I don’t know about you, but nothing says summer more than a perfectly ripe watermelon. The juicy, sweet, bright red interior full of those glossy black seeds contrasted with the brilliant green rind just begs to be eaten on a hot day. We know that watermelon is yummy, but what else do we know about this iconic summer fruit?
The first watermelons could be found in South Africa approximately 5,000 years ago, where it still grows wild today with many variants — from sweet to bland and bitter. The ancestor of today’s melon was a tough, drought-tolerant plant prized for its ability to store water within its hard rind. In fact, the name ‘watermelon’ originates from its abundance of watery juice. From there, watermelons spread to Egypt around 2000 BC and became an everyday food before finding its way around the world..
The watermelon as we know it today is nothing like it’s original. While it started out tough and about two inches in diameter and weighed about three ounces, it is now sweet and averages over two feet in diameter and can weigh in up to 18 pounds. Fun fact: The world’s heaviest watermelon was grown in 2013 by Chris Kent of Sevierville, Tennessee, and weighed 159 kg (350.5 pounds)!
Technically, watermelons — along with cucumbers, gourds and any elongated tough-skinned fruits of the Cucurbitaceae family — are a type of berry referred to as pepos. Yes, I was shocked, too.
Watermelons are rendered seedless by colchicine, a chemical derived from the crocus. Apparently, when the crocus, a 4-chromosome plant, is bred with a watermelon, which is a diploid (2-chromosome plant), you get a triploid (three sets of chromosomes). This is what becomes the seedless watermelon, although you do still get soft little white seeds that are barely noticeable and won’t reproduce. Good to know if you accidentally eat one.
Watermelons are a perfect low-calorie hot-weather hydrator due to their high water content which is around 90%. They provide electrolytes, such as potassium. They also contain all-important antioxidants, like tryptophan which is great for your mood, along with important minerals and vitamins like vitamin C which is great for your skin.
How to determine if a watermelon is perfectly ripe and sweet? Everyone has their tried-and-true folk method. One way is to pick one that’s heavy for its size and has a yellow spot where it was laying in the ground. My Oma swore by knocking on the rind, and if it sounded hollow, it was good to go. Don’t ‘knock’ this method, it worked! (Sorry.)
Watermelons can be used in all sorts of delicious ways, from juices to salads to frozen treats. Here are just a few summer-friendly recipes to try out.
Super-easy Watermelon Juice
Watermelon is great because you don’t need a juicer to make a refreshing and colourful drink. It’s also great if you end up with a not-very-sweet watermelon. A quick whirl in a blender with just three ingredients and you’re ready to get back out to your patio or balcony!
3 cups peeled and cubed seedless watermelon
1/2 cup coconut water
1 cup ice
Juice of 1 lemon
Optional: 1 tbsp agave or pure maple syrup to sweeten
1. Place all ingredients into a high-speed blender and purée until smooth. Don’t overblend.
2. If you can’t get your juice perfectly smooth just by blending, strain it through a fine mesh sieve into glasses. Decorate with lemon and watermelon slices, tiny umbrellas, striped straws and flowers if you want to get fancy. This is a non-alcoholic bevvie but if you want to embellish, I won’t judge.
Watermelon Feta Salad
This is my go-to summer salad. It contains everyone’s hot-weather flavour favourite — a perfect mix of salty and sweet. Best of all, it’s super-easy to make and yet looks super-fancy. Add grilled chicken if you want to make it a meal on its own.
Ingredients for the dressing:
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
Ingredients for the salad:
1 seedless watermelon, cut into bite-sized chunks
6 cups fresh spinach, arugula or spring mix
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup slivered almonds or walnuts (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or mint
Optional: cherry tomatoes, blueberries, strawberries, black olives, hemp seed, alfalfa sprouts, etc. Go for it!
1. In a small bowl, combine both vinegars, salt, pepper and whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Add in the chopped basil or mint, taste, and adjust seasonings.
2. In a large bowl, combine the melon, salad greens, onion and feta. Pour the dressing over the melon mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed.
3. To serve, divide salad among individual plates and garnish with nuts and extra basil or mint leaves to make it look especially pretty.
Frozen Watermelon Ice Pops
Watermelon, cucumber and lime. A match made in summer heaven! And kid-approved despite being sugar-free if you prefer! Again, easy to make using only a blender.
3 cups cubed watermelon
½ cup sliced cucumber (peeled)
Juice of 1 lime (I also like to add grated lime zest for fun visual interest)
Optional: 2-3 tbsp pure maple or agave syrup
1. Place all ingredients in a high-speed blender and purée until smooth.
2. Pour into popsicle molds and insert sticks or plastic caps depending on your method.
3. Freeze for 3-4 hours or overnight.
4. To un-mold, run molds under hot water for 20-30 seconds. Pull gently on the sticks to remove the ice pops from the molds and serve with a smile!