Nutritional and Health Benefits of Watermelon: Overview | Types | Origin | Nutritional Value | Health Benefits

The watermelon (Citrullus lanatus) is a Cucurbitaceae flowering plant species. It was originally domesticated in Africa as a scrambling and trailing vine-like plant. It is a highly cultivated fruit globally, with over 1,000 varieties.

Watermelon is cultivated in a variety of climates around the world, from tropical to temperate, with its large edible fruit, which is a berry with a rough rind with no internal divisions and is botanically known as a pepo. While seedless varieties exist, the sweet, juicy flesh is typically deep red to pink, with many black seeds. The rind is edible after cooking, and the fruit can be eaten raw or pickled. It may also be ingested as a juice or as part of a mixed cocktail.

The watermelon is an annual crop that has a prostrate or climbing habit. Stems are up to 3 metres (10 feet) long and new growth has yellow or brown hairs. Leaves vary in size from 60 to 200 millimetres (2 14 to 7 34 inches) in length and 40 to 150 millimetres (1 12 to 6 inches) in width. There are normally three lobes, one of which is lobed or doubly lobed. Male and female flowers are found on hairy stalks that are 40 millimetres (1 12 inch) long. They’re yellow and greenish on the back.

The leaves are broad, coarse, hairy, pinnately lobed, and alternate in position; as they age, they grow rigid and hard. The plant has tendrils that branch out. The white to yellow flowers appear singly in the leaf axils, with a white or yellow corolla on the inside and a greenish-yellow corolla on the outside. Male and female flowers grow on the same vine, making the flowers unisexual (monoecious). At the start of the season, male flowers predominate; female flowers mature later and have inferior ovaries.

The large fruit, known as a pepo, is a modified berry with a thick rind (exocarp) and fleshy center (mesocarp and endocarp). Fruits on wild plants can reach 20 cm (8 in) in diameter, while cultivated varieties can reach 60 cm (24 in). The fruit’s rind is a mid- to dark green color that is normally mottled or striped, and the skin, which contains various pips, may be red or pink (most commonly), orange, yellow, green, or white.

Types (Species) of Watermelon

Watermelon can be classified into four categories of watermelon. These are seedless watermelons, seeded watermelons, picnic watermelons, and icebox watermelons.

Seedless Watermelons

Seedless watermelons, despite their name, do produce seeds. The seeds, on the other hand, are small and underdeveloped, which means they’re normally soft and easy to eat. Seedless watermelons also tend to have far fewer seeds than seeded varieties. A complicated hybridization mechanism produces these watermelons. They are more difficult to grow and need a higher soil temperature for germination, making them difficult to grow in cold climates, but a greenhouse or heated seed tray can help. The following are regarded as seedless watermelons:

  • Crimson Sweet Watermelon
  • King of Hearts Watermelon
  • Millionaire Watermelon

Crimson Sweet Watermelon

It takes between 80 and 85 days for this watermelon to mature to the point that it can be harvested. It is very popular commercially because of its sweet and firm flesh, as well as its ability to be transported and stored well. These melons would stay for about three weeks if kept cold and out of the refrigerator. These melons are on the greater side of the continuum, weighing between 16 and 26 pounds when fully grown. They have an oval appearance and the familiar pale green and dark green striped skin of a typical watermelon. Once the temperatures are steadily above 65oF, these plants can be started from seed sown outdoors. In colder climates, plant the seeds indoors four weeks before transplanting them outside after all hazards of frost have passed. These plants thrive in well-draining soil with plenty of moisture and full light.

King of Hearts Watermelon

This seedless watermelon grows from seed to edible fruit in just 85 days, making it a short-season plant that’s perfect for growing in colder climates where the summer months aren’t as long as they are in the south. Since these melons are grown on a long vine, they need a lot of room to grow, as well as a deep soil so their roots can spread. They still need to be pollinated by another melon plant, so they can’t be planted alone. Allow eight to ten feet between these plants, place them in a location with plenty of sunshine, and keep their soil moist when flowers are produced. You will steadily decrease watering after the fruit has set, which will help to produce sweeter melons. The exterior of the King of Hearts watermelon is lightly striped and weights between 14 and 18 pounds. It has tiny white edible seeds inside the fruit pulp, which can be overlooked when eating the melon.

