Huge fruit of a tropical plant of the family Cucurbitaceae, the watermelon has a thick and dark green bark, a red, pink or white flesh, particularly aqueous, and sown with big black seeds.
The watermelon is grown in all warm countries. It’s found in the markets from May to June. China, Turkey, Iran, Brazil, Morocco, United States, Egypt, Russia Spain, Greece are the main producers.
History of watermelon
Like melon, watermelon comes from Central Africa, where there are still wild varieties. At a distant time it was cultivated in the Middle East, in India and in what is now Russia. A long time ago, it was appreciated in warm countries where it played a leading role when water was scarce or polluted. Thanks to its strong bark, watermelon can grow in areas where other food containing a lot of water (tomatoes, strawberries, celery) cannot survive.
In Egypt, more than 5 000 years ago, the peasants were obliged to offer watermelon to thirsty travelers. It is hardly surprising when you know this fruit is composed of 92% water. In fact, some varieties are grown only for the purpose of quenching thirst. As there are bitter types and mild types, it’s customary to pierce a hole in the fruit and taste it before drinking it.
Known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, the watermelon was preferred to melon. It was introduced in Spain by the Moors in the 8th or 9th century. It took more time to win the rest of Europe, possibly because varieties of the time needed warm temperatures to grow. Botanists from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries described many varieties giving fruit with red, pink, orange, yellow and white flesh, and round or oblong shape.
It was introduced into America by the Spaniards on one hand, and by the slaves on the other hand. From the north to the south, the Amerindians adopted it quickly, including the Hurons of eastern Canada who, from the sixteenth century, reserved a place in their gardens.
Grown in all warm areas of the world, watermelon is also found in the family gardens of colder countries. They are kept with care for the pleasure of tasting. In trade, it is generally classified into three categories according to its weight: small (1.5 to 3 kg), Medium (3 to 8 kg) and large (8 to 11 kg).
Watermelon health profile
Watermelon has a refreshing taste that quenches. Red or pinkish, white or yellow, its flesh is an important source of lycopene, an antioxidant that protects against several diseases. The watermelon seeds are edible and provide vitamin C.
The benefits of watermelon
Cancer. According to the results of a study, a large consumption of watermelon would be associated with a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Hypertension. A study showed the consumption of powdered watermelon supplements improved arterial function among people suffering from hypertension.
Several prospective and epidemiological studies have shown that high consumption of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and other chronic diseases. The presence of antioxidants in fruits and vegetables could play a role in these protective effects.
What does the watermelon contain?
Carotenoids. The main antioxidant compounds of watermelon are carotenoids, especially lycopene, and, to a lesser extent, beta-carotene. The consumption of foods rich in carotenoids, which give the vivid color of the fruits, would be linked to a lesser risk of suffering from certain cancers. Carotenoids are better absorbed in the organism when a small amount of fat is consumed in the same time. A piece of cheese or some nuts are an excellent accompaniment for watermelon.
Lycopene. Lycopene is the main carotenoid of watermelon. It prevents inflammation and it inhibits the formation of certain types of cancer cells. High levels of lycopene in the blood have also been associated with a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and prostate cancer.
Although current data are not sufficient to define a daily intake of lycopene to consume, epidemiological studies indicate consumption of more than 6 mg of lycopene per day may have beneficial effects. A portion of 125 ml (1/2 cup) of watermelon contains approximately 3.5 mg of lycopene, approximately the same amount as an average tomato, recognized as an important source of lycopene. The lycopene content of watermelons from different cultivars varies considerably, up to 8 mg of lycopene per serving of 125 ml. In addition, the lycopene of the watermelon would be well absorbed in the body, as it would increase the concentration of lycopene in the blood, similar to that of the tomato juice. Note that, unlike other carotenoids, lycopene does not have the ability to turn into vitamin A in the body. More studies will be needed to know more precisely the bioavailability of watermelon lycopene to prevent certain diseases.
Citrulline and arginine
Watermelon is one of the richest foods in citrulline, an amino acid. In the human body, Citrulline is converted into arginine (an essential amino acid), which plays a role on cardiovascular and immune systems and which would have beneficial effects on the health of blood vessels. Orange or yellow fleshed watermelons generally contain more than those with red flesh. According to one study, daily consumption of watermelon juice would increase the levels of arginine in the blood plasma among humans.
Vitamins and minerals
The classification of nutrient sources is based on portions. Thus, consumed in greater quantity, watermelon becomes a source of several important nutrients. For example, 250 ml (1 cup) watermelon equivalent to 2 servings, according to the health authorities are a source of magnesium, copper, vitamin A, vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid) and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine).
Oral allergy syndrome
Watermelon is one of the foods which can be implicated in the oral allergy syndrome. This syndrome is an allergic reaction to certain proteins of a range of fruits, vegetables and fruits to husks. It affects some people with allergies to environmental pollen and is almost always preceded by hay fever. Thus, when some people allergic to ragweed consume raw watermelon (cooking usually degrades allergen proteins), an immunological reaction may occur. These people suffer from itching and burning sensations to the mouth, lips and throat. Symptoms may appear and then disappear, usually a few minutes after consuming or touching the food. In the absence of other symptoms, this reaction is not serious and the consumption of watermelon does not have to be avoided systematically. However, it is recommended to consult an allergist to determine the cause of the reactions to plant foods. The latter will be able to assess whether special precautions should be taken.
Among humans, the citrulline contained in the watermelon is converted to arginine, an essential amino acid. Hyperargininemy (excess of arginine) is a rare genetic disorder caused by a deficiency of a hepatic enzyme called arginase. It can lead to brain damage. It is recommended to people who have to reduce their arginine intake, therefore, restrict the consumption of watremelon.
Choice and conservation
It is not easy to choose a ripe watermelon. The watermelon must be heavy compared to its size, and its shiny skin. A part of the bark should be yellow, sign the fruit is ripe to be eaten.
In Western countries, the fruit is often sold in sections, allowing the consumer to see the flesh and evaluate the quality of the fruit before buying it.
The whole watermelon does not like the cold. It is best to keep it cool, but out of the refrigerator, ideally at temperatures around 15 °C to 20 °C. At room temperature, it can be kept from 1 week to 10 days if it is not too ripe.
Freezer. Cut the watermelon into slices or cubes, or take small balls with a spoon and put in a freezer bag. You can also extract the juice and freeze it.
Ecology and environment
Over the last century, ozone concentrations have increased dramatically in Europe, particularly in the southern countries, where watermelon is grown on a large scale. Since 1976, many Spanish studies carried out in the Ebro Delta region of Catalonia have revealed the damage that ozone caused to watermelons. The responses of plants to this air pollutant can be acute (leaf-affected) or chronic (decrease in growth and yield).