From the Latin Citrullus lanatis, the watermelon–which is 92% water– is said to have originated in South Africa where it grows wild. Its fruit is called pepo by botanists, which means a berry with a thick rind or exocarp. There are 1,200 varieties of watermelon in the world (flesh colors can be red, orange or yellow) with China today the largest producer of the much beloved and versatile fruit. In that country, its rinds are commonly stewed, pickled or stir-fried in olive oil, garlic, chili peppers, scallions, sugar, and rum.
In parts of Japan, farmers grow cube-shaped watermelon by placing seeds in square forms where the fruit grows into that shape. This is done for easier stacking and storage.
Throughout the U.S., pickled watermelon rind is also fairly common, with wine made from watermelon juice a refreshing treat when you can find it. Forty-four states grow watermelon with Georgia, Florida, Texas, California, and Arizona leading producers. Considered a mild diuretic, watermelon contains the chemical cucurbocitrin, said to increase the permeability of the small blood vessels in the kidneys. This allows more water to enter the urine to eliminate bloating.
A source of Vitamin C and antioxidants, watermelon is high in beta carotene and potassium, and its red flesh is also a source of lycopene (more so than tomatoes) which some research states is a component in the prevention of various cancers–mostly prostate cancer.
Some individuals claim watermelon can heal migraines by eating the flesh and holding the rind against their foreheads though it must reach both temples. Natural remedy sources say it can be used to heal poison ivy by rubbing all over the rash and allowing it to dry (takes about a day to see results).
Whatever your intention, there’s no denying the versatile watermelon’s appeal. Gastronomic opportunities abound and even number in the thousands, with soups, salads, main dishes, drinks, and desserts just waiting to sweeten and refresh those long, hot summer days.
Try these cool summer recipes — both sweet and savory — to help you celebrate National Watermelon Day on August 3rd!
8 cups small watermelon cubes
1 ½ cups ginger ale
1/3 cup water
1 (6-oz.) can frozen limeade concentrate
Place watermelon cubes in a single layer in an extra-large zip-top plastic freezer bag, and freeze 8 hours. Let stand at room temperature 15 minutes.
Process half each of watermelon, ginger ale, water, and limeade concentrate in a blender until smooth; pour mixture into a pitcher. Repeat procedure with remaining half of ingredients; stir into pitcher, and serve immediately.