Sweet, Cool and Healthy

By Jhuma Biswas

Watermelon is a delicious fruit, which can easily taste more delicious in the scorching Indian summers. The plant which does bear the fruit is also named the same.  Its scientific name is Citrullus lanatus. According to Wikipedia, watermelon is a scrambling and trailing vine f r o m the flowering plant family Cucurbitaceae. Watermelon fruit stems f r o m the flowering plant which traces its origins to West Africa. In common parlance, one can say that watermelon plant belong to the gourd family.  

Hot climate is conducive to the growth of watermelon fruit. The plant and the fruit are cultivated around the globe. The weight of a watermelon fruit may vary f r o m 1 to 20 kg. It is mostly round in shape, but in Japan you can find square watermelons also.

Henceforth, in this article we would refer watermelon in the context of fruit only. The fruit has a rich legacy to match its rich red interiors. However, besides deep red, the flesh of watermelon can also come in pink, yellow or white, though deep red and pink are the usual colours for juicy watermelon flesh, which are dotted with black seeds. Watermelon fruits mostly come with a dark green outer skin.

Long History   

Watermelon has been associated with us since the nascent days of human civilisation. Africa is believed to be the birthplace of watermelons. There is evidence of watermelon cultivation in ancient Egypt, some 4000 years ago.  Evidence of watermelon’s cultivation can be found f r o m the Nile Valley of second millennium BC. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the fruit is depicted in ancient Egyptian art. Watermelon seeds dating 3000 BC were found in China.  

How watermelons rolled into India is wrapped in enigma. But there is evidence that watermelons were being cultivated in India during the seventh century, and by the 10th century, this fruit had spread its sweetness to China. The fruit was introduced in Spain by the Moors and there is evidence of watermelon being cultivated in Cordova in Spain, during the 10th century. The fruit attracted wide cultivation in Europe during the 17th century. 

Slowly, thanks to the European colonists and African slaves, the fruit was introduced to the other side of the Atlantic. By the late 16th century, watermelons had arrived in the US and it came to South America in the 17th century. By the mid 17th century it was being cultivated in Peru and Brazil.

Seedless watermelons, which were initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists, have become quite popular in the present century.

Production and Cultivation 

Today China is by far the largest producer of watermelons in the world. It produced 79.2 million tonnes of watermelon during 2016. According to FAO, China accounted for 68 percent of the total watermelon production in the world, during 2016. According to FAO, during 2016, Turkey, Iran and Brazil were the second, third and the fourth largest producer of watermelons in the world, respectively.

In India, the states of Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Orissa, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Maharasthra are among the major producers of watermelons. Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Punjab, Assam and Haryana also grow watermelons. In India, watermelon generally comes into season during the summer months. 

Watermelon cultivation requires temperatures higher than 25 degree centigrade to grow well. A well-drained sandy loam soil with good drainage and a pH range between  6.5-7.5 are just right for watermelon cultivation.

Delectable Applications 

Watermelons have several F&B applications. They are consumed in raw or as salad. Chilled watermelon juice can come as a refreshing drink in scorching summers. Though watermelon shake and watermelon smoothies are not so common, but they are no less delicious.

Watermelons can be used to make cakes. Watermelon cake, if made rightly, can be a delicious evening snack, particularly in summer days. Watermelon ice-cream can also be a delicious treat in the hot and sultry days. And if you can put some papaya sauce in it then it can taste simply ethereal.

And watermelon can also be used to make delicious breads. Our bakeries should strive to make watermelon breads a tasty, innovative and healthy addition to more and more breakfast tables. I am quite sure such an endevour of theirs would garner much popularity across urban middle and upper class India.

Watermelon juice can also be made into wine. In China and Vietnam, watermelon seeds are partaken during the New Year celebrations. Watermelon rind is used to make pickles.

Enriched with Health 

Watermelon is spruced with several health benefits. The fruit is enriched with good quantity of vitamin A and C, calcium, fibre, magnesium and potassium. Intake of watermelon on a regular basis can facilitate a healthy life.

Its impressive potassium content is believed to facilitate flushing out the toxic depositions in kidney. Moreover, as watermelon has high water content (close to 92 percent), intake of watermelon can facilitate urination, which again is a helpful measure to clean kidneys. So, regular intake of watermelon can help to keep your kidneys healthy. But if you have a kidney disease already, do exercise caution in consuming watermelon.

The lycopene in watermelon, which gives its red colour flesh, is good for your eyes. At the same time, it helps promote heart health.

Watermelon can play its role in regulating blood pressure. According to a website, the American Journal of Hypertension has published a study that states that watermelon extract plays a significant role in lowering blood pressure among obese people suffering f r o m hypertension. The significant amount of potassium and magnesium present in watermelon can also be helpful in reducing blood pressure.

What is more, the fruit is endowed with anticancer properties. Watermelon has significant level of lycopene, which is associated with cancer prevention. Lycopene can reduce the risks of prostate, breast, lung, colon, and endometrial cancer. Besides, having a good source of antioxidants, watermelons can facilitate to combat the formation of free radicals, which are cause of cancer. Also antioxidants present in watermelons can reduce signs of premature ageing like wrinkles.

As watermelon is endowed with impressive water and fiber content, its regular intake helps to keep constipation away and promote a healthy digestive tract.

Watermelon can be a healthy fruit for diabetic patients as its intake can keep the diabetes in check. Arginine, which is found in watermelons, can be very helpful in increasing the impact of insulin on blood sugar. 

So we can see that more extensive and imaginative usage of watermelon has great marketing potential in India’s food service and food retail industry with its increasing numbers of health conscious consumers. It is about time our F&B Managers, Chefs and Bakers introduce more creative usage of watermelon in their gastronomic endeavours. For these days the maxim ‘health is wealth’ is perhaps more true than ever.     
 

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