Fruit Or Vegetable?
Due to its sweet flavor, many think of watermelon as a fruit. However, there is some debate on whether it’s technically a fruit or a vegetable. Like the pepper, tomato, and pumpkin, watermelon is a fruit, botanically. By this definition, fruits contain seeds and come from the flower of a plant, while the rest of the plant is considered a vegetable.
On the other hand, watermelon is a member of the Cucurbitaceae plant family of gourds, related to the cucumber, squash, and pumpkin. It is planted from seeds or seedlings, harvested, and then cleared from the field like other vegetables. And according to Webster’s Dictionary, a vegetable is anything made or obtained from plants. So, by this definition, the watermelon could also qualify as a vegetable.
To further complicate matters, watermelon is also used as both a fruit and vegetable. It is commonly used as a sweet enhancer or meal accompaniment like a fruit. But in some places like China, the outer rind of the watermelon is also used as a vegetable – stir-fried, stewed, and pickled. So, is watermelon actually a fruit or a vegetable? The answer may lie in your perspective.
Where The Watermelons Grow
Watermelon was first harvested in Egypt roughly 5,000 years ago. Some Egyptian tombs include watermelons in the paintings on the walls and the food was sometimes left with the dead to nourish them on their journey to the underworld. Since the plant is native to Africa, it needs hot, sunny conditions to thrive.
In the 10th century, the plant spread from Africa to China where it proceeded to flourish. Today, China ranks first in watermelon production worldwide. And they have a lot of competition. There are over 1,200 varieties of watermelon grown across 96 countries.
By comparison, the United States currently ranks 7th in production. There are over 300 types of watermelons grown in the US, although only about 50 varieties are found in grocery stores. Given the food’s need for a hot climate to grow, it’s unsurprising that the top watermelon growing states include California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and Georgia.
Watermelon By The Numbers
It’s safe to say that watermelon has earned its name since it consists of 92% water. With its high water content, the fruit (or vegetable, if you prefer) is relatively low in calories. One cup of diced watermelon contains roughly 46 calories. This makes it a nice counterbalance to other high-calorie and processed summer staples like hot dogs.
So, where do watermelons rank in terms of US consumption? A recent Statista study found that it ranked 6th on the list of most consumed fruits in America, with 48% of respondents saying that they had purchased the fruit at least once within the past 12 months. This placed it behind bananas (65%), apples (63%), strawberries (58%), grapes (55%), and oranges (51%).
But even though it’s not the top fruit in America, the country does still have an impressive watermelon-related claim to fame. The heaviest watermelon to date, weighing in at 350.5 pounds, was grown by Guinness World Record holder Chris Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. That means it would take about 70 average-sized small watermelons (5 pounds each) to equal the weight of the record-holding melon.
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