I never really thought about it until someone recently asked me, “Is watermelon a fruit or a vegetable?” I always thought of it as a fruit but I started to look into it to give an informed answer. I was curious why someone would think otherwise. After I did some research I learned that this is not a new question. Apparently this question has been asked for many years. Here is what I found out: It can be classified as either.
It is likened to a fruit as it is compared to a pepper, pumpkin or tomatoes, which are all grown on a vine. This vine originated in Africa. It is also likened to a vegetable. Since the watermelon is in the gourd family it could be classified as a vegetable. It is grown using the same principles as a vegetable so some may consider it a vegetable. Another controversy on this issue comes from the uses of the watermelon. Here in the West we think of watermelon as a fruit because of the way we eat it. In parts of Asia the rind is cooked as a stir-fry, stew or it is pickled like in Russia, making it seem more like a vegetable. Adding to the controversy, in 2007 the Oklahoma State Senate named the watermelon the state vegetable. A watermelon is about 70% flesh and 30% rind. If you are not using the rind it is a great item for a compost pile, but it should be cut into small pieces.
To grow watermelon you need only three things: water, sun and bees which are used to pollinate the yellow flowers. They are usually grown by farmers in rows about ten feet apart in beds built up about 8 inches from the ground. Once pollinated the plant will grow outward six to eight feet in the first thirty days and will produce small watermelons in the next month. One month later, after about 90 days the watermelons are ready for harvest.
When shopping for a watermelon there are some factors to keep in mind. You should look for firm ones free of blemishes. They should feel heavy due to the water content. There should also be a yellow spot on the flatter bottom side where it sat while it naturally ripened in the sun. Whole watermelon does not need to be refrigerated, but cut watermelons, like all melons, do need to be refrigerated. If you buy a whole watermelon and it was stored in a refrigerator you should store it in one or risk losing many of the nutrients due to the temperature change.
Watermelon is healthy for you. It is packed with Vitamin B6 which helps the immune system, and it also contains Vitamin C which also helps the immune system. It has Potassium which is good for muscle cramps, Vitamin A which gives you healthy skin and Lycopene which has great antioxidant power.
Whole watermelon can be purchased in many styles. You can get the traditional seeded watermelon which range in size from 15 to 45 pounds. Then there is the seedless watermelon which came on the market more than 50 years ago, having been created in Japan in 1939. This variety accounts for over 85% of the watermelon sold. They are a hybrid of two different types of watermelon, not a genetically modified breed. They are smaller than the seeded ones coming in at 10 to 25 pounds. You can also get the mini ones that weigh between 1 to 7 pounds. These are much less cost effective than the other types. The most expensive ones are a type grown in Japan that are actually square. They are grown in glass boxes that control their shape. They also come in a pyramid shape, but these are less popular. This type is the newest type, coming out in the early 2000s. Advantages of this type are easy packing in crates and much easier to cut and peel. Another set of varietals include the yellow and orange fleshed fruit which are sweeter than other varieties. These grow to 10 to 30 pounds, and certainly would add plate appeal when used.
Here are some fun facts about watermelon. Watermelons were first harvested in Egypt in 3,000 BCE. They contain 92% water. Early explorers used them as canteens. The largest one grown was 350.5 pounds in Tennessee in the year 2013. There are 1,200 varieties of watermelon that are grown in 96 countries. The United States is the 6th largest producer of watermelon, growing mostly in Texas, Florida, California, Indiana and Georgia. The largest grower in the world is China with almost 75 million tons, almost 19 times more than the next largest grower, Turkey, with almost 4 million tons.