By Julie Christensen
What would summer be without juicy, sweet watermelon? Watermelon makes the perfect snack, picnic food or summer dessert. It’s also refreshing in smoothies, fruit pops and sorbets. Have you ever wondered where watermelon came from? How about the old wive’s tale about swallowing watermelon seeds? Read on to learn fun and interesting facts about your favorite summer fruit.
- Seedless watermelons aren’t genetically modified. They’re actually a hybrid watermelon created by crossing a watermelon with 22 chromosomes with a watermelon with 44 chromosomes. The result is a sterile watermelon. These watermelons produce immature white seeds that are perfectly safe to eat. Seedless watermelons were first created over 50 years ago.
- Watermelons have been cultivated in Egypt for more than 5,000 years. Egyptians depicted watermelon in drawings on the walls of tombs and even left watermelon with their dead to nourish them as they journeyed through the underworld.
- Because watermelons are native to Africa, they need hot, sunny conditions to thrive. Some varieties need up to 130 warm days to ripen. Most watermelons mature in 85 to 100 days.
- According to Guinness World Records, the largest watermelon ever grown was grown in Arkansas by Lloyd Bright and weighed 268.8 pounds! The record was set in 2005 at the Hope Arkansas Big Watermelon Contest.
- Watermelons are 92 percent water. Early explorers sometimes carried watermelons instead of canteens.
- Over 300 types of watermelons are grown in the U.S., although only about 50 varieties are grown for grocery stores. Try growing watermelon in your own backyard to experiment with more unusual varieties.
- Watermelons usually have red flesh, but some watermelons have white, yellow, orange or even green flesh.
- Watermelon sweetness can be measured by a Brix scale. Most watermelons are around 9 to 10 on the Brix scale. Very sweet watermelon measure 11 to 12 on the Brix scale.
- Watermelons spread from Africa to China in the 10th century. Today, China grows more watermelon than any other country. In China, guests offer watermelons as gifts to a hostess.
- The U.S. ranks fourth in the world for watermelon production. Top watermelon growing states include California, Arizona, Texas, Florida and Georgia.
- John Egerton, Southern food historian, believes watermelons came to the U.S. with African slaves.
- A watermelon will not grow in your belly if you eat the seeds. In fact, the seeds are actually quite nutritious with high levels of magnesium, zinc and protein. Chew the seeds before swallowing for optimum nutrition.
- We think of watermelon as a fruit because of its sweet flavor, but watermelon is actually a vegetable. It belongs to the cucurbit family, and is related to pumpkins, cucumbers and squash.
- Old-timers like to sprinkle watermelon with a dash of salt. In Egypt and Africa, people often pair watermelon with salty feta cheese. The salt brings out the juice and flavor of watermelon.
- Watermelon is a health food! Watermelon has only 40 calories per cup, yet it has more lycopene than any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene is a powerful antioxidant which can reduce inflammation and destroy free radicals. Watermelon is also high in vitamin C and a good source of fiber.
- The Japanese grow square watermelon. How? They place square glass boxes around a growing fruit so it becomes square as it grows. The Japanese like them because they’re small and don’t roll around. They fit neatly in a refrigerator. The downside? These watermelon cost about $82!
- Have you ever had a watermelon seed spitting contest? Jason Schayot is an expert watermelon seed spitter. He holds the world record for watermelon seed spitting at 75 feet 2 inches, set in 1995.
- Watermelon is the official vegetable of Oklahoma. Or is it a fruit?
- Americans eat more watermelon by weight than any other fruit. Watermelon producers in America grow more than 4 billion pounds of watermelon annually.
- Mark Twain loved watermelon. He called it the food of angels.
Know of any other fun watermelon facts that we missed? Leave a comment and let us know, so we can add it!
When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which includes perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.