Botanical name: Citrullus Ianatus
Watermelon belongs to the Cucurbitaceae family: it is an annual and climbing plant, with large leaves covered with hair.
Origins and history
Native to the tropical regions of Africa, it is characterized by a massive fruit that is a false berry: on average it weighs 20 kilos, has an oval or round shape and a hard, streaked and smooth green skin. The pulp is red, but depending on the variety it can take on a white, orange or yellow color. In fact, there are more than 1200 varieties of watermelon, which differ in the color and weight of the fruit: this ranges from a minimum of one kilo to a maximum of over 90 kilos. In any case, watermelon is rich in seeds and grows from May to September.
It is not known when the cultivation of watermelon began, however this practice was first recorded in an Egyptian tablet dating back to nearly 5,000 years ago. From the 10th century A.D. the plant spread to China, today the largest producer in the world, while it was introduced in Europe by the Moors in the thirteenth century. According to explorer David Livingstone, watermelon originated in the Kalahari desert, where it still grows wild and widespread today.
Nutritional and beneficial properties of Watermelon
Watermelon is the summer fruit par excellence and brings many beneficial benefits to the body. Although it contains few calories, it has a good quantity of sugars, equal to 8%, and vitamins: in particular, fructose (hence the sweet taste of the pulp) and vitamins C, A, B and B6 are present. It also has a higher lycopene content than tomatoes: consequently, the consumption of watermelon helps prevent pancreatic cancer.
This antioxidant also protects the cells of the body from aging and free radicals; at the same time it lowers bad cholesterol levels so as to prevent cardiovascular disease.
A daily consumption of watermelon in summer protects the skin from the ultraviolet rays of the sun and stimulates brain activity, thanks to the high contents of vitamin B6.
Using Watermelon in the kitchen
Watermelon is one of the symbolic fruits of summer not only because it grows in this season; in fact is made up of over 90% water and therefore is a refreshing food with a minimum caloric intake. It is usually eaten fresh just cut into slices, but it can be the main ingredient of a large number of recipes, all tasty and capable of giving relief from the summer heat.
For example, watermelon is used to make excellent sorbets, smoothies and ice creams in a simple and very fast way. It is also possible to add another very popular summer product such as sangria, so as to obtain an original and refreshing aperitif.
Alternatively, you can serve the watermelon as a dessert in the form of ice cream or aspic: in this way even those on a diet can savor a sweet moment. Finally, this fruit is one of the ingredients with which tasty and refreshing fruit salads are prepared. In tropical climates it is common to serve diced watermelon on a platter along with papaya, pineapple and mango.
Watermelon has always been a highly appreciated fruit, since the times of ancient Egypt: here it was considered of divine origin, as it was born from the seed of the god Seth. Also for this reason, specimens have been found inside the tombs of the pharaohs: they must have been used to nourish the soul of deceased kings on their journey to the afterlife.
Watermelon is a sacred plant among the beciuans, as its leaves are considered purifying: consequently, before harvesting, on a January day the adult males of the tribe crush the leaves and apply the juice on the navel and on the big toes.
Then they purify the members of their family with the same liquid: only after the end of the rite can they collect the fruits and eat them.