Watermelon as the new Viagra and other surprises

Fascinating facts about summer's favorite food. Photo: (Associated Press)

CHICAGO, August 2, 2013 — No other treat says “Summertime” the way watermelon does. The cool, sweet taste, the juice running down your arm, and of course seed-spitting contests.

While watermelon has been around what seems like forever, not many people give it much thought beyond “I wonder if I can hit Cousin Fred with a seed from here?” Here are ten fun facts you may not have known about watermelon (including how far away Cousin Fred would have to be for you to break the world record):

10. Technically, watermelon is not a melon. It’s a berry (genus Citrullus, not Cucumis). Basically, a berry is a fruit produced from a single ovary. So watermelons are berries, and strawberries are not. Got it?

9. Watermelon is ancient. It is thought to have originated in Namibia, Africa. Watermelon seeds were found in King Tut’s tomb. Native Americans were growing watermelon in the 16th century.

8. The rind is edible. It is usually pickled or used in stir fry. The rind contains citrulline, which stimulates nitric oxide, which is thought to relax and expand blood vessels. In other words, it works like Viagra.

7. By weight, watermelon is 91% water and 6% sugar. A cup of diced watermelon has 46 calories (mostly from sugar) and is a good source of vitamins A and C.

6. Watermelon juice can be made into wine. Tom T. Hall’s 1972 hit “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine” is a true account of Hall’s experience at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. While it’s fun to speculate that the title refers to the convention-goers, it is actually from Hall’s conversation with an old janitor who came to the conclusion that the only worthwhile things in life are old dogs, children and watermelon wine. He was probably right.

5. While watermelon is grown commercially in 44 states, the country that is the largest producer of watermelon is China.

4. To achieve the best odds of pollination, it is recommended that commercial farmers have one beehive per acre of watermelon. Seedless watermelons have sterile pollen, so they are planted every-other-row with regular watermelon. Three beehives per acre are recommended for seedless watermelon fields.

3. Watermelon is the Oklahoma State Vegetable. Apparently there was some fierce debate over whether it is a fruit or vegetable when the measure was introduced in 2007 by Senator Don Barrington, but the good senator clarified things after the vote by stating that “The controversy on whether watermelon is a fruit or vegetable has been officially decided by the Oklahoma state legislature.” The heck with science. The legislature’s reasoning was that “It’s a member of the cucumber family.” They can be forgiven for not knowing that cucumbers are fruit, but everyone knows that watermelons are berries.

2. There are over 1,200 varieties of watermelon ranging in weight from less than one pound to more than 200 pounds. A Carolina Cross weighing 262 pounds holds the world record for largest. The flesh can be red, orange, yellow or white.

1. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the watermelon seed-spitting record was set in 1995 by Jason Schayot at 75 feet, 2 inches.

0. Watermelon can be grilled. Ok, that’s number 11, but who knew watermelon could be thrown on the grill? That’s news worth reporting.

Wash the melon and cut it into 1¼ inch-wide wedges, rind on or off is totally up to you. Sprinkle with salt and stand on its end for 20-30 minutes to let the juices drain. Rinse the salt off, dry with paper towels, and brush with olive oil. Place wedges on preheated grill (medium-high heat) for three minutes per side or until grill marks appear. Enjoy as-is or serve with ice cream or honey as a dessert. Throw it in a green salad with feta cheese and a vinaigrette dressing. So many options, so little summer!

So the next time the kids whine that they’re bored, grab a watermelon berry and a big, sharp knife (for the watermelon, not the kids) and head out to the yard. There’s a seed-spitting contest to be won.

Whether you enjoy it raw, grilled or as a glass of wine at the end of a long, hot day, nothing says “summer” like watermelon.

Read more from Julia Goralka at End of the Day and Here, There, and Everywhere.

Contact Julia via Facebook at www.facebook.com/julia.goralka or through the Ask Me A Question link above.

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Julia Goralka

In addition to her work at The Communities, Julia Goralka is a free-lance novel editor and has served as a volunteer board member or committee member for several local charitable organizations. Prior to writing and editing, Julia was the Division Coordinator for the interest rate derivatives marketing desk at a large financial institution based in Chicago.

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