Millionaire Watermelon

The fruits of these seedless hybrid melon plants take at least 90 days to mature. Every melon will be 16 to 22 pounds in weight and have a hard, dark green rind with slight yellow-green stripes. The melon’s flesh is firm and pink in colour, with edible soft and underdeveloped white seeds scattered throughout. Commercially, these plants are common because they provide a high yield of fruit and transport well. These plants are grown from seed and need a soil temperature of at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit to germinate. Germination takes 4 to 14 days and can be done outdoors in the soil or indoors in seed trays, depending on the local environment. Since these plants’ roots can reach six feet below ground level, make sure they’re planted in a deep, well-draining, and fertile bed.

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Seeded Watermelons

Seeded watermelons have large, hard seeds that range in color from pale brown to dark brown-black. When eating a seeded watermelon, many people prefer to spit out the seeds, but some cultures cultivate watermelons primarily for the nutritious seeds hidden inside the fruit flesh. The following are regarded as seeded watermelons:

  • Estrella Watermelon
  • Moon and Stars Watermelon

Estrella Watermelon

This watermelon produces edible fruit within 85 to 90 days. The fruits are oval in shape and uniform in size, with a dense rind that is striped with dark and light green. Tiny dark brown pips are found in the inner skin, which is solid and dark pink. This is a traditional watermelon variety that has a consistent sweet taste. This variety’s mature melons weigh between 20 and 24 pounds.

Moon and Stars Watermelon

This heirloom melon dates back to 1926, when the Henderson seed company first produced it. This variety of melon was believed to be extinct in the 1980s when seedless varieties became widespread, but it was rediscovered and reintroduced several years later. It has recently re-emerged in popularity, owing to its exclusive rind. The ridged dark green rind is speckled with yellow spots and speckles that mimic the night sky, hence the term “Moon and Stars.” Melons with bright red flesh can be circular or oval in shape. They usually weigh about 25 pounds, but they have been known to grow up to 40 pounds. These melons have a lot of dark seeds in their fruit, which may be a turnoff for some people but a treat for others who love consuming nutritious seeds. They prefer wet, well-draining soil, but they will flourish in average or low soil as long as it drains well.

Icebox Watermelons

Watermelons that fit within an icebox are referred to as icebox watermelons. One icebox watermelon will be enough fruit to serve one individual or a small family for a snack. The weight of these melons usually varies from 6 to 16 pounds. The following are regarded as icebox watermelon:

  • Sugar Baby Watermelon
  • Tiger Baby Watermelon

Sugar Baby Watermelon

With one of the highest sugar concentrations of all watermelons, these are an especially sweet-tasting variety of melon. They’re a short-season melon that takes 75 to 80 days to mature. This melon is small in proportion, increasing to a full size of 8 inches wide and weighing between 8 and 10 pounds as an icebox watermelon. Sugar Baby melons are round with a dark green rind that is shiny and glossy with slight veining. Their flesh is bright red, crisp, and delicious. It has tiny tan-brown pips scattered across the flesh. This melons are grown on vines that can reach up to 12 feet in length. They need a fertile, well-draining soil, which has a high organic content. These watermelons perform best in consistently moist soil and would benefit from a drip irrigation system to ensure the soil is not allowed to dry out. Each vine typically produces 2 or 3 melons each year.

Tiger Baby Watermelon

These melons gained their name from their rind, which resembles a young tigers fur. It is a medium green-grey, adorned with deep green stripes. The flesh of the fruit is dense, bright red, and very sweet tasting, with seeds. These small melons have a typical weight of between 7 and 8 pounds, and on average, take 90 days to reach maturity. Their vines are tender and should not be planted until all risk of frost has passed. In cooler climates, get a head start by sowing seeds indoors and then planting outside when seedlings are around 8 inches tall.

Picnic Watermelons

Picnic watermelons are so-called because they are the right size for feeding a whole family on a picnic. These watermelons have a traditional watermelon look and can range in weight from 20 to 45 pounds. The following are regarded as picnic watermelons:

  • Black Diamond Watermelon
  • Charleston Gray Watermelon
  • Desert King Watermelon
  • Yellow Baby Watermelon

Black Diamond Watermelon

These plants produce enormous watermelons that can exceed 50 pounds in weight when mature. The rinds of these melons are hard and tough, with the firm and juicy flesh lying beneath. These melons grow on vigorous vines that scramble across the soil or can be trained to grow on a structure. They require plenty of space to produce large fruits, and due to their size, the melons can take more than 90 days to reach maturity. They require at least six hours of sun each day, but a position of full sun will result in a better yield.

