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Watermelon

Citrullus lanatus


Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand

Description

A summer delight that the whole family loves, watermelon is one of the most popular types of melon.

Like other melons, the watermelon is technically a vegetable and closely related to pumpkins and other gourds. Watermelon, as you’d guess from its name, has a particularly high water content of 92-95%, which is why it’s such a thirst-quenching snack on a hot summer’s day.

There are more than 1000 varieties of watermelon, causing huge variance in the colour of the skin and the flesh. The flesh is usually dark pink to red in colour, though yellow watermelon also exists, and the inside contains a large number of small black seeds, which can be roasted and later eaten as a snack.

Apart from water, watermelon contains a decent amount of vitamin C and vitamin A. It’s also a concentrated source of lycopene, an antioxidant also famously found in tomatoes that may have anti-carcinogenic properties. It’s also a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, thiamine, and magnesium.

Watermelon is ripe if the pale patch where it was lying on the ground is yellow, rather than white or pale green. Look for a large watermelon that feels heavy for its size and has dull, not shiny, skin. Give it a tap; it should sound a little hollow. Store it for two or three days in the fridge, or if it’s too big to fit in the fridge, find a cool dark place for it.

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History

Unlike the rock melon and the honeydew, which originate in the Middle East, the watermelon is actually native to Africa. They were held in very high regard by the Egyptians, and this was passed on to those living in Mediterranean countries, where the days were hot and water not as plentiful as one would like.

Watermelon was growing in North America as far back as the 17th century, possibly having been introduced by African slaves. European colonists probably introduced the fruit to New Zealand in the 19th century.

Uses

Watermelon is perfection chilled, sliced, and slurped in the sun. It’s also good in fruit salads, or chopped and mixed with lime, chilli, red onion, and coriander for a fruit salsa with a difference. The sweet flavour goes well with feta, which is a popular combination in the Middle East.

Watermelon can also be juiced and added to smoothies, or even made into refreshing sorbet.

Facts

In Japan, watermelons are sometimes grown in glass boxes so that they grow in a square shape. This makes them easy to stack, but doubles the price of the already expensive fruit. Pyramid-shaped fruit has also been grown; in theory, you could make them any shape you wanted as long as the sides were flat.

Ancient travellers used the shells to transport water in.

Watermelon can grow to monstrous proportions; the largest recorded watermelon to date weighed just over 120kg.



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