Quintessential Quencher

Watermelon is the next hydration craze

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Bryson West and his sister, Macy West, of Medford enjoying eating watermelon outside in the backyard. Photography by David Gibb.

Consumers’ thirst for flavored water has come full circle.

Round, ripe and ready for picking every summer, watermelon — as its name confirms — is the original flavored water. Recent nutrition forecasts suggest that the coconut craze is giving way to watermelon infatuation. “It’s actually like 90 percent water,” says Ron Veitel, nutritionist for Siskiyou Vital Medicine in Medford.

For all its hydrating fluid, watermelon contains concentrated nutrients at a conservative calorie count, just 85 in about two cups. A significant source of vitamin C and B6, beta carotene and zinc, watermelon also naturally replaces electrolytes — lost during perspiration — with considerable quantities of magnesium and potassium. “Replenishing that magnesium and potassium is crucial,” says Veitel. “The watermelon, in general, is great for flushing the kidneys.”

Also high in magnesium, in addition to iron and fiber, watermelon seeds have sprouted a new packaged, snack-food trend, says Veitel. With 30 grams of protein in a cup of seeds, watermelon likely will be the next source of powdered protein, he says.

Instead of spitting out watermelon seeds, or buying seedless varieties, try chewing up the crunchy morsels with the fruit’s succulent flesh, says Veitel.

Watermelon’s vibrant hue comes from lycopene, the compound in tomatoes that promotes cardiovascular health and prevents cell damage from free radicals. While tomatoes, Veitel says, typically are touted as prime sources of this antioxidant, “watermelon is even better.”

On the other end of the color spectrum, watermelon rind is replete with much more than chlorophyll, the chemical compound that makes plants green. Watermelon rind also is high in the amino acid citrulline, a potent vasodilator that improves circulation to the brain and extremities, wards off accumulation of fatty deposits and may prevent muscle soreness if consumed before a workout, says Veitel.

Studies also suggest that citrulline can be helpful for men with erectile dysfunction, Veitel adds. “The rind is one of the most outstanding parts of the watermelon.”

Juicing watermelon rind along with the flesh maximizes the fruit’s nutrient potential, says Veitel. Pickling or candying the rind also are popular preparations, he says. “Watermelons straddle the world of fruit and vegetable.”

Cold-pressing any piece of produce generally is considered the best method for preserving beneficial properties, says Veitel. But a watermelon’s dimensions, he says, also can accommodate some unusual culinary techniques, such as cutting a hole in the rind big enough to fit an immersion blender, liquefying the flesh right inside the fruit, then ladling it into glasses, topping with some sparkling water or even fizzy, fermented kombucha. “It’s super delicious.”

The most delicious watermelons, it’s widely acknowledged, have the shortest trip from vine to plate — or picnic blanket. “There’s nothing like growing your own watermelon,” says Rhianna Simes, Master Gardener coordinator for Southern Oregon Research & Extension Center in Central Point. “What a classic flavor for summer!”

However, because Southern Oregon’s summer isn’t quite long enough for melons’ liking, gardeners should choose varieties that bear fruit in 70 days or less, says Simes. Smaller types (look for “baby” in the name) have larger yields in this region, she says. “It’s kind of easy to get seduced by the big, 10- to 15-pounders.”

Even miniature melons claim more space than most garden plants, says Simes. Trellising, growing the vines in pots or even cultivating in straw bales can be strategies for compact gardens, she says.

Once planted, watermelons are low-maintenance, requiring little but watering until harvest, says Simes. The field spot, where the melon rests on the ground, is the best indicator of ripeness, she says, not rapping on the rind. “I never got the thumping thing,” says Simes. “They all kind of sound the same.”

A watermelon’s field spot, when creamy yellow, is a sign that enough sugar has developed in the fruit. To keep the sugars — and nutrients — intact, store picked watermelons at room temperature, says Simes. Refrigerate them only once they’ve been cut.

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Grown your own watermelon

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Here are Oregon State University Extension Service’s tips for growing melons:

  • Choose a warm site, such as along a south-facing building or wall. Or warm the site by using plastic mulches over the soil or row or garden covers.
  • Use drip irrigation, not overhead sprinkling that wets foliage and can cause powdery mildew.
  • Start melon seeds indoors three to four weeks before you intend to put them out in the garden. Or buy starts.
  • Amend soil with organic matter and ensure it has reached at least 55-60 degrees before planting seeds or starts.
  • When young plants have four to seven leaves, transplant plants 18-24 inches apart and space rows 5-6 feet apart.
  • Water well, but infrequently. Overwatering may lower fruit quality. Fertilize well for top quality and yield.

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