Watermelons vary in size, appearance, and flavor depending on the specific variety, and generally have a small to large oblong, oval, or round shape. The rind is thick, smooth, hard, and waxy, showcasing solid light to dark green hues or a base green coloring with darker green, broken, and mottled stripes. Underneath the surface, the flesh has a soft, granular, crisp, and aqueous consistency, encasing dark brown-black or white oval seeds. The flesh also ranges in color from pink, red, white, green, orge, to yellow. Watermelons are typically sweet with moderate sugar content, averaging from 9 to 12 Brix, a unit of measurement for sugar, contributing to the flesh’s mild, sweet, and subtly fruity, earthy flavor. Ripe watermelons should feel firm and heavy for their size and display a yellow spot on the rind where they were sitting in the field. While not always a reliable indicator, some consumers select watermelons based on the sound they make when tapped. Ripe watermelons are rumored to have a dull, hollow, and muffled sound.
Watermelons are a source of potassium to balance fluid levels within the body; vitamin A to maintain healthy organ functioning; vitamin C to strengthen the immune system; and fiber to regulate the digestive tract. The fruits also contain vitamins B6, B1, and lycopene, a nutrient that naturally gives the flesh its red or pink hue. Lycopene provides antioxidants that protect the cells against free radical damage. Beyond vitamins and minerals, watermelons are over 90% water and are consumed as a supplementary source of hydration on warm days. The seeds are also edible and contribute beneficial nutrients, including magnesium, zinc, iron, and healthy fats.
Watermelons have a sweet, juicy nature that is well suited for fresh and lightly cooked preparations. The entire fruit is edible, including the rind, flesh, and seeds, and the flesh can be cubed, balled, sliced into wedges, blended, or pureed. Watermelon flesh can be consumed fresh, out of hand, sprinkled with salt to enhance the flavor, displayed on appetizer plates, sliced into wedges and topped with other fruits and cheeses, or tossed into green salads and fruit bowls. The flesh can also be combined with herbs as a side dish to roasted meats, blended into smoothies and juices, or chopped and topped over toast as a variation of bruschetta. Watermelons can be pureed and frozen into popsicles, granitas, and sorbet, tossed into herbal pasta, or blended into Italian ice. In addition to fresh preparations, watermelons can be lightly grilled, marinated as a poke substitute, or smoked and prepared as a ham replacement. The rinds are also popularly pickled in China, the United States, and Russia, and contain a flavor similar to cucumber. In China, the rinds are stir-fried and stewed as a vegetable, and the seeds are roasted as a snack food. Watermelon rinds can also be carved into edible bowls as a unique serving piece. Watermelons pair well with fruits such as pomegranates, kiwis, strawberries, and grapes; jicama; arugula, cucumbers; herbs including mint, basil, and cilantro; and cheeses such as mozzarella, feta, and goat. Watermelons last approximately 3 to 4 weeks after harvest. It is important to keep watermelons cold if they are chilled when purchased. If the fruits are bought at room temperature, they can be left on the counter. Once sliced, watermelon pieces should be stored in the refrigerator in a sealed container, where they will keep for 2 to 3 days. Watermelons can also be frozen for extended storage, used in smoothies, or as ice cubes in beverages such as lemonade and tea.
Watermelons are grown in the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, providing year-round availability, with a peak season in the summer.