in the US grow watermelon commercially. Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona are the US’s largest watermelon producers.

Watermelons can:

  1. Fight chronic inflammation. Phenolic compounds in watermelon, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and triterpenoids, fight chronic inflammation. Watermelon is an unusually concentrated source of lycopene, which increases with ripening. The lycopene in watermelon inhibits many inflammatory processes, including the production of pro-inflammatory messaging molecules, the expression of enzymes that can lead to increased inflammation, and the activity of molecular signaling agents. The lycopene content of watermelon also remains very stable over time. Cucurbitacin E, another unique anti-inflammatory phytochemical (called a tripterpenoid) in watermelon, blocks the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes.
  2. Fight  free radicals. Watermelons are a valuable source of conventional antioxidant nutrients including vitamin C and beta-carotene. The vitamin C in watermelons functions as an antioxidant and prevents oxygen-based damage to your cells. In addition, watermelons contain contain numerous phytochemical antioxidants. Phenolic compounds in watermelon, including flavonoids, carotenoids, and triterpenoids, also fight free radicals. Lycopene is also a well-known antioxidant, with the ability to neutralize free radicals. It helps prevent the oxidation of cholesterol, thereby slowing the development of atherosclerosis. Cucurbitacin E neutralizes reactive nitrogen-containing molecules. Antioxidant carotenoids in watermelon include significant amounts of beta-carotene, which increases with ripening. Red or pink-fleshed watermelons typically contain far more lycopene and beta-carotene than yellow or white-fleshed varieties. Beta-crpytoxanthin in watermelon, protects your cells from the damaging effects of free radicals, provides a source of vitamin A, and reduces your risk of lung cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory polyarthritis.
  3. Build strong bodies. The vitamin C in watermelon helps produce collagen, which supports strong bones, muscles, blood vessels, gums, mucous membranes, corneas, joints, and other supporting cells and tissues and helps you absorb iron and calciumPotassium in watermelon stores carbohydrates for muscles to use as fuel, promotes regular muscle growth, and maintains the density and strength of bones by decreasing urinary calcium loss.
  4. Prevent cataracts. Watermelons are an excellent source of vitamin A as beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A. Both nutrients are essential for the maintenance of healthy eyesight. Women who consume high amounts of vitamin A on a daily basis reduce their risk of developing cataracts by as much as 40%. On the contrary, women whose diets include a lot of salt, butter, and unhealthy fats have a higher risk of cataract surgery. Research has also shown that there may be a possible link between beta-carotene and cancer prevention.
  5. Promote healthy lungs. Eating vitamin A-rich food like watermelon is also beneficial to smokers. If you’re a smoker or someone who is constantly exposed to second-hand smoke, then you might want to make watermelon a regular part of your diet. One of the carcinogens found in cigarette smoke reportedly created a vitamin A deficiency in the human body. When you start incorporating more vitamin A into your diet, the deficiency is reversed and you also lower your risk of developing lung diseases like emphysema.
  6. Improve blood flow. Potassium in watermelon regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym, and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance. Watermelon is rich in the amino acid, citrulline, which your kidneys and the cells that line your blood vessels, can convert into another amino acid, arginine. An enzyme called nitric oxide synthase (NOS)—found in many of your body’s cell types—can use arginine to help produce nitric oxide (NO), which is a muscle relaxant. When NO causes the smooth muscles around your blood vessels to relax, the space inside your blood vessels can expand, allowing blood to flow more freely and creating a drop in blood pressure. In the same way, NO can improve erectile function in men.
  7. Keep you slim. The citrulline in watermelon, when converted to arginine, can result in the formation of arginine-related molecules called polyarginine peptides. These polyarginine peptides are able to block activity of an enzyme called tissue-nonspecific alkaline phosphatase, or TNAP. When TNAP activity is shut down, your fat cells (adipocytes) tend to create less fat.

Nutrients in 1 Cup Raw Watermelon

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

12.31 mg

20.52%

vitamin A

864.88 IU

17.3%

potassium

170.24 mg

4.86%

carbohydrates

11.48 g

3.83%

magnesium

15.2 mg

3.8%

vitamin B6

0.07 mg

3.5%

pantothenic acid

0.34 mg

3.4%

thiamine

0.05 mg

3.33%

copper

0.6 mg

3%

manganese

0.06 mg

3%

Calories

45.6

2.53%

fiber

.61 g

2.44%

iron

0.36 mg

2%

protein

0.93 g

1.86%

riboflavin

0.03 mg

1.76%

phosphorus

16.72 mg

1.67%

choline

6.23 mg

1.47%

niacin

0.27 mg

1.35%

folate

4.56 µg

1.14%

calcium

10.64 mg

1.06%

zinc

0.15 mg

1%

selenium

0.61 µg

0.87%

vitamin E

0.08 mg

0.4%

fat

0.23 g

0.35%

vitamin K

0.15 µg

0.19%

sodium

1.52 mg

0.06%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

lycopene

6888.64 µg

carotene-ß

460.56 µg

cryptoxanthin

118.56 µg

lutein-zeaxanthin

12.16 µg

When purchasing a watermelon that has already been sliced into halves or quarters, choose the flesh that is deepest in color and lacks any white streaking. If the watermelon has seeds, the seeds should also be deep in color, or white. Especially if you choose to eat the rind, choose a certified organic melon.

When purchasing a whole, uncut watermelon, choose one that feels heavy for its size with a relatively smooth rind that is slightly dulled on top, with a creamy yellow spot underneath where it was resting on the ground.

Uncut watermelons are best stored at temperatures of 50-60°F (10–16°C). In many regions, room temperatures will typically be warmer than 60°F and may be less than ideal for whole watermelon storage due to increased risk of decay. Better storage temperatures will typically be found in cellars or basements that are partly or completely below ground level. Avoid contact with high ethylene-producing foods like passion fruit, apples, peaches, pears, and papaya.

Wash the watermelon before cutting it. Due to its large size, you will probably not be able to run it under water in the sink. Instead, wash it with a wet cloth or paper towel. Depending upon the size that you desire, there are many ways to cut a watermelon. The flesh can be sliced, cubed, or scooped into balls. Refrigerate cut watermelon in a sealed, hard plastic or glass container with a lid, in order to best preserve freshness, taste, and juiciness.

Some serving ideas:

  • Purée watermelon, cantaloupe, and kiwifruit; swirl in a little non-dairy yogurt and serve as cold soup
  • Roast watermelon seeds; season and eat as a snack food or grind into cereal and or bread
  • Pickle, marinate, or candy the rind
  • Mix watermelon with thinly sliced red onion, salt, and black pepper for a summer salad
  • Add watermelon to a fruit salad

This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this website to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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