By Julie Christensen
Juicy, sweet watermelon, one of the bounties of summer, was long believed to be less nutritious than other fruits. After all, it’s 92 percent water so how nutritious can it be, right? Researchers have discovered that this delectable cucurbit is actually packed with nutrition. Watermelon has the highest concentration of lycopene of any fruit consumed in the U.S, with the exception of tomatoes. Lycopene is a plant compound known to reduce inflammation and improve heart function.
Watermelon is also a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A. These two antioxidants scavenge free radicals and help prevent disease. Watermelon also contains an amino acid, citrulline. This amino acid has been shown to relax blood vessels so blood flows more freely. Increased consumption of citrulline can improve blood pressure and erectile dysfunction.
At 45 calories per 1 cup, watermelon is a snack you can feel good about. Studies have found that fully ripened watermelons are more nutritious than underripe ones. They certainly taste better, too. So how do you choose a ripe watermelon at the grocery store?
Don’t worry too much about buying organic watermelon. Organic watermelons are hard to find and they’re expensive. More importantly, watermelons are listed among the Environmental Working Group’s Top 15 list of produce least contaminated by pesticides.
Pick a watermelon up. It should feel heavy for its size. The riper the watermelon, the higher its water content and the more it weighs. Also, turn the watermelon over. Its ground spot (the area that was resting against the ground) should be yellowish. A white or light green spot indicates the watermelon isn’t ripe. Finally, the top of the watermelon should look dull, not shiny.
Once you get your watermelon home, store it at 60 degrees if possible. A cool basement or cellar is ideal. Store cut watermelon in the refrigerator and use it within 3 days.
Eating: The Best Watermelon Recipes
Summer wouldn’t be summer without watermelon. You probably eat your fair share sliced or cubed. Jazz up watermelon, though, with a few simple recipes. You’ll find watermelon a versatile addition to salsas, salads and drinks.
Leave it to Southern Living to come up with a refreshing summer drink. Replace mint juleps with this delicious recipe for Watermelon Coolers.
Looking for a quick, light dish? Try Grilled Shrimp with Pineapple & Melon Salsa from Eating Well. This dish is as beautiful to look at as it is delicious. Pair it with brown rice and a green salad for a healthy, memorable meal.
Try a kid-pleasing Watermelon-Strawberry Smoothie from the National Watermelon Promotion Board. Freeze smoothies for a refreshing ice pop on a hot summer day.
Is it a salsa? Is it a fruit salad? Sweet, Salty, and Spicy Watermelon Salad from Southern Living combines watermelon, English cucumber, mangoes and jicama with a zesty lime, orange, mint and chili pepper sauce for a delicious summer side dish.
Watermelon & Goat Cheese Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette from Eating Well offers a surprising twist on a traditional fruited lettuce salad. Baby lettuces combine with goat cheese, orange dressing and cool watermelon cubes for a light lunch dish.
Jazz up your drink repertoire with Frozen Watermelon Margaritas from Food Network. This recipe calls for pureed watermelon, lime juice, orange liquor and tequila. Cold and delicious—perfect for a party or gathering.
Calamari, Chile, and Watermelon Salad from Martha Stewart pairs calamari, watermelon and herbs with a ginger, rice vinegar and chile dressing for a cooling, fresh salad with a slightly Asian feel.
Turn up the voltage on bland grilled chicken with this recipe from the Huffington Post. Coffee-Spice Chicken with Fruit-Basil Salsa starts with chicken treated to a coffee and herb rub. The grilled chicken is paired with a melon and nectarine salsa. Basil adds a fresh kick.
Flank Steak with Grilled Mango and Watermelon Chutney from My Recipes offers a departure from the usual fresh watermelon salsa repertoire. Grilling gives this chutney a slightly smoky flavor. Delicious!
Don’t forget dessert. How about Watermelon Ice Cream from Good Food? Combine pureed watermelon, heavy cream and black currant liquor for a memorable finish to your meal.
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.