Facts & FAQs
No watermelon (seedless or other) is the product of genetic modification. Simple cross breeding is how seed breeders create new varieties with specific traits.
Watermelon’s official name is Citrullus Lanatus of the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. It is a cousin to cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.
More than 300 varieties of watermelon are cultivated in the United States and South America, where complementary growing seasons provide a year-round supply of watermelon in an array of shapes, colors and sizes. Because there are so many varieties, they are often grouped according to characteristics, like fruit shape, rind color or pattern, and size.
The most common watermelon types are:
Seeded: The classic watermelon comes in a wide range of sizes. (15-45 lb, round, long, oblong)
Seedless: Due to high demand, the majority of watermelon cultivars grown today are seedless – and they are getting redder and crisper thanks to seed breeding advancements. They are not the result of genetic engineering, but rather hybridization – the crossing of two different types of watermelons. (10-25 lb, round to oblong)
Mini: Petite “personal watermelons” are easy to handle and their thinner rinds can mean more flesh per pound. Hollow them out for a compostable serving bowl. (1-7 lb, round)
Yellow & Orange: These varieties lack the lycopene that gives red-fleshed watermelon its color, yellow and orange varieties add a surprising element to the plate or glass. (10-30 lb, round)
For years people have debated whether watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable. Decide for yourself based on the facts below.
Watermelon is a Fruit
Like the pepper, tomato, and pumpkin, watermelon is a fruit, botanically. It is the fruit of a plant originally from a vine of southern Africa. Loosely considered a type of melon (although not in the genus Cucumis), watermelon has a smooth exterior rind and a juicy, sweet interior flesh.
Watermelon is a Vegetable
Watermelon is a member of the cucurbitaceae plant family of gourds (classified as Citrullus lantus), related to the cucumber, squash, and pumpkin (Maynard, 2001). It is planted from seeds or seedlings, harvested, and then cleared from the field like other vegetables.
According to Webster’s dictionary, a vegetable is anything made or obtained from plants (2004). Since watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, watermelon is considered a vegetable (Wolford, 2004).
How Watermelon is used as a Fruit or Vegetable
Watermelon is popularly used as a fruit, to be a sweet enhancer or fun accompaniment to everyday meals. Like other fruits, it is commonly cubed, balled, sliced and enjoyed fresh.
In places like China, the outer rind of the watermelon is used as a vegetable – stir-fried, stewed and often pickled. Pickled watermelon rind also is widespread in Russia, not to mention in the southern United States.
The scientific name of watermelon is Citrullus lanatus. It is a member of the cucurbitaceae family. Life; Embryophyta (plants); Angiospermae (flowering plants); Order: Cucurbitales (pumpkin and melon family); Family: Cucurbitaceae. About 120 genera and 735 species of Cucurbitaceae exist worldwide, with 18 genera and 76 species native to southern Africa. Hubbard squash, butternut, pumpkin, sweet melons and cucumber are included in the “Cucurbit” family.
All a Matter of Perspective
Watermelon can be considered a fruit or a vegetable. No matter which way you slice it, watermelon is versatile, healthy and conveniently available year-round
- Maynard, D.N., Watermelons Characteristics, Production, and Marketing. ASHS Press. Alexandria, VA. 2001
- Merriam-Webster’s English Dictionary Online https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vegetable 2019
- Shosteck, Robert (1974). Flowers and Plants: An International Lexicon with Biographical Notes. Quadrangle/The New York Times Book Co.: New York.
The origins of watermelon have been traced back to the deserts of southern Africa, where it still grows wild today. The ancestor of the modern watermelon is a tough, drought-tolerant plant prized for its ability to store water for tribes crossing the Kalahari Desert.
The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred about 5,000 years ago in Egypt and is depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics on walls of their ancient buildings. Watermelons were often placed in the burial tombs of kings to nourish them in the afterlife.
From there, watermelons were brought to countries along the Mediterranean Sea by way of merchant ships. By the 10th century, watermelon found its way to China, which is now the world’s top producer of watermelons.
