June 24, 2015
The Wonders of Watermelons
There is much more to a watermelon than meets the eye — and taste buds. This popular summer treat is loaded with thirst-quenching surprises. The vitamin B6 in watermelon juice increases brain power! This is just one of the many wonders of watermelons. I’m enjoying a bottle of Good Life Café Watermelon Juice with Cilantro as I write. This could be very helpful!
Let’s start with the once-lowly rind that is gaining the respect of a growing number of folks who are discovering its health benefits. I’ve always worked my way through the juicy red flesh until the red finally gave way to the white of the rind. As I headed for the trash can or compost bin, I had no idea that the edible rind houses 95 percent of the nutrients. This is a classic example of the many hidden wonders of the plant kingdom.
The rind has concentrated amounts of the amino acid, citrulline, which the kidneys and other organ systems convert to arginine. Arginine, also an amino acid, is important for cardiovascular health and many other metabolic processes. One particular enzyme takes arginine to produce a molecule that relaxes muscles. Because of its positive effect on the heart and blood vessels, watermelon juice is gaining in popularity among athletes who want a lowered heart rate, less muscle fatigue and improved endurance.
I was surprised to learn that there are more than 1,200 varieties of watermelon. The color of the interior flesh may be red, yellow, orange or white, depending on the type of melon. As a watermelon ripens, its flesh becomes deeper in color and levels of the carotenoid lycopene increase. There is much data on the scavenging power of lycopene as it hunts down free radicals. In one cup of watermelon the amount of lycopene is an impressive 40 percent higher than that of an uncooked tomato (a nightshade fruit). This is especially good news for those who have a sensitivity to fruits and vegetables in the nightshade family.
Another wonder of the watermelon is the seed. It has received a bad rap from people (like our moms) who warned us that a swallowed seed results in a growing watermelon! Watermelon seeds are considered a nuisance for many, hence the rise in seedless watermelon sales. Like the rind and flesh, the seeds are packed with goodness! Watermelon seeds can be juiced with the rinds and flesh (best to juice organic rinds), to yield nutrient-dense juice.
Watermelon seeds are a good source of protein and healthy fats, and also have some essential minerals. Sprouted watermelon seeds (that have been soaked in water) are easier to digest and have boosted nutrient density. Sprinkle a few atop your salad, or add some to your fruit or trail mix. Instead of snacking on unhealthy processed chips, consider trying the sprouted watermelon seeds! They are crunchy and very satisfying. I like the Go Raw Sprouted Watermelon Seeds sold at The Fresh Market. I store them in the refrigerator to prevent rancidity.
A watermelon ceases to ripen after it is cut from its vine. For maximum health benefits (and flavor) it is best to choose a fully-ripened watermelon. There are several ways to determine a melon’s ripeness. Perhaps the easiest method is to examine the underbelly. If a watermelon sat in the field for the optimal length of time, its belly will have a creamy-yellow spot. It would be helpful to us weaklings if watermelons were displayed yellow-belly side-up! However, for visual appeal, merchants often show the more attractive sides. An unripe melon will have a white or pale green spot, so you’ll want to pass that one up!
Out-of-towners who don’t have the convenience of Good Life Café may want to try Tsamma™ (pronounced s-amm-a) watermelon juice from Frey Farms. This week I spoke with Tsamma™ Founder and Frey Farms President and CEO, Sarah Frey, who spoke about her company’s delicate processing method and her commitment to quality. Sarah sits on the National Watermelon Promotion Board and she knows watermelons. She shared a few fun facts (Abraham Lincoln christened his namesake town, Lincoln, IL, with watermelon juice), and personal testimonials her customers conveyed to her. Among her favorites is the story of a woman who drank Tsamma™ while receiving chemotherapy. She said the watermelon juice eliminated the chemo’s metallic aftertaste and lessened the body aches that followed her infusions. (If you are receiving treatment for cancer or if you have a health condition, consult your doctor before introducing any new food.)
These are just a few wonders of the watermelon! I encourage you to use this blog post as a springboard to discover even more fascinating facts. The complete nutritional profile is quite extensive!
I hope I’ve whet your appetite for a fresh bottle of chilled watermelon juice with lime or cilantro at the Good Life Café, or their fresh fruit salad side dish bursting with lycopene-rich watermelon! Now that you know the creamy yellow-belly trick, maybe you’ll try your hand at selecting the perfect watermelon at your favorite produce market.
July is National Watermelon Month. Not all festivals are in July, but for a complete listing of watermelon festivals throughout the country, go to: www.watermelon.org/festivals.
Anne Buck for Good Life Café