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According to a grower, you'll want to check its color, shape, and size.
There's nothing like a thick, juicy slice of watermelon on a summer day! With more than 1,200 varieties of watermelons grown around the world, watermelons are available year-round with peak season in the United States from May to August. They're full of good-for-you antioxidants, vitamins A and C, and lycopene. Plus, they're an amazing 92 percent water, so a watermelon drink is a great way to hydrate on a hot day. In fact, one big slice of watermelon equals 8 ounces of water. But whether you're choosing one at the grocery store, farmers' market, roadside stand, or your own backyard garden, you need to know what to look for to pick the best watermelon.
Follow these tips to choose the best watermelon from Jordan Carter, past president of the National Watermelon Promotion Board, and vice president of sales and marketing at Leger & Son, Inc., watermelon growers in Cordele, Georgia.
Look, lift, and turn the melon so you can examine all sides, says Carter. Avoid any watermelons that have cuts, dents, soft spots or bruises. Most importantly, look for the ground spot, the area where it sat on the ground as it ripened. "You want it to be a creamy or buttery yellow color," says Carter. "If it's white or green, it was harvested too soon before it was ripe and may not taste sweet."
It's fine to let your watermelon sit on the counter for a few days; it will last a few weeks on your counter at room temperature, says Carter. When you're ready to cut into it, rinse it with cool water, scrub it with a produce brush, and dry it off with a paper towel before slicing. This is an important step that a lot of people skip, but watermelon grows in the soil and you don't want to drag any microbes through the skin into the flesh with your knife! Once cut, watermelon lasts about 3 days in the fridge before quality deteriorates. An average 15 to 20 pound watermelon will yield about 11 cups of cubes.
Unfortunately, there's no way to tell if a watermelon is sweet before cutting into it. But choosing one with the yellow ground spot helps because you know it was harvested when the melon was ripe. Also, the sugar content can vary depending on the variety grown and weather conditions that year. For example, in extremely rainy years, the watermelon may absorb too much rain and taste bland, says Carter. But keep trying! The next one may be sweet and delicious.
It's really a matter of personal preference, says Carter. Some people love the nostalgia of the seeded varieties, but many others prefer no seeds. Ditto with round versus oval or solid-colored versus striped watermelons; they're different varieties, but there's no advantage to choosing one type over the other.
Sometimes you cut open a melon and find a gap or three-pointed hole, known as "hollow heart" right in the center of your watermelon. These cavities form inside the fruit, usually in seedless melons, due to inadequate pollination by bees because of unfavorable weather conditions, low bee numbers, or an inadequate supply of pollinator plants. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the melon, and it's totally fine to eat; it's just a little imperfect in appearance, says Carter.
Most watermelon varieties take from 80 to 90 days to mature. In addition to looking for the creamy or buttery ground spot, the rind will turn from shiny to a more matte or dull appearance, and the green tendrils and main vine will turn brown. Use a knife to cut through the stem. Now you're ready to enjoy your homegrown watermelon!