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Charleston Gray Watermelon

These large watermelons are named after their thick rind, which is a dark green-gray color with creamy-yellow mottled markings. They were developed in the mid-1950s as part of a program to produce disease-free watermelons, and are known to be one of the best American watermelons ever produced. They take 87 days to reach maturity and grow to weights of between 20 and 40 pounds. Charleston Gray watermelons are a long oblong shape, with a virtually fiber-free flesh that is dotted with dark seeds.

Desert King Watermelon

This watermelon has pale green skin and bright yellow-orange flesh. Fruits will weigh in the region of 20 pounds and typically take 85 days to mature. Unusually for a watermelon plant, this vine is drought-tolerant and will survive short periods of time in dry soil. However, it will perform best in moist soil and particularly needs plenty of moisture while producing flowers and setting fruit.

 Yellow Baby Watermelon

This watermelon was produced in Taiwan in the 1970s, as a result of hybridization between a male Chinese melon and a female American Midget melon. The resulting watermelon has vibrant yellow flesh, which is crisp and sweet and has thin skin. Some growers believe it is even sweeter tasting than the common watermelon. The fruits mature between 74 and 84 days, weighing in at between 8 and 10 pounds. Once picked from the vine, these melons have a short shelf life of just 4 to 6 days, making them difficult to transport for sale, and meaning they are predominantly grown by home gardeners. 

Historical Background (Origin) of Watermelon

Watermelon is a flowering plant that originated in Africa, but research on whether it originated in West Africa or Northeast Africa is contradictory. Cultivation of both C. lanatus and C. colocynthis has been recorded in the Nile Valley since the second millennium BC, with seeds of both species discovered at Twelfth Dynasty sites and in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun. Watermelons were grown for their high water content and processed to be consumed during dry seasons, not only as a source of food but also as a means of water storage. Watermelon seeds were also discovered at the ancient settlements of Bab edh-Dhra and Tel Arad in the Dead Sea area.

At Uan Muhuggiag, a prehistoric archaeological site in southwestern Libya, a collection of 5000-year-old wild watermelon seeds (C. lanatus) were found. This archaeobotanical findings may support the claim that the plant was once more broadly spread.

Watermelons were first grown in India in the 7th century, and by the 10th century, they had spread to China, which is now the world’s largest watermelon producer. The fruit was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Moors, and there is evidence of it being grown in Córdoba in 961 and Seville in 1158. It spread northward across southern Europe, likely slowed by inadequate summer temperatures for good yields. By 1600, the fruit had started to appear in European herbals, and it was commonly cultivated as a minor garden crop in Europe in the 17th century.

The watermelon was brought to the New World by European explorers and African slaves. In 1576, Spanish settlers planted it in Florida, and by 1629, it was being cultivated in Massachusetts, and by 1650, it had spread to Peru, Brazil, and Panama. Native Americans in the Mississippi Valley and Florida were developing the crop at the same time. When adventurers like Captain James Cook brought watermelons to Hawaii and other Pacific islands, they were quickly welcomed. Watermelons were widely cultivated by free black citizens in the United States during the Civil War period, and they were a metaphor for the abolition of slavery. Black people were mocked during the Civil War because of their relationship with watermelon. The sentiment became a racial myth, with black people being credited with a voracious appetite for watermelon, a fruit long associated with laziness and filth.

Seedless watermelons were initially developed in 1939 by Japanese scientists who were able to create seedless triploid hybrids which remained rare initially because they did not have sufficient disease resistance. In the twenty-first century, seedless watermelons became more common, accounting for nearly 85% of total watermelon sales in the United States in 2014.

Nutritional Value (Composition) of Watermelon

Watermelon is loaded with numerous nutrients that of immense benefits to the body. The table below shows the amount of each nutrient in a cup of melon balls weighing around 154 g.

Nutrient Amount in 1 cup watermelon Daily adult requirement
Energy (calories) 46.2 1,800 – 3,000
Carbohydrate (g) 11.6, including 9.6 g of sugar 130
Fiber (g) 0.6 22.4 – 33.6
Calcium (millgrams [mg]) 10.8 1,000 – 1,200
Phosphorus (mg) 16.9 700
Magnesium (mg) 15.4 320 – 420
Potassium (mg) 172 4,700
Vitamin C (mg) 12.5 75 – 90
Folate (mcg, DFE) 4.6 400
Choline (mg) 6.3 425 – 550
Vitamin A, RAE (mcg) 43.1 700 – 900
Beta carotene (mcg) 467 No data
Lutein & zeaxanthin (mcg) 12.3 mcg No data
Lycopene (mcg) 6,980 No data
Phytosterols (mg) 3.08 No data
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Watermelon also contains some B vitamins (such as thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin), zinc, manganese, selenium, fluoride, and other essential minerals. Also watermelon contains tryptophan, leucine, lysine, arginine, and other antioxidants.

