Watermelons supposedly originated in Africa. The Moors introduced them to Europe and trade routes eventually lead them as far as China, now the world’s top watermelon producer. There are many varieties of this colorful summer fruit, which is related to squash and cucumbers, the family Cucurbitaceae. Every part of the watermelon is edible, including the rind, which is customarily pickled in some cultures.
Recently, the health benefits of watermelon have been explored and publicized. While more than 90% of the fruit is water (hence the name), it is packed with nutrients. Vitamins C, B6 and A are abundant (among others), as are minerals, amino acids and antioxidants- such as lycopene. It is best to allow the watermelon to fully ripen before eating to get the full load of phytonutrients it offers, and all parts of the watermelon have significant nutritional value, including the rind. Because of such high amino acid, antioxidant and vitamin content in watermelon, consuming it has positive effects on heart and cardiovascular health, skin and hair, sore muscles, inflammation, and cancer prevention. It’s also great for hydration and digestion (due to its fiber content) and is very low in calories. For a list of the specific nutritional content in raw watermelon, see this link:
In Chinese Medicine, watermelon is classified as cold and sweet; it can be used to treat sore throats and canker sores. It affects the heart, stomach and bladder and lubricates the intestines and promotes urination. Dried watermelon peels that are then boiled in water and consumed as a tea can help treat hypertension, diabetes, nephritis and hangovers.
While most people eat slices of watermelon or cut it up into balls or cubes, it can be enjoyed in salads as well. Here is a delicious summer salad recipe using watermelon as a base from Fine Cooking magazine (serves 2):
½ small red onion, very thinly sliced crosswise
12 oz watermelon, rind removed, thinly sliced into narrow wedges
12 kalamata olives pitted and sliced lengthwise
3 oz (1/3 cup) crumbled feta
6 fresh mint leaves, thinly sliced
1 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp fresh lemon juice1 oz (1 cup) baby arugula
In a small bowl, soak onion in cold water for at least 10 minutes and drain. Divide watermelon between 2 dinner plates and sprinkle lightly with salt. Top with onion, olives, feta, mint and oil. Enjoy!