The 13th century found watermelons spreading through the rest of Europe via the Moors.
You may find yourself asking “Why can’t I find seeded watermelon anywhere?” The answer is quite simple: over 90% of the domestic crop is seedless, to meet the demand. There is still some seeded watermelon out there, and if you would like to buy it, simply talk to your grocery store’s produce manager. They can bring that request up to the produce buyer, and he or she will source it if they think their customers would purchase it.
In fact, to grow seedless watermelon, bees need to cross-pollinate the emerging flowers of the seedless. Oftentimes growers use a pollinator melon specifically for pollination as the name entails, but sometimes the growers plant a few seeded watermelons and then will harvest these for sale in addition to their seedless crop.
Organic producers use natural processes and materials when developing farming systems—these contribute to soil, crop and livestock nutrition, pest and weed management, attainment of production goals, and conservation of biological diversity.
Although some people find organic fruits and vegetables to have additional benefits, watermelon is virtually the same either way.
Watermelon’s smooth, waxy, thick rind acts as a natural defense, keeping the inside fresh and delicious, although it is still very important to wash the entire watermelon in clean, running water before cutting into it.
Organic watermelon accounts for between 1%-3% of the watermelon industry. It’s a personal choice whether to buy organic or conventionally grown watermelon. Watermelon farmers feed the same watermelon they grow to their own families, so you can trust the food safe supply of U.S. watermelon.
Did you know that you should wash those watermelons? According to the FDA, you should wash all fruits and vegetables in clean, running water before eating them. This is true for all fruits and veggies, rinds or not! You should also use clean knives and cutting surfaces, and make sure you have washed your hands prior to preparing the watermelon for eating.
How many servings one watermelon can yield depends largely on the size of the watermelon, but on average a watermelon will yield 70% flesh and 30% rind. Did you know watermelons are actually 100% edible? Browse our recipes for flesh, juice and rind usage ideas.
According to a study by IRI FreshLook Data in 2016, watermelon is the best value in the produce section among fruit by cost per serving. Watermelon was only 17 cents per serving!
Sometimes growing conditions, including cold snaps and heat waves, will cause an internal cracking of the flesh, a condition known as Hollow Heart. Not to worry – these watermelons are perfectly safe to eat, and they often taste sweeter as sugars are more concentrated along the cracks.
Watermelon is grown in warm places, from Florida to Guatemala, making it available throughout the year. Use this handy chart to see watermelon peak production areas by month.
The United States currently ranks 7th in worldwide production of watermelon, with Florida, Georgia, Texas and California leading domestic production.
The best resource for growing and picking your own watermelons is to consult a local growing expert at a university or extension office in your region. They should have the best knowledge on when to plant and when to pick your garden watermelon. You can find an agency in your area by using the USDA’s website.
The white “seeds” in a seedless watermelon are actually empty seed coats where a seed did not fully mature. They are perfectly safe to eat.
100% of a watermelon is edible, including the seeds and the rind. This means watermelon is a zero food waste food. The green skin is even edible but certainly it needs to be cooked. Browse our recipes for unique and creative ways to use the whole watermelon, flesh, juice and rind.
Try the Look, Lift, Turn!
- Look the watermelon over.
You are looking for a firm watermelon that is free from bruises, cuts or dents. Scratching is ok as these guys endure a lot of handling on their way to your kitchen.
- Lift it up.
The watermelon should be very heavy for its size. Watermelon is 92% water, most of the weight is water.
- Turn it over.
The underside of the watermelon should have a creamy yellow spot from where it sat on the ground and ripened in the sun.
What about the thumping method? We don’t promote beating up the watermelons by thumping, patting, slapping, flicking or knocking.
The Look, Lift, Turn is tried and true. If you do insist on trying the thump, you’re listening for a dull, muffled, hollow sound to tell if it’s ripe. If it’s unripe, the sound may be more of a metallic, clear ring. Another way to describe the tones elicited by thumping is a “ping” for unripe or a “pong” when ready.
