Nothing sounds as refreshing to me on a hot summer evening as a wedge of ice-cold watermelon. Watermelon consists of 92% water and 8% sugar, so it is named appropriately. An American favorite for meals and snacks. People can't seem to get enough of the sweet treat, and nutritionists have long appreciated the health benefits watermelon provides.
Recently research has shed new light on its potential health benefits. Watermelon contains high concentrations of lycopene, an antioxidant that may help reduce the risks of cancer and other diseases.
Watermelon is thought of usually as fruit but it is really a vegetable. Watermelon can be traced back to Africa and is part of the cucumber and squash family. Early watermelons were mainly rind and seeds. Today's varieties are larger, the flesh sweeter, the seeds smaller and the rind thinner.
While watching a program called "Unwrapped" on the Foodnetwork channel the other night I learned how Dulcinea Farms produces the "seedless" watermelons and "mini" watermelons now found in grocery stores.
Americans eat over 17 lbs of watermelon each year. The largest one on world record according to the Guinness Book of World Records weighed 262 pounds.
When to look for them in your grocery store:
Watermelons are available all year. The natural sweetness of watermelon makes it a favorite anytime of the year. It is a perfect addition to a salad, salsa, or cool drink. Top chunks of sweet watermelon with fruit flavored sherbets or sorbets.
Choose firm, symmetrical, fruit free of cracks, bruises, soft spots or mold. Ripe watermelon will have a healthy sheen, a dull rind, dried stem, and a buttery yellow underside where it touched the ground. There should be a melon like smell or fragrance. Thump if you must, sound should be dull and hollow. Lift them, weight should be heavy for size.
Avoid watermelons that are very hard, white or very pale green in color on the underside, indicating immaturity. An immature watermelon will be slightly acidic.
Once picked, watermelon will not ripen easily. If unripe, try putting the whole melon in paper bag un-refrigerated. This sometimes works to ripen them. Watermelons can be kept for short periods of time, up to 2 weeks, uncut at room temperature. Wash watermelon with soap and water before cutting. Once cut, package what is not eaten in closed plastic containers or bags and put back in the refrigerator.
There are more than 50 varieties of watermelon. Most have red flesh, but there are orange and yellow-fleshed varieties. Of the 50 varieties of watermelon throughout the United States, there are four general categories: Allsweet, Ice-Box, Seedless and Yellow Flesh.