BEIRUT: The season for watermelons may be soon coming to an end, but there is still time to enjoy this nutritious and refreshing fruit before fall sets in.
Throughout Lebanon’s summer watermelons are for sale across the country along the side of the road, their succulent flesh providing a perfect refreshing snack.
With 92 percent of its flesh consisting of water, the fruit makes a great palate-cleanser, often served at the end of a Lebanese meal.
Watermelons originated in southern Africa, and made their way up through the continent where they were depicted by ancient Egyptians in hieroglyphic drawings.
Today they are grown in Lebanon, mainly in the south and the Bekaa valley, where the season – during which the government halts imports of the fruit from Egypt and Jordan – starts in July and ends in October.
Used long ago by desert-wandering travelers as canteens, as they can store so much water, this method can be updated for a modern, alcoholic twist.
Cut a hole in the skin of the melon all the way down to the red flesh before pouring in a couple of glasses of vodka through a funnel.
Leave it in the fridge for a couple of days – allowing the fruit to soak up all the alcohol – and then serve as normal, albeit vodka-laced wedges. Warn your guests so they don’t dig in believing it to be innocent, sober watermelon.
While the alcohol content may kill some of their nutritional value, when used in salads – whether fruit or savory – or eaten on their own, watermelons are full of vitamins.
“Contrary to people’s beliefs, watermelons aren’t only a good source of water and sugar. They are rich in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B1, magnesium and potassium,” says Nicole Maftoum, a nutritionist and dietician.
Vitamin A, Maftoum says, is vital for optimal eye health and one cup of the fruit provides 23 percent of one’s daily-recommended intake of Vitamin C.
Lycopene, the pigment that gives watermelons (and tomatoes) their red color, is also abundant in the fruit.
“Many studies have found that high intakes of lycopene correlate with a reduced incidence of certain types of cancer as well as a reduced incidence of myocardial infarctions. It also plays an important role in fighting against the sun’s damaging effects,” Maftoum says. She adds that as the lycopene content of the fruit reduces once the fruit is cut, so they are best eaten as fresh as possible.
Watermelons are also high in citrulline, an amino acid which, “improves the cardiovascular and immune system and thus has beneficial effects on the health of the blood vessels,” she says.