The first people ever to crack open a watermelon must have thought they hit the jackpot (let's set aside the fact that jackpots might not have been a thing back then). Full of water to quench the thirst and meaty fruit to fill the tummy, plus it comes in its own weatherproof package? Thank you, Mother Nature! But it's that solid rind that makes it hard to guess what's inside: Is it ripe and juicy or dry and mealy? Here's how to know at a glance, plus tips for storing watermelon and favorite watermelon recipes.
How to Choose a Ripe Watermelon
It can be a little tricky to know beforehand what you'll find when you slice open a whole watermelon. But if you know what to look for, you've got a better chance of picking out a good one:
Look for a Yellow Patch. Watermelons grow on vines that run along the ground, developing a light-colored patch on their undersides where the sun doesn't reach. Pick up a watermelon and look for that patch, also called a field spot. If it's creamy yellow, that indicates the melon was ripe when it was picked. If it's white or green, it was probably picked too soon and isn't ripe. And no, watermelons do not ripen after they're picked.
Choose a Heavy Melon. A ripe watermelon will feel heavier than you expect when you lift it. That weight is due to the high water content — up to 92 percent. As a watermelon ages, it actually loses water weight and becomes dry and mealy. So if it feels too light, it's just not right.
Consider the Complexion. Since watermelon cultivars can range in color from very dark green with no stripes to quite pale with streaky green stripes, the greeness of the rind isn't the best indication of ripeness. If you're looking at a whole display of the same kind of watermelon, just look for a fairly smooth skin. A little bit of gnarlyness is okay — after all, it spent its life lying in a field — but there should not be cracks, bruises, or mushy spots. The overall surface should be matte instead of shiny (too shiny means it's not ripe). And check for that yellow field spot.
Knock, Knock, Who's There? A Ripe Melon, Maybe. Some folks swear by this: A ripe watermelon will sound hollow when you tap it. If it's mushy inside, the sound will be muted.
When the Bees Are Abuzz... Bees know sweet, ripe fruit when they find it, and apparently they're all abuzz when they find a good watermelon. According to some watermelon whisperers, a small dark bead of hardened watermelon juice on the rind indicates the bee stamp, or sting, of approval.
Despite your best efforts at choosing a perfect melon, you might still end up with a watermelon whose inner flesh has cracked wide open. This condition is called hollow heart, and while it might be disconcerting to look at, it doesn't affect the taste or quality of the melon. Agricultural scientists used to think it was caused by irregular growth periods in the field, but now they suspect a lack of pollination resulting in a failure of seed production.
Fun Fact #1
Watermelon seeds were found in the tomb of Tutankhamun, who ruled Egypt from 1332 to 1323 B.C. It was common practice to place watermelons in royal burial chambers to provide nourishment in the afterlife.
Ask a kid to draw a watermelon, and you'll probably get the usual green on the outside and red on the inside. But, with more than 1,200 varieties out there, watermelons come in many shapes, colors, and flavors (not all are sweet).
In Japan, farmers have developed a square watermelon, designed for easy storage in your fridge. And they didn't stop there; they've got cone- and heart-shaped watermelons, too. Customers pay big for the novelty, of course.
And though one of childhood's greatest pleasures is seeing how far you can spit watermelon seeds, crossbreeding has produced watermelons without seeds.
Fun Fact #2
Yes, you can roast watermelon seeds the same way you can roast pumpkin seeds. After all, they share the same family tree.
Watermelon Shelf Life
Watermelon is picked off the vine when it's ripe, so it's best to eat it within a week of buying it at the grocery store.
If you bought it fresh from the field or in a farmers' market, it could last up to three or four weeks uncut. If you can't eat it right away, store it in a cool place.
A piece of cut watermelon should be wrapped well in plastic, stored in the fridge, and eaten within one or two days.
Serving sliced watermelon at your cookout? Put it on ice to keep it nice and cold. It's a watermelon food safety thing.
Fun Fact #3
A monster melon from Tennessee holds the world record for the heaviest watermelon. Grown in 2013 and weighing in at 350+ pounds, it was the pride and joy of Chris Kent, who spent about four hours a day tending to his melons. (Probably to keep them from attacking.)
Watermelon: Nutritious or Delicious?
The short answer is both. Watermelon is a good source of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, and it's ranked as an anti-inflammatory fruit. Plus you're biting into naturally hydrating electrolytes, and vitamins A and C for healthy skin and hair. A cup of watermelon contains a mere 46 calories, which you can burn off by tossing a huge watermelon around for 10 or 15 minutes.
Fun Fact #4
You can make watermelon ice cubes by cutting up the fruit into squares and freezing them on a lined baking sheet. Once the cubes are frozen, transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag. They're great for chilling drinks but not for eating — they lose their crisp texture in the freezing process.
This sweet/crisp/juicy melon is a versatile ingredient that plays well with fruits and vegetables in sweet and savory recipes. Try these top-rated favorites.
Get all the watermelon recipes.
Related Watermelon Fun
- Feast your eyes on carved watermelon art from around the world.
- Have you tried grilled watermelon? Make this the summer you do.
- Got a mealy melon? Here are 10 ways to turn mealy watermelon into summertime treats.
- Check out 10 mouth-watering watermelon pizzas you'll want to make ASAP.
- Discover 10 different ways to cut up a watermelon.