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How to Pick a Good Watermelon

Posted by Rachel Schwartz on 8/6/2019

The end of summer into the beginning of fall is peak watermelon time. They're a delicious and versatile fruit. Cut them up into slices with a big knife, muddle them for a summer drink, or even grill them next to your burgers, the possibilities are endless. But to do any of that, you first need to start with a good watermelon. We see watermelon for sale at the grocery store or a produce stand all the time. Perhaps you've seen others picking a few up to weight them or give a watermelon a thump and listen to the sound while you surreptitiously watch and follow along in the hopes of gaining their watermelon-picking wisdom. Well, today we're unlocking the secrets of picking the perfect watermelon. 

Because it's truly impossible to know how a watermelon will look or taste until it is cut open--and sellers tend to frown on customers hacking at produce they haven't bought yet--the majority of these tips are based on a watermelon's exterior appearance. 

A watermelon's size is probably the first thing anyone notices about watermelon. Whether or not a watermelon is large, small, or average, and whether it's rounded or oval in shape. While you can certainly find great watermelon that are big or small, the general rule of thumb is to aim for one that is of average size. Whether you choose a rounded or oval shaped watermelon is more a matter of preference. The oval-shaped watermelon do tend to be bigger, and, because of this, are often referred to as "boys" by farmers. They have a more watery taste. Rounded watermelon are referred to as "girls" and tend to be much sweeter. 

Once you have picked the general size and shape of the watermelon you want, pick a few contenders up and compare their weights. They should feel heavy for their size as weight equals juiciness. Next, check the color of the field spot--that yellow or white patch on the underside of the watermelon. This is where the watermelon touched the ground while it was growing and is a good indicator of ripeness. You want this area to be anywhere from a butter yellow to a dark yellow. If this patch is pale yellow or white, it is not yet ripe.

In this same field spot area, look for what farmers call "webbing." This is the brown, web-like spots or scars that often decorate part of the watermelon rind. While this webbing may not look pretty to a customer, the more of them there are the sweeter the watermelon should be. These brown spots or webs indicate bee pollination. At this time, also inspect the tail, or the bit of vine still attached to one end of the watermelon. A dried tail means the watermelon is ripe while a green one means it was probably picked too early. 

Now that all the appearance-aspects are done and you are left with just a few hopeful watermelon prospects, it's time for the tapping test. To do this, simply tap or lightly thump the side of the watermelon. What you want to hear is a solid sound, as if you were tapping on wood. This is another indicator that the watermelon is ripe and ready to eat. A dull sound can mean the watermelon is over-ripe. If you hear a hollow sound however, be wary. 

A hollow sound could be an indication that the watermelon was sprayed with a chemical used by some farmers to speed up growth and increase watermelon size. These watermelons are often hollow inside and lack flavor since the chemical interfered with the natural growing process and the watermelon grew too big too fast. Unfortunately, you can't always tell them apart, though some treated watermelon will be very large or appear brightly colored. While the spray is not necessarily harmful, animal studies have revealed some side effects. 

Together, all of these techniques should help you to pick a perfect, juicy watermelon the next time you're at the store or produce stand. 

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