Who doesn’t love the juicy, succulent, sweet flavor of a fresh summer watermelon, dripping with delight? The flavorful, colorful vegetable (a component of the zucchini family) is a popular favorite at picnics and casual outings but has been integrated into reception trays, buffets, and the melon, itself, is perfect for carving much like a pumpkin.
The watermelon contains 46 calories per cup and has no saturated fat. As the name reveals, it’s mainly composed of water (92 percent). These melons are an important source of the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C.
They also contain the powerful antioxidant lycopene, which is linked with a lowered risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. While tomatoes get most of the lycopene love, 1 cup of watermelon contains the same amount as two medium tomatoes. Unlike tomatoes, lycopene in watermelon doesn’t need to be cooked to enhance its potency.
U.S. California leads the way as the leading fresh market vegetable producing state, accounting for 43 percent of the United States harvested area, 49 percent of national production, and 48 percent of value for the 24 vegetables and melons.
Forchlorfenuron in watermelons
A report underscores how farmers are abusing both illegal and legal chemicals, with many farms misusing fertilizers and pesticides. This is unquestionably a consumer alert that all should be aware of. You may have observed some unusually large watermelons on the shelves lately.
The farmers spray a chemical named forchlorfenuron, a growth accelerator, on the watermelons, during overly wet weather. Forchlorfenuron is a cytokinin popular since the 1980s and promotes cell division and delays cell death. FCF acts on septins, which are essential factors in mitosis, cell division. That function results in larger and exploding fruit. An excess application of this chemical prompts cells to divide more rapidly. That’s a cancer-like function.
“There is no consistency on this issue. We’ve seen this chemical used everywhere around the world, whether it’s regulated or not, there are agricultural marketers who are pushing this on farmers in every country.” – Kent Polich
Many countries who say they’re regulating this chemical substance and banning exports found after testing are not enforcing those commitments. Notably, New Zealand, Italy, Chile, Greece, and France have all been caught exporting fruit with anything from high concentrations to traces of the chemical in the fruit.
Forchlorfenuron is in fact, legal both in the United States and in China. But should it be? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Pesticide Fact Sheet, this chemical causes inflammation, decreased birth weight, growth retardation, decreased litter sizes. They also categorize FCF as “moderately toxic to freshwater fish on an acute basis.”
How to spot watermelons that contain such chemicals?
The most common indicator that watermelons have been “flavored” with some chemicals is their lack of flavor. They may look plump and fully ripe, but the flavor sure lacks.
This happens due to the growth enhancers which stimulate cell division and fruits to grow faster, so the chemical drains them of flavor. If you think better, this is quite logical. Flavor indicates ripeness, which comes with time. Unripe watermelons are tasteless. Note – ripening is the final stage of the maturation process, when the fruit changes color, softens and develops the flavor, aroma, and texture that constitute optimum eating quality.
Treated watermelons are large and have a brightly colored surface, but the color of their meaty part is rather white, not red. These ”treated” watermelons have white seeds and fibrous, misshapen fruit. This applies to regular watermelons with black seeds. Seedless varieties have tiny white seeds.
Other growth promoting agents used in fruits and vegetables include:
- Ethylene (used to ripen mangoes). Side effects include neurological disorders, resulting in dizziness, headaches, sleep disorders and mental ailments.
- Calcium carbide (used on papayas, apples, and guavas). Calcium carbide treatment of food is quite hazardous because it contains traces of phosphorous and arsenic, and once dissolved in water, it produces acetylene gas. Phosphorus, arsenic, and acetylene gas may affect the different body organs and causes many health problems like sleepiness, headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, memory loss, mental confusion, cerebral edema, seizures and prolonged hypoxia.
- Oxytocin (used on watermelons, pumpkins, cucumbers, and aubergines). This hormone helps the product to grow larger and ripen sooner than normal. Oxytoxin-loaded products may cause side effects, like cramping, irregular heartbeat, stomach ache, sterility, neurotic complications and nervous breakdowns.
How to tell if a watermelon is ripe
Choose symmetrical, firm, unblemished melons without cracks or soft spots. Some people swear by the “thump” test (if thumping the melon creates a hollow sound, it’s good). Keep in mind that not all ripe watermelon will make this sound, so if it doesn’t make a hollow sound it doesn’t automatically imply that the melon isn’t ripe. Rather, look for a pale yellow patch, indicating where the watermelon sat on the ground while ripening on the vine.
When buying precut watermelons, look for deep color, dark seeds with flesh firmly attached to seeds, and sweet, fruity fragrance.