Biting into a sweet slice of watermelon while the juice runs down your hands is an important summer ritual for many of us.
But before that can happen, another ritual must occur: The choosing of the watermelon.
Picking out a watermelon isn’t like choosing an apple or a bunch of bananas. There’s good melons and bad ones, and it’s hard to tell them apart since they all look the same. A watermelon hides behind its stripy green rind, an impenetrable wall that separates you from the truth. We’ve all tasted a melon who kept its mushy, flavorless secret from its buyer. And with your whole summer experience resting upon the success of the endeavor, it’s a high pressure pick.
Or at least, that’s how it can seem. Which is why people rely on various forms of melon divination to ascertain sweetness and texture.
You get a few who turn a melon over, give it a good look and put it in their cart, but most people are knockers. They’ll walk up to the bins of watermelon and knock firmly on its exterior. There are tappers, who simply tap with a finger. You’ll get some drummers, who pull the melon up out of the bin and play it like a bongo. If you’re lucky, you’ll get some head knockers — these guys compare the knock on the melon with a knock on their own.
A deep thump is what they’re listening for, they’ll say. Which varies, somehow, from a hollow thump or a dull thump or even a tight thump.
But if you watch their faces, you can see they’re bluffing. All they know is that they’re hearing different types of thumps and they’re guessing as to which one sounds best. Some people go for a quick exit out of the situation; some people methodically work around the bins until they’ve found “it.”
Picking a sweet, ripe melon isn’t an exact science, but there are a few clues that most often point to a good melon, according to the National Watermelon Promotion Board.
- Look for a yellow — not white — field spot. This is the discolored part on the rind where it sat on the ground often indicates that it fully ripened in the sun before being picked.
- Pick a melon that’s heavy for its size. You’re not looking for the heaviest melon in the pile, but one that is heavy for its size often indicates a higher water content and, therefore, a sweeter melon.
- Look for a firm, symmetrical fruit with dull, dark skin without dents or bruises. The color of the rind and stripes on it are mostly related to the variety, but in general, a dull rind — rather than a shiny one — points to a ripe melon.
MYTH: “Female” watermelons are sweeter than “male” watermelons.
FACT: How exactly do you tell whether a watermelon is a boy or a girl? Some insist that oblong melons are male and round ones are female. But think about it. Yes, plants have male and female parts — for example, watermelons have male and female flowers — but fruit is always a female part. Watermelons are all “female” and their overall shape says nothing about what’s inside.
MYTH: Seeded watermelons are sweeter than seedless.
FACT: You probably have someone in your life who swears by this idea and they’re probably older than 50. Up until 40 years ago, grocery stores only carried watermelons with seeds, but these days they’re harder to find. A seeded watermelon can be sweeter than a seedless one, but it has nothing to do with the seeds. Factors like the melon variety, soil conditions, climate and when it was picked all affect sweetness. If anything, a seedless watermelon has a better shot because it has three sets of chromosomes instead of two, which amplifies the melon’s sweetness.
MYTH: Eating a watermelon seed will cause a plant to grow in you.
FACT: Kids who grew up in the era of seeded watermelon all heard this one and worried about the stray seed they’d accidentally swallowed while trying to spit it on their sisters. Somehow we all survived. Chewed or sprouted watermelon seeds can be highly nutritious, but the average seed passes through your system undigested. In theory, you’d be able to grow a plant once it’s out. If you wanted to.