By: Chef Cristian Feher
There is nothing more thirst-quenching than a fresh, cold, watermelon during summertime. But how many times have you brought home one that wasn’t sweet, or was all mushy on the inside? Have you stood in front of the watermelon bin at the grocery store and wondered what all those people are doing with their tapping and pawing? Did you know that there are four key factors that will let you choose a perfect watermelon every time?
In this article, I will teach you the four factors that you can look for when choosing your watermelon at the grocery store so that you will always pick a winner. We will also discus other frequently asked questions that I get about watermelons, like seeds vs. seedless, and we’ll debunk some urban myths.
Follow the four steps below to pick your perfect watermelon.
The Belly Button of the Watermelon
At the end of each watermelon, there is a stem, which I like to call, “the bellybutton”. This is where the watermelon was cut off from the plant when it was harvested. The first thing that you should look for when choosing a watermelon is the color of the stem. If it’s too green, it means that it was picked before it was ripe. And since watermelons do not continue to ripen after they’ve been picked, you want to avoid one with a green belly button. Instead, choose a watermelon that has a brown belly button. That will be an indication that the farmer let the watermelon reach its peak of ripeness before it was harvested.
The “Sun Spot” of the Watermelon
Normally when you look around a watermelon, you will find that most of it is green, but there will usually be a spot on it that is of a different color. I call this the “sun spot”, but it’s actually the spot where the watermelon was sitting on the ground. It did not get sunlight, and therefore it did not turn green. The sun spot can be pale white, yellow, or brown. And these three will give you an indication of the state of the watermelon. A pale sun spot tells you that the watermelon is not yet ripe. Brown in the sun spot tells you that the watermelon has started to rot and is not fresh. But a yellow sun spot tells you that the watermelon was picked when it was at its peak of ripeness and is at its prime. So, always choose a watermelon with a yellow sun spot.
Sometimes, the watermelon will get turned when it’s growing and won’t have a sun spot. But if you follow the other three rules for watermelon picking, you will still be able to pick a good watermelon.
Tappa, Tappa, Tappa!
A watermelon, essentially, is a container filled with water. The fresher and riper it is, the more water it will have inside. So, when you tap on a watermelon, the sound it makes can tell you about the water content. Picture what it sounds like to tap on a bucket full of water or a big jug of milk. That’s the same sort of sound you should expect from a good watermelon. If you tap it and it sounds like a bucket of water, get it. If you tap it and it sounds hollow, don’t get it. The more watermelons you tap on and eat, the better you will get at watermelon tapping! Also, it’s fun to play them like bongos at the grocery store!
You also want to make sure that it’s very heavy for its size. The heavier it is, the more juice is in it. You should have to struggle to lift a good, juicy, sweet watermelon.
Squeeze it Good!
The last thing you will do is squeeze or press on it. A watermelon that is full of juice and is ripe, will be very hard and rigid. So, press on it hard. If you can press the rind in and it’s semi-soft, it means that it’s been sitting around the store for too long and has started losing some of its juice, and is probably squishy and gross on the inside. You want one that is very hard and does not give when you press on it. Hard and heavy.
Where do I find good watermelon in Clearwater, Tampa, or St. Pete?
I’ve purchased watermelon from several good places in the Tampa Bay area. But here are some places where I consistently get good watermelon: Costco has great, big heavy watermelons. Aldi usually has pretty good watermelons, too. And Sprouts usually has a wide variety of watermelons throughout the year like. For example, I can only really ever get sugar baby watermelons from Sprouts. Sugar Baby watermelons have a really dark rind and deep-red super sweet flesh! They are normally seeded (this does not bother me) and the flesh is very sweet and delicious. I can usually find yellow watermelons at Sprouts as well. Though they are not as sweet as most red-fleshed varieties, yellow watermelons have an exotic minty flavor.
Seedless Watermelons vs. Seeded Watermelons
Seeded watermelons have those firm, black, or dark-brown, crunchy seeds inside. This may turn some people off, but I don’t mind them. They are totally safe to eat, and I just crunch them up as I chew. It’s also somewhat enjoyable to spit them on the lawn in your backyard on a hot summer day (good childhood memories).
Seedless watermelons are not actually completely seedless. If you look closely, they do have these little pale white, soft seeds. They are really soft, and you probably don’t even notice them when you’re chewing, but they’re in there.
Seedless watermelons are not sweeter or less sweet than seeded watermelons. There are many varieties of watermelons, both, seeded and seedless. And they each have their own different concentration of sugars. So, you can’t judge sweetness by choosing seedless or seeded over the other. An indicator of one being sweeter than another is to actually choose one variety over another. For example, the five sweetest varieties that you will find in grocery stores are Sugar Baby, Crimson Sweet, Charleston Grey, Moon and Stars, and Black Diamond.
Do bees pollinate watermelons?
I’ve heard many people say that you should look for watermelons that have brown or grey lines on the skin, or “bee stings” on the skin and that these are caused by bees pollinating the watermelons. This is factually not true. This urban myth states that bees will find and pollinate the sweetest watermelons.
The fact is that bees will pollinate the flowers on a watermelon plant, and then the pollinated flower will grow and become a watermelon. Bees do not pollenate watermelons. There would be no purpose for them to do so. If you see gray or brown lines or cracks on the watermelon skin, this is likely due to mineral deficiencies caused by poor soil or lack of fertilizer when growing the watermelons.
Should You Wash Watermelon?
It’s always a good idea to wash your watermelons before you cut them open. You don’t know where they’ve been, and in case there are any pesticides on the skin or harmful bacteria, it’s better to be safe than sorry! You can wash them under cold running water in the sink with mild dish soap, or you can at least wipe them down with a wet paper towel or kitchen cloth.
Now that you’re a watermelon expert, go out there and get tapping! You’ll never come home with a bad one again.