There are some fruits and vegetables, like grapefruit and karela (bitter melon), that you consume for health benefits but which sadly give your taste buds a rude jolt. I have often wondered why nature did not add nutrition to the fruits and vegetables that I really enjoy, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that watermelon has a long list of health benefits.
Watermelon provides nutritious doses of vitamins A and C, as well as potassium. A big slice of watermelon (about two cups) fills almost half your daily vitamin C quota. Two cups of the juicy red melon supply a quarter of your daily beta carotene, which your body uses to make vitamin A.
Watermelon has a good dose of lycopene, a key plant antioxidant that is famous for fighting heart disease and prostate cancer. Tomatoes are usually considered the lycopene all-stars, but you have to cook them in a little oil to release it. Watermelon needs no cooking to unleash its lycopene and, cup for cup, it has 40 percent more lycopene as compared to tomatoes.
Watermelons are 92 percent water. They help kidney stones to pass, improve urination, and purify urea and urea salts in the kidneys.
Rich in fiber, watermelon also regulates functioning of the intestines and thus prevents intestinal cancer. As approved by the American Association’s “heart check,” watermelon lowers cholesterol.
Scientists believe the watermelon originated in tropical Africa, although it was cultivated in Italy, India, and Southern Asia. Europeans introduced the watermelon into the Americas, and it is now cultivated from Chile to the United States.
Watermelons come in many sizes, shapes, and colors and are part of the same family as pumpkins, cantaloupes, and squash, although the watermelon fruit is larger than any of these plants. Watermelons vary in size from the five-pound Sugar Baby to the Jubilee, which can weigh as much as 40 pounds. The fruit is round, oblong, or elliptical, with the outside color varying from solid dark green to mottled or striped green, to nearly white. Different kinds of watermelon have different colored seeds (ranging from white to brown or black) and different colored pulp.
Mark Twain once said that the watermelon was “chief of the world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.” Obviously Mark Twain was writing about perfectly ripe watermelons, which are juicy, crisp, and sweet like candy.
There is a secret to finding the perfectly ripe watermelon in the grocery stores. You need to check the shape of the melon. A good watermelon has a symmetrical shape. It can be round or oval in shape, but free of cracks, bruises, or cuts. Look on the bottom of the melon. You will find a discolored spot where the melon was in contact with the ground while it was growing. If this spot is light green, the melon is not yet ripe. If the spot is a yellowish-white color, the melon is probably ripe.
You can also tell if a watermelon is ripe by thumping it. When you thump the side of a ripe watermelon, it will sound hollow. If you hear a thud or a tone that is high in pitch, you’re dealing with a fruit that isn’t ripe. It is also a good idea to press the skin of the watermelon in many different spots to test for firmness. Good watermelons will not have soft spots. When you pick up the melon, pay attention to how heavy it is. The juicy melons are going to be the ones that seem very heavy for their size.
Don’t buy a watermelon that you know is not ripe thinking it will be ripe by the time you eat it. Watermelons do not continue to ripen once they have been picked.
Store watermelon in a warm place. Compared to most fruits, watermelons need a more “tropical” climate—a thermometer reading of 55°F is ideal. Whole melons will keep for seven to ten days at room temperature. If you store melons for too long, and they’ll lose flavor and texture.
Once a melon is cut, it should be wrapped and stored at 37°-39° F.
Finally remember to serve watermelon for (stressful) family reunions, as it is a good source of potassium, which helps control blood pressure!
4 cups diced watermelon
2 tablespoons lime juice
3 inch piece of ginger
½ cup water
Grate the ginger finely and squeeze the juice onto the watermelon.
Combine all ingredients in blender or food processor and blend into a frosty slush. Serve with crushed ice—makes four servings.
This delicious blend of refreshing fruits and mint creates a soothing soup to compliment a spicy meal.
3 cups watermelon chunks
3 cups cantaloupe chunks
1 kiwi, peeled and chopped
5-6 mint leaves, chopped
1 cup plain yogurt, low fat
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Make a smooth purée of watermelon, cantaloupe, kiwi, mint, salt and pepper in a blender. Swirl in a little plain yogurt and garnish with mint leaves. Serve chilled.
This is a perfect summer salad brimming with nutrition, flavor, and texture for a hot summer day.
2 large avocados, diced
4 cups cubed watermelon
2 cups spinach leaves
2 cups romaine lettuce leaves, ripped into bite-sized pieces
1 cup croutons
½ cup feta cheese
7-8 cups slivered almonds
4-5 walnuts, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon mustard
1 clove garlic, crushed
Mix all the ingredients for the salad dressing in a small bowl and whisk well. Keep aside.
In a large bowl, toss together the avocado, watermelon cubes, spinach, croutons, feta cheese, and lettuce. Drizzle the salad dressing on top and then sprinkle on the chopped nuts. Serve immediately.
|Hema Alur-Kundargi is the producer, editor, and host of the television show Indian Vegetarian Gourmet (DVDs now available at the Sunnyvale and Cupertino libraries in Northern California). Visit her website at www.massala.com