Experience a classic summer pleasure: take a big bite from a slice of watermelon, let the sweet juices drip down your chin and then spit the seeds as far as you can. Redolent with tangy sweetness, watermelon is refreshing without being filling and is surprisingly good for you. This fruit — 92 percent water, hence the name — is a good source of vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, when it's red (some are orange or yellow).
This sweet melon's iconic status in American culture often overshadows its culinary potential. Watermelon, usually eaten without fuss in North America, enjoys much more varied culinary treatment in other parts of the world. Sandia (Spanish for watermelon) is a popular flavor of aguas frescas in Mexico, drinks made with pureed fruit, water and sugar. In China, the coatings of the seeds are removed and the inner flesh of the seeds is eaten. Watermelon seeds, called egusi, are cooked in salt, fermented, roasted or ground in West Africa. Watermelon's crispness and granular texture can stand up well in many unexpected dishes, so be adventurous and try using it in a recipe.
Peak watermelon season
Though you can often find watermelon year-round in the grocery store, this summery fruit is best June through October.
Watermelon averages 40 percent more of the cancer-fighter lycopene per serving than tomatoes. Lycopene in watermelon is easily absorbed without cooking, unlike that in tomatoes, and is relatively stable when the fruit is stored and refrigerated. A 1-cup serving of watermelon also provides 10 percent of the daily value for vitamin A, 12 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, along with vitamin B6, beta carotene, thiamin and potassium — all for just 46 calories.
How to buy watermelon
A watermelon should be firm and symmetrical, without bruises, cuts or dents. It should feel heavy for its size and have a creamy yellow spot on the one side of the melon where it sat on the ground to ripen in the sun. Precut melon flesh should be dense, firm and appear moist.
How to store watermelon
Wash a whole watermelon in clean, running water to remove surface dirt; dry before cutting. When purchasing cut watermelon, wash and dry the rind of the watermelon.
Watermelon's temperature should be maintained — if it is purchased at room temperature, it should be stored at room temperature. If the melon was refrigerated at the supermarket, do so at home as well. Sliced melon should be refrigerated immediately either in a covered container or wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent the flesh from becoming mushy.
Fun watermelon fact
Early explorers used watermelons as canteens.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)