Whether watermelon is a fruit or vegetable is a much debated topic. It tastes sweet like a fruit, but grows in vegetable gardens. Botanists have an emphatic opinion on the subject, but so do gardeners and watermelon connoisseurs. Watermelon is thought to have originated in southern Africa where David Livingstone discovered it growing wild in 1857. No wonder the plant thrives in climates with warm, long summers. Early American colonists cultivated watermelon as far north as Massachusetts in the mid-1600s, although the crop takes 120 days or longer to ripen and grows best in the Southern United States.
Any botanist worth his salt will tell you that watermelons are fruit, and believe it or not, they actually are placed in the “berry” subset of fruit. Here’s why: a fruit is any part of a plant that is the result of fertilization. That is, a flower bloomed, was pollinated and produced a fruit that contains seeds to produce more plants. Under that strict definition, even beans and cucumbers are fruit! Berries are any fruit that has one or more seeds and entirely edible flesh, with no core. Tomatoes, bananas and papaya are also technically berries.
So, what is a vegetable then? Botanically, a vegetable is any part of a plant that is consumed by humans, but is not part of the process of reproduction. For example, we consume the leaves of spinach, lettuce and kale, and eat the roots of carrots, beets and potatoes.
Ask a Gardener
A backyard gardener may classify watermelon as a vegetable based on gardening techniques. Gardeners typically grow watermelon in the vegetable garden along with the beans, peas and corn. Watermelons require rich soil, plenty of water and fertilizer just like other garden vegetables. Gardeners plant them in the spring and harvest them in late summer – just like the other garden vegetables. It’s no wonder gardeners may view watermelons as vegetables.
Taste for Yourself
Bite into a slice of ripe, juicy watermelon and you’ll most likely think “fruit.” Watermelons are 92 percent water and 8 percent sugar, so it’s no wonder they taste like fruit. In the U.S., watermelons are generally eaten fresh in cubes or slices, or made into sweet desserts, such as sorbets, reinforcing the notion that they are a fruit.
However, in some Asian cultures, watermelon rinds are pickled with savory spices and the flesh is used in stir-fries, where it resembles a vegetable. So, is watermelon a fruit in one culture and a vegetable in another?
Botanists call watermelon a fruit and most people happily agree. But, whether you classify watermelon as a vegetable or a fruit, there’s no denying its appeal.