Did you know that in the US August 3 is National Watermelon Day? However, since it’s so perfectly suited for eating in the hot sultry days of high summer, perhaps we should just declare August as National Watermelon Month. Watermelons are 92% water, so they can really help you to stay hydrated, and their high-fiber content helps you feel full for a longer time. Is there a better food to stay cool on a hot summer afternoon? Watermelon leaves you feeling refreshed and delighted, and nourishes your body with a host of beneficial and health-boosting compounds.
A thick slice of cool, fresh watermelon may be all that’s needed, but watermelon can be eaten many other ways: add some chunks of the pulp or even the rind to your morning smoothie, make a Watermelon Slushie or Granita, or mix up a Watermelon Lemonade, perhaps with a bit of alcohol added. Make a light meal of a Watermelon Feta Salad, put up some Watermelon Popsicles for the kids, try grilled watermelon, or turn that watermelon rind into Watermelon Rind Jam or Pickled Watermelon Rind.
People have been eating watermelon for millennia — there are depictions of watermelons in ancient Egyptian murals, and watermelon seeds in King Tut’s tomb. Those early melons were likely not nearly as sweet as our modern melons, but they served admirably as portable water containers for transporting over long desert distances. Today there are more than 1,200 varieties of watermelon worldwide, ranging in size from huge, party-sized watermelons to small, perfectly round ones — and in a variety of flesh colors from red to pink to orange.
Contrary to popular belief, that melons only grow in subtropical areas, many types of watermelons are actually cultivated and harvested in Germany. Among German water melons are breeds like Anguria Janosik, Blacktail Mountain, and Early Moonbeam. If you visit Germany next time, ask the vendor at the local farmer’s market. Here in the US, the top watermelon growing states are Texas, Florida, Georgia and California. And, of course, you can grow your own!
That fabulous color is nature’s indicator that the watermelon contains powerful antioxidants that support the immune system. In fact, watermelon has a number of health benefits: It contains Vitamin A that supports healthy eyes, skin and hair; Vitamin C, Lycopene that destroys free radicals, citruline (in the white part of the rind) which converts to an amino acid that benefits the heart and vascular system, and potassium that helps regulate cell growth and blood pressure. And, despite its sweetness, watermelon contains very little sugar and is low in calories.
Watermelon is also potentially a zero waste food product, meaning that all parts of the fruit are edible and nutritious. Watermelon seeds contain Vitamins A, B and C, magnesium and calcium and can be roasted for a salad topper, or ground into a powder to add to smoothies. Watermelon rind contains a lot of fiber, useful amino acids, and some vitamins. Both the green outer skin and the white inner layer can be grated onto salads, added to smoothies, or pickled in brine.
Wherever your watermelon is from look for organically grown melons, especially if you intend to preserve the fruit for later use. To pick a good watermelon, thump on the underbelly. A ripe melon will have a deep hollow sound like a drum.