You need three things to grow watermelon: sun, bees and water.
Farmers generally grow watermelon in rows (8 to 12 feet apart) and in raised beds (4 to 12 inches high) composed of well-drained sandy soils. Tiny watermelon plants from a nursery are transplanted into soil beds.
Honeybees must pollinate every yellow watermelon blossom in order to fruit. In a month, a vine may spread 6 to 8 feet, and within 60 days, the vine produces its first watermelons. The crop is ready to harvest within 3 months.
The rind of a watermelon is not as tough as it looks, so it is handpicked. Watermelon pickers look for a pale or buttery yellow spot on the bottom of the watermelon, indicating ripeness.
When considering how long your watermelon will last, you have to consider how long it may have taken that watermelon to get to your grocery store, as some watermelons may travel farther distances during the season. Once cut from the vine, a watermelon has about 3-4 weeks of shelf life.
Seedless watermelons were invented over 50 years ago, and they have few or no seeds. When we say seeds, we are talking about mature seeds, the black ones. Oftentimes, the white seed coats where a seed did not mature are assumed to be seeds. But this isn’t the case! They are perfectly safe to swallow while eating, and don’t worry — no seeds will grow in your stomach.
So, how are seedless watermelons grown? Chromosomes are the building blocks that give characteristics, or traits, to living things including plants and watermelons. Watermelon breeders discovered that crossing a diploid plant (bearing the standard two sets of chromosomes) with a tetraploid plant (having four sets of chromosomes) results in a fruit that produces a triploid seed. (Yes, it has three sets of chromosomes). This triploid seed is the seed that produces seedless watermelons!
In other words, a seedless watermelon is a sterile hybrid which is created by crossing male pollen for a watermelon, containing 22 chromosomes per cell, with a female watermelon flower with 44 chromosomes per cell. When this seeded fruit matures, the small, white seed coats inside contain 33 chromosomes, rendering it sterile and incapable of producing seeds. This is similar to the mule, produced by crossing a horse with a donkey. This process does not involve genetic modification.
- The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred nearly 5,000 years ago in Egypt.
- Early explorers used watermelons as canteens.
- Watermelon’s official name is Citrullus Lanatus of the botanical family Cucurbitaceae. It is cousins to cucumbers, pumpkins and squash.
- The first cookbook published in the United States in 1796, American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, contains a recipe for watermelon rind pickles.
- According to Guinness World Records, the world’s heaviest watermelon was grown by Chris Kent of Sevierville, Tennessee in 2013, weighing in at 350.5 lbs.
- In China and Japan, watermelon is a popular gift to bring a host.
- A watermelon was once thrown at Greek orator Demosthenes during a speech. Placing the watermelon on his head, he thanked the thrower for providing him with a helmet to wear as he fought Philip of Macedonia.
- Over 1,200 varieties of watermelon are grown across 96 countries worldwide.
- The United States currently ranks 7th in worldwide production of watermelon. China is #1.
Do you have to refrigerate your watermelon? Not when it is whole, but you want to keep the cold chain in place. (A cold chain is a temperature-controlled supply chain. An unbroken cold chain is an uninterrupted series of storage and distribution activities which maintain a given temperature range.) If the watermelon was cold when you bought it, then continue to keep it cold. There has been research showing room temperature watermelon has higher nutrient levels, but it cannot have ever been refrigerated. Read more about that study.
A watermelon’s stripes are indicators of variety, but with over 1,200 varieties grown in 96 countries worldwide, there are many, many variations. In fact, some watermelons don’t even have stripes. Stripes do not indicate ripeness.
At 92% water, certainly watermelon will freeze. We suggest cutting in to cubes and then freezing on a wax paper lined cookie sheet for a sweet and colorful addition to beverages like lemonade and iced tea. However, we do not recommend freezing watermelon to defrost at a later time, as it may lose its taste, texture and color in the defrosting process.
Learn more about freezing watermelon at EatingWell.com.
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