A Little Slice Of Happiness

by Buck Buchanan // July - August - September 2023

Watermelon, a summer staple at picnics and backyard gatherings. A refreshing thirst-quencher on a sweltering afternoon. The perfect vegetable for eating contests on the Fourth of July. Wait … what? Yes, you read that right – the watermelon is a veggie, at least according to many. The debate about whether the watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable has raged on year after year. While the watermelon is a fruit, botanically, it is a member of the cucurbitaceae plant family of gourds (classified as Citrullus lantus), per watermelon.org, the website of The National Watermelon Promotion Board (NWPB). Members of this family are monecious, meaning they have both male and female flowers on the same vine. It is the dubious star of the veggie world, sitting right there next to its relatives the cu-cumber, the squash, and our favorite fall gourd, the pumpkin. It is planted from seeds, harvested, and then cleared from the field just like other vegetables. And as the NWPB further explains on watermelon.org, “According to Webster’s Dictionary, a vegetable is anything made from or obtained from plants. Since watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, watermelon is considered a vegetable.” But no matter if you are Team Fruit or Team Veggie, no one can dispute that the delicious watermelon is one popular and palatable delight.

While this seasonal staple has been a wildly popular, all-American summer treat for generations, its history goes much farther back, dating at least 5000 years. Today, there are over 1,200 varieties grown across 96 countries, with China being the top producer worldwide, and the U.S. pulling in the seventh spot. Although we are only #7 in production, we do have some bragging rights! Specifically, according to Guinness World Records, the largest watermelon ever grown – 350 pounds – was in Tennessee. The fastest time to dice a watermelon? 18.19 seconds in California (diced into 90 cubes).The longest watermelon seed spitting distance? A whopping 75 feet 2 inches in Texas.

This veggie (fruit?) isn’t just sweet to eat, it’s also good for you! Mark Twain referred to the watermelon as “… the chief of the world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat.” Crowned it should be, if not for the taste, then for the hydration it provides – as its name states, it’s full of water. In fact, 92% of it consists of H20! If that isn’t enough, it has almost all the nutrients one could want from a vegetable. Let’s talk lycopene, an antioxidant that helps reduce inflammation, prevents macular degeneration, and the kicker – may help to prevent cancer! Did you know watermelon contains more lycopene than any other fresh fruit or vegetable? Furthermore, it can help relieve muscle soreness post workout. Additionally, this melon is low in calories and carbohydrates; contains vitamin A (important for skin and eye health), vitamin B6 (helps your body break down the protein you eat), vitamin C (helps strengthen the immune system and aids in iron absorption), and potassium (helpful in lowering blood pressure and important for nerve function); and has zero fat, cholesterol, or sodium. Full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other healthful nutrients, as well as cool, sweet, refreshing flavor, it’s no wonder the delicious watermelon is the perfect summer treat.

What can we expect from this vegetable in the future? Nothing but greatness, I’m sure. Did you know that currently Japan is growing square varieties that sell for as much as $150? Scientific research about its health benefits continues, with studies indicating that its consumption might be helpful in reducing the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. And the NWPB’s “Slice of Happy Project,” inspired by its 2022 consumer research – found that 100% of consumers surveyed say it makes them feel happy; 81% consider it a comfort food; and 82% agree eating it boosts their mood (watermelon.org/watermelon-101/slice-of-happy-project). So, the next time you’re walking into the grocery store or visiting your favorite farmers market this summer, think of your health, your mood, and your taste buds, and grab yourself the perfect summer treat.

Here is where I normally add a couple of recipes. Not today … instead, I want to encourage you to enjoy the simplicity of the vegetable. Need a few ideas on how to do so? Add small cubes of watermelon to a crisp summer salad. Grill it for a smoky, caramelized, rich-flavored appetizer at your next backyard cookout. Insert popsicle sticks into slices for a quick, easy, and fun dessert for the kids or to take to your neighborhood potluck. Sprinkle a touch of salt on a slice for a sweet and salty combination. Cut into small cubes or scoop some into bite-sized balls to freeze for fruity ice cubes. Toss a few chunks into a blender with a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream for a cool and creamy milkshake. Make it boozy by pureeing some to mix into a refreshing summer cocktail. Or pour some vodka into a hole in the top, let it rest for about five hours, and you’ll have a fun vessel for a mouthwatering adult beverage. No matter how you slice it, the watermelon – whether enjoyed alone this summer or as the backdrop for fresh and fruity food and beverage fun – can’t be beat.

Buck Buchanan

Owner of Lumpy's Ice Cream. Lumpy's uses the finest local ingredients and crafts them into ice cream without any preservatives, additives, or synthetic hormones.