Watermelons

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History

Watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family. The latter contains a number of familiar garden vegetables including cucumber, squash, pumpkin and musk melon. Members of this family are monecious, meaning they bear separate male and female flowers on the same plant. The edible part of a watermelon is known as a pepo, which is a ripened ovary (fruit) with watery flesh and a hard rind. From a usage standpoint, watermelon is consumed as a fruit, but it still is classified as a vegetable.

Aptly named, watermelon is 92 percent water and was first used by ancients as a source of water. Watermelon’s history dates back 5000 years to southern Africa where the tough, drought-tolerant ancestor of watermelon thrived. Although we don’t know the exact identity of this plant, we do know it was prized for its ability to store water and was used by indigenous people in the Kalahari Desert region. Unlike today’s watermelon, it had very bitter flesh. Speculation exists, in addition to taking advantage of its water content, people endemic to the region roasted and ate its seeds as a source of nourishment.

Watermelon improvement via selection (saving the seeds of superior melons) began almost as soon as the crop was cultivated. However, it was during the 20th century that significant progress was made in the United States where the USDA funded a watermelon breeding project at its Charleston, SC facility. One product of this research was a large, oblong light green melon that locally became known as “the grey melon from Charleston.” Nearly 70 years later, ‘Charleston Grey’ still is a widely planted variety known for its high yields, disease resistance and table quality.

Watermelons are more than just sweet and juicy, and scientists are still discovering its health benefits. Its bright red color comes from the pigment lycopene which is a powerful antioxidant. Recent studies revealed that, when combined with a healthy lifestyle, watermelon consumption can reduce the risk of both cancer and diabetes. Additionally, watermelon is a potent source of the amino acid citrulline which may help lower blood pressure. Other studies indicate watermelon consumption might be helpful in reducing the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. Finally, while most do not consider it a “diet food,” a cup of watermelon contains only about 45 calories. Plus, unlike other desserts, it’s fat-free, low in cholesterol, and contains no sodium.

  • the number of hectares

    3 500

  • collected tons

    33 836

Types

When picking a watermelon from your local fruit and vegetable market the only decision you will need to make is the size. Many small markets only offer one type of watermelon. This has led us to believe that there is only one type although just like apples, watermelons come in a number of varieties.

Globally 200 to 300 different varieties of watermelon are accounted for although only 50 of these are enjoyed regularly. Of the 300 varieties it is no surprise that the most loved are on the sweeter side of the scale.

We can use five different terms to differentiate between watermelon varieties. These five terms refer to the characteristics of the melon rather than the direct variety. This allows us to  multiple watermelon varieties to be combined  under one category. The five terms used to describe watermelons are:

  • Seeded Watermelon
  • Seedless Watermelon
  • Miniature Watermelon
  • Orange Or Yellow Watermelon
  • Cousins of the Watermelon

Fun Facts

1. WATERMELONS ARE BOTH A FRUIT AND A VEGETABLE.

Thanks to their sweet taste, watermelons are most commonly considered a fruit. And they do grow like fruit, originating from flowers that have been pollinated by bees, and, from a botanical perspective, they’re fruits because they contain seeds. But many gardeners think of them as vegetables, since they grow them in their gardens alongside other summer veggies like peas and corn. Not to mention, watermelon is classified as part of a botanical family of gourds that includes other culinary vegetables like cucumber, squash, and pumpkin.

2. YOU CAN EAT THE ENTIRE FRUIT.

While we tend to focus on the melon’s succulent flesh, watermelon rinds are also edible—as well as full of nutrients with surprising health benefits. In China, the rinds are often stir-fried or stewed, while in the South, cooks like to pickle them. And, across the Middle East and China, the seeds are dried and roasted (similar to pumpkin seeds) to make for a light, easy snack.

3. WATERMELONS CAN GROW TO BE REALLY, REALLY BIG.

The heaviest watermelon to date was grown by Guinness World Record holder Chris Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. A Carolina Cross, it weighed in at 350.5 pounds. To give you some perspective, that’s the equivalent of an NFL lineman.

 

4. WATERMELONS CAN HELP PREVENT CANCER.

Watermelons are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancers, including prostate, lung, and stomach.

 

5. THEY’RE THE OFFICIAL STATE VEGETABLE OF OKLAHOMA.

In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate honored its then-14th biggest crop by voting 44–2 to make it the state vegetable. Its celebrated status was threatened in 2015, however, when State Senator Nathan Dahm moved to repeal the bill based on the argument that watermelon is a fruit. Thankfully for Oklahoma’s Rush Springs, home to an annual watermelon festival and the original bill’s sponsor, then-State Representative Joe Dorman, Dahm’s bill died in committee.

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