The watermelon grows on vines on the ground. A member of the Cucurbitaceae family, the watermelon shares a relationship with melons but it is not a member of the same genus Cucumis. Watermelons, species Citrullus lanatus, belong to the genius Citrullus.The scientific name is obtained from Greek and Latin roots. The Citrullus portion of the name is derived from the Greek word “citrus” referring to the fruit, while lanatus is Latin meaning wool-like. This is a reference to the tiny hairs found on leaves and stems of the plant.
Watermelons are cultivated all over the world and having been exposed to different climates, they have adapted over the thousands of years. There are currently around 1200 varieties with different shapes and flesh colour. The traditional watermelon rind is smooth, rather thick and green with shades blended in, while the flesh inside is red, sweet and has seeds. Many of the newer developed varieties are seedless, with flesh colours ranging from red, yellow to pink and orange. Japan has even developed varieties that have solid black rinds and square shapes.
Contrary to popular belief, seedless watermelon is not genetically modified. It is actually a sterile hybrid fruit. It is made by crossing the male watermelon pollen having 22 chromosomes in every cell with female watermelon flower that has 44 chromosomes in each cell. Upon maturing, the seeded fruit with 33 chromosomes is sterile and unable to produce seeds. Seedless watermelon was initially developed in 1939 and became increasingly popular.
In Russia, watermelon juice is made into beer or the juice is simply boiled down into thick syrup similar to molasses for its sugar content. In many hot countries, watermelon flesh constitutes a staple food, is used in animal feed, and in the drier areas it is used as a source of water. In Asia the seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack, while the fruit is preserved by a salting or brining process.
History of Watermelon
The origins of the watermelon lie in the continent of Africa in the Kalahari Desert, where it grows in abundance even today. The locals of central Africa drank the sap of the fruit by just poking a hole through the thick outer layer. Traders passing through the desert enjoyed the fruit and eventually started to sell the seeds on their trade routes. In this way the cultivation of the fruit spread throughout the continent. It is an old fruit believed to have been cultivated as early as 2000 B.C.E. Some Egyptian hieroglyphics depict the locals enjoying the fruit, and it was so highly regarded that it was left in the tombs of kings and queens to nourish them when needed. Watermelon seeds were also found in Tutankhamen’s tomb.
Watermelons were introduced to the Mediterranean region by merchants and were known to have found their way into China in the tenth century. By the thirteenth century they were introduced to the rest of Europe by the Moors. They ended up in North America by the way of the African slaves. However it was not until 1615 that the word ‘watermelon’ actually made it into the English dictionary. The top five watermelon producing countries today are China, Turkey, Iran, Brazil and the United States.
Health Benefits of Watermelon
Watermelon is 92% water so besides quenching thirst, its diuretic character eliminates excess fluids from the body, cuts down on water retention and removes toxic waste from the body. This is especially beneficial for people with urinary tract and kidney problems. In fact watermelons were a homeopathic treatment before dialysis became common. Its fibre content keeps the digestive tract regular.
The chemical compound citrulline found in watermelon converts into an amino acid, arginine once in the body. It maintains the elasticity of the blood vessels and produces a Viagra-like effect. Regular consumption can be beneficial for cardiovascular health. The American Heart Association certifies watermelon as a healthy heart food. Maximum amounts of citrulline are found in the area closest to the cortex in the white portion.
Watermelons contain more lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable. The deep red pigment is found in the red watermelons and functions as an important antioxidant linked with cutting down the risk of prostate, lung, breast and colon cancers. Lycopene is better able to neutralize the oxygen free radicals than even the potent antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin E.
Watermelons are a rich source of potassium which is needed for muscle and nerve function. By maintaining an appropriate electrolyte and acid-base balance, it cuts down on high blood pressure risks. It also relieves inflammation which if left unchecked can lead to conditions like atherosclerosis, asthma, diabetes and arthritis.
Nutritional Value Watermelon
Watermelons are a low calorie food that contains high quantities of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. It also provides a good amount of dietary fibre, carbohydrate and protein. A one cup serving (152 grams) delivers almost 29% of the daily allowance of vitamin A, 16% vitamin C, 7% pantothenic acid, 7% copper, 5% biotin, 5% potassium, 4% vitamin B1, 4% vitamin B6, and 4% magnesium. Additionally it contains trace amounts of manganese, iron, phosphorus and zinc.
Uses of Watermelon
Watermelon is a versatile fruit that may be consumed fresh, in salads, combined with cheese, especially as a compliment to feta and fresh goat cheese. It may be used to prepare jams, jellies, or juiced. Its juice may be consumed straight or by combining with other fruits or vegetables. It may be fermented to produce watermelon beer or used to add flavour to vodka, liqueur or punch.
Some quick serving ideas include:
- Place kiwi, cantaloupe and watermelon in a jug and purée. Add a little plain yogurt and give a final swirl. Serve on a hot summer day as a refreshing cold soup.
- Roasted watermelon seeds can be baked in muffins or breads, eaten out of hand as a nutritious snack or added to cereals.
- The fruit rind can be marinated, pickled or candied.
- In combination with salt, black pepper and thinly sliced red onion, watermelon makes a fantastic salad.
- Watermelon makes a great addition to fruit salad. Fruit salad may be prepared well in advance as the chilled fruit retains it nutrients for up to 6 days.
Fruits like watermelon, cucumber and celery, with their high water content, have a diuretic effect. This means they help eliminate excess water retained in the body. Actually cucumber water is frequently served as a refresher at many elite spas.
Watermelon – Cucumber Slush
- ½ cucumber, peeled and cut up
- 2 cups watermelon cubes (seedless)
- 1/8 cup fresh mint leaves (loose packing)
- 1 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon lime juice
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups ice cubes
- Combine all the ingredients in a blender except the ice cubes and puree until smooth. Strain the mixture using a fine wire-mesh sieve and discard the solids.
- Now place the watermelon mixture back into the blender add the ice cubes, process until slushy, and serve immediately.
Watermelon juice is a super healing food, especially considering that you can juice the entire fruit inclusive of seeds, rind and flesh. All parts of the fruit offer immense benefits. Actually, if you look at the parts individually, the most nutrient rich portion of the melon is the rind while seeds hold beneficial fat. Using the whole fruit is far better as it reduces the sugar content that you would ordinarily get by consuming the flesh only. So drink up!
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural Food and Chemistry, participants in a study were given 500 ml of watermelon juice, or watermelon juice with additional citrulline, or placebo drinks one hour before working out. According to the results of the study, the watermelon juice decreased the participants’ heat rate and muscle soreness the following day. According to the study the natural juice worked just as well as the juice with additional citrulline. The researchers discovered that more citrulline can be absorbed from the natural juice than from supplements. Watermelon’s content of amino acid l-citrulline relaxes the blood vessels and improves blood circulation in the body. This same compound produces a Viagra-like effect in the body which might even increase libido.
In a study with postmenopausal women, it was found that after using commercial watermelon extract supplements containing citrulline and arginine for six weeks, the women showed improvement in cardiovascular health. Additionally researchers at Florida State University found watermelon to be effective for preventing pre-hypertension which can develop into cardiovascular disease. Pre-hypertension is a major risk factor for a number of serious health hazards like heart attack or stroke.
University of Kentucky researchers have shown that regular consumption of watermelon juice can significantly reduce the deposits of artery-clotting plaque by altering blood lipids and lowering belly fat build up. Hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis is a major contributor to heart attacks. Addition of watermelon to the daily diet can help in weight management program along with cutting down the risks of coronary plaque build-up and heart disease.