How to Pick a Watermelon: Tips and Ideas

How to Pick a Watermelon: Tips and Ideas


Nothing says summer like a slice of sweet, juicy watermelon, but finding a perfectly ripe fruit at a farmer’s market or grocery store is not always easy. However, picking the right watermelon is worth the effort—in both taste and nutrient content.

“Watermelon is made up of about 92% water, so it is a hydrating fruit,” says Mia Syn, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and on-air nutrition expert. “It also provides key nutrients, including potassium and vitamin C. Potassium helps support normal blood pressure, allows muscles to contract, and helps nerves to function. Vitamin C is important for immune and skin health.”

Watermelon also contains lycopene, which is a naturally occurring compound that gives watermelons their pinkish-red color and benefits heart health, says Kimberley Rose-Francis RDN, CDCES, CNSC, LD, a registered dietitian at the National Watermelon Promotion Board. “Here’s a fun fact—on average, watermelon has about 40% more lycopene than raw tomatoes.”

Rose-Francis adds that there are more than 300 varieties of watermelon cultivated in North and South America. “For this reason, watermelons are often grouped according to their characteristics; but this does not impact the flavor profile.”

If you’re looking for a sweet and delicious watermelon for your next family meal or summer event, try following expert tips for identifying the perfect watermelon.

When picking a watermelon at the grocery store or farmer’s market, go for one that’s symmetrical and uniform in shape, as odd shapes can affect texture and flavor, says Mareya Ibrahim, a chef and cookbook author. “It should also feel heavy for its size, meaning it’s juicy and ripe.”

You can press on the rind to make sure it’s firm. “A soft rind can mean it’s overripe or starting to rot,” says Ibrahim.

The ends of the melon should be filled out and rounded. If the stem is still there, Ibrahim says it should be dry and slightly brown—green stems mean it was picked too early and may lack flavor and sweetness.

It only takes 90 days for a watermelon to grow, and it will be sweetest at its peak, says Lauren Manaker MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian. “The weather, the variety of seed, and the length of growing time all can impact the sweetness maturity.”

The outside of the watermelon should be dull, says Rita Faycurry, RD, a registered dietitian at Fay Nutrition. “This indicates that the watermelon is ripe. If it’s shiny, it was picked before it was ripened.”

Also, if the watermelon has an even color, the fruit should be consistent in ripeness and flavor.

Keep in mind that watermelons do not continue to ripen once harvested. They stop ripening as soon as they’re picked from the vine. This means your watermelon won’t get sweeter if you wait a few days to eat it after bringing it home from the store.

Once you cut your watermelon open, you may find that it’s pink, not red, but still very sweet, says Manaker. “The red color comes from the phytonutrient lycopene, and it does not have a flavor. So trust your tastebuds before judging on flesh color alone.”

Look for vein-like webbing on your watermelon. These markings are usually good indicators that you have found an extra-sweet watermelon. Make sure to inspect all sides of the melon for webs.

“Large webbing or ‘sugar spots’ means the sugar is seeping out of the watermelon and that the watermelon is very sweet,” says Fay.

The webbing can be a little unsightly—and you may be tempted to put the melon aside for another one. However, these brown veins or spots are from pollination, so the more webbing you see, the more times a bee pollinated the watermelon when it was still a flower. The more pollination the flower received, the sweeter the fruit will be.

The yellow belly of a watermelon, also known as the field spot, shows where the melon was lying on the ground when growing and is an indicator of ripeness, says Syn. A large, yellow field spot on one side of the melon means that the melon spent more time ripening on the vine. A smaller or white-looking field spot means the melon may not be as ripe.

If the field spot is too orange that may mean the melon is overripe, adds Manaker. “Look for a nice butter-yellow color.”

Tap the watermelon with your knuckles, suggests Syn. A ripe watermelon will produce a deep sound, while an overripe one might have a more hollow or flat sound, she says.

A watermelon that sounds hollow might have lost some of its water content. Since watermelons are mostly water, the fruit may taste dry or grainy rather than sweet and refreshing.

If your tapping elicits a higher-pitched sound, that could mean the rind is too thick and the fruit is not ripe, says Syn.

You can also scratch the surface of a watermelon rind to help determine ripeness, says Syn. “If the outer layers slip back easily and show green-white underneath, the watermelon is ripe. An unripe melon will have a darker line [when scratched].”

All watermelons sold in the grocery store have a minimum sweetness level that must be met to be sold to consumers, says Manaker. So, you are guaranteed to find at least a somewhat sweet watermelon if that’s where you’re shopping. However, some melons may be sweeter than others.

When you pick up a watermelon at a farmer’s market, farm stand, or grocery store, it should feel heavier than it looks. A surprisingly heavy watermelon means it has more water content and likely has sweet flesh inside.

“The best watermelon in the grocery store or farmer’s market is likely the heaviest one,” says Syn. “A heavier melon holds more water, making it juicier.”

Mini watermelons, which are small and round, weigh about 7 pounds. Seeded watermelons may weigh as much as 45 pounds, says Syn. “Yellow watermelons come in seeded and seedless varieties and weigh up to 30 pounds.”

Since the rind, seeds, and flesh are entirely edible, watermelons offer many health benefits—as long as they are not damaged or starting to spoil. Avoid any watermelon that has bruises, cuts, damage, or soft spots to ensure freshness, says Syn.

Also, avoid melons with irregular bumps or lumps. Your watermelon doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should check most of the boxes and not be damaged in any way.

There’s nothing better than a slice of watermelon on a hot day, but there are several creative ways to use the fruit. For example, Syn suggests the following:

  • Cut the watermelon into wedges or cubes and season it with tajin for a kick
  • Make a watermelon salad with feta, fresh mint, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar
  • Make a watermelon salsa with diced watermelon, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice to pair with grilled fish or chicken

“I also like making watermelon slushies by blending frozen watermelon with a splash of lime juice,” Syn says. “You can also use blended watermelon to make popsicles. Just pour blended watermelon into popsicle molds and freeze until set.”

If you want to include more plant-based protein in your diet, watermelons with seeds are a viable option, adds Rose-Francis. “One ounce of sprouted, shelled, and dried watermelon seeds contains 10 grams of protein. The flesh of both seeded and seedless watermelon types delivers similar vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients.”

Eating the entire watermelon, including the rind and the seeds, saves about 5 pounds of waste.

Watermelons are as sweet and juicy as they are nutritious. But picking the perfect watermelon is not always easy. Following a few expert tips can help you find a ripe, flavorful watermelon to enjoy.

When shopping at a farmer’s market or grocery store, examine the watermelon, look for webbing, and ensure it has a yellow field spot. You can also pck it up, tap it, and scratch it lightly. These strategies will help you pick the sweetest watermelon you can find.

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