Health Benefits of Watermelon

Watermelon is a delicious and refreshing fruit with several health benefits. Below are some of the most remarkable health benefits of watermelon:

Hydrates the Body

Water is an important component of keeping the body hydrated. Eating foods with a high water content, on the other hand, will benefit. Watermelon, interestingly, is 92 percent water. Fruits and vegetables have a lot of water, which is one of the reasons they make you feel full. Eating watermelon means you’re eating a lot of food without consuming a lot of calories thanks to the mixture of water and fiber.

Loaded with Essential Nutrients

Watermelon has the lowest calorie content of any fruit, with just 46 calories per cup (154 grams).  Low-sugar fruits like berries have a lower sugar content. Vitamin C (21 percent RDI), vitamin A (18 percent RDI), potassium (5% RDI), magnesium (4% RDI), and vitamins B1, B5, and B6 are all present in one cup (154 grams) of watermelon (3 percent of the RDI). Carotenoids, such as beta-carotene and lycopene, are also found in watermelon. Citrulline, an essential amino acid, is also present.

Prevents Cancer

Lycopene and other plant compounds used in watermelon have been investigated for their anti-cancer properties. lycopene use is linked to a lower risk of some cancers. So far, the greatest correlation seems to be between lycopene and digestive cancers. It tends to lower cancer risk by decreasing insulin-like growth factor (IGF), a cell division protein. IGF levels that are too high have been related to cancer. In addition, the capacity of cucurbitacin E to suppress tumor growth has been studied.

Prevents Cardiovascular Diseases

Heart disease is the primary cause of death in the world. By lowering blood pressure and cholesterol levels, lifestyle factors such as diet can reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke. Watermelon provides a variety of nutrients that are beneficial to heart health. Lycopene has been shown in studies to help reduce cholesterol and blood pressure. It can also protect cholesterol from oxidative harm. Lycopene can also help to minimize artery wall stiffness and thickness. Watermelon also produces citrulline, an amino acid that can help the body produce more nitric oxide. Nitric oxide causes blood vessels to dilate, lowering blood pressure. Watermelon also contains other vitamins and minerals that are beneficial to your heart. Vitamins A, B6, C, magnesium, and potassium are among them.

Prevents Inflammation and Oxidative Stress

Many chronic conditions are fuelled by inflammation. Watermelon is high in the anti-inflammatory antioxidants lycopene and vitamin C, which can help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. Watermelon contains both lycopene and vitamin C, and lycopene may support brain health as an antioxidant. It can, for example, assist in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

Prevents Macular Degeneration

Lycopene is present in many areas of the eye and aids in the prevention of oxidative damage and inflammation. It may also prevent age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This is a common eye disease that can result in blindness in older people. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of lycopene can help to prevent AMD from developing and worsening.

Relieve Muscle Soreness

Citrulline, an amino acid found in watermelon, can help to relieve muscle pain. It may also be taken as a complement. Watermelon extract, surprisingly, tends to improve citrulline absorption. When opposed to citrulline alone, watermelon drinks with citrulline reduce muscle soreness and ensure faster heart rate recovery. Citrulline absorption is most effective when drunk as a component of watermelon juice, according to studies.

Ensures Healthy Skin and Hair

Watermelon contains two vitamins that are essential for skin and hair health: A and C. Vitamin C aids in the production of collagen, a protein that keeps your skin and hair supple and powerful. Vitamin A is also essential for healthy skin because it aids in the formation and repair of skin cells. Your skin can become dry and flaky if you don’t get enough vitamin A. Lycopene and beta-carotene are also antioxidants that can help shield the skin from sunburn.

Improves Digestion

Watermelon is high in water and has a small amount of fiber, all of which are beneficial to digestion. Fiber helps to bulk up your feces, while water keeps your digestive system running smoothly. Watermelon, as well as other water- and fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, can help to promote regular bowel movements.

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