10 Refreshing Facts About Watermelon

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iStock

August 3 is National Watermelon Day, and throughout summer, the backyard mainstay is added to drinks and served as dessert at barbecues across the country. Here are some tasty facts about this colorful, summertime treat.

1. WATERMELONS ARE BOTH A FRUIT AND A VEGETABLE.

Thanks to their sweet taste, watermelons are most commonly considered a fruit. And they do grow like fruit, originating from flowers that have been pollinated by bees, and, from a botanical perspective, they're fruits because they contain seeds. But many gardeners think of them as vegetables, since they grow them in their gardens alongside other summer veggies like peas and corn. Not to mention, watermelon is classified as part of a botanical family of gourds that includes other culinary vegetables like cucumber, squash, and pumpkin.

2. YOU CAN EAT THE ENTIRE FRUIT.

While we tend to focus on the melon’s succulent flesh, watermelon rinds are also edible—as well as full of nutrients with surprising health benefits. In China, the rinds are often stir-fried or stewed, while in the South, cooks like to pickle them. And, across the Middle East and China, the seeds are dried and roasted (similar to pumpkin seeds) to make for a light, easy snack.

3. THEY’RE CALLED WATERMELONS FOR A REASON.

They’re 92 percent water, making them a perfect refresher for those hot summer months.

4. THEY COME IN 1200 DIFFERENT VARIETIES.

To make classification a little easier, however, watermelons tend to be grouped into four main categories: seeded (or picnic), seedless, icebox (also known as mini, or personal size) and yellow/orange. One of the most popular varieties is the Crimson Sweet, a seeded melon with deep red, sweet flesh. Some of the more unusual varieties include the Golden Midget, whose rind turns yellow when it's ripe, and the Cream of Saskatchewan, whose flesh is cream-colored.

5. THE SEEDLESS ONES ARE NOT GENETICALLY ENGINEERED.

A pile of watermelons
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Contrary to what you might have heard, seedless watermelons are the result of hybridization, a perfectly natural phenomenon that farmers can nevertheless capitalize on. A couple of decades ago, seedless watermelons were hard to find, but today they make up around 85 percent of those sold in the U.S. And those white “seeds” that you still find in your seedless slices? They’re actually empty seed coats and are perfectly safe to eat.

6. WATERMELONS CAN GROW TO BE REALLY, REALLY BIG.

The heaviest watermelon to date was grown by Guinness World Record holder Chris Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. A Carolina Cross, it weighed in at 350.5 pounds. To give you some perspective, that’s the equivalent of an NFL lineman.

7. WATERMELONS CAN HELP PREVENT CANCER.

Watermelons are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancers, including prostate, lung, and stomach.

8. FARMERS IN JAPAN HAVE PERFECTED THE ART OF GROWING THEM IN ODD SHAPES.

A cube-shaped watermelon
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In Japan, farmers have been growing cube-shaped watermelons for the past 40 years, forcing them into their square shape by cultivating them in box-like braces. When the watermelon fills the cube and gets picked, it's generally not ripe yet, meaning the inedible melons are sold—for prices upwards of $100—as novelty items and gifts. (The original idea was for them to better fit into standard refrigerators.) More recently, farmers have grown watermelon in the shape of hearts—these particular melons taste as sweet as they look—as well as pyramids and human faces.

9. ONE SOUTH CAROLINA FAMILY KEPT AN HEIRLOOM VARIETY ALIVE FOR ALMOST 100 YEARS.

The unusually sweet Bradford—created by Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford in Sumter County, South Carolina, in the 1840s—was one of the most sought-after varieties of watermelon the South has ever seen. But its soft skin made it hard to transport, and by the early 1920s it had proved to be commercially unviable. It would have disappeared completely had the Bradford family not kept it alive in their backyard gardens for multiple generations. It’s now being grown commercially again by Nat Bradford, Nathaniel’s great-great-great grandson.

10. THEY’RE THE OFFICIAL STATE VEGETABLE OF OKLAHOMA.

In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate honored its then-14th biggest crop by voting 44–2 to make it the state vegetable. (Why not fruit? That distinction was already given to the strawberry.) Its celebrated status was threatened in 2015, however, when State Senator Nathan Dahm moved to repeal the bill based on the argument that watermelon is a fruit. Thankfully for Oklahoma’s Rush Springs, home to an annual watermelon festival and the original bill’s sponsor, then-State Representative Joe Dorman, Dahm’s bill died in committee.

12 Strange-But-Real Ice Cream Flavors

ipekata/iStock via Getty Images
ipekata/iStock via Getty Images

I scream, you scream, we all scream for … horse flesh ice cream? Okay, so maybe “we all" don’t. But some people do. A lot of people, in fact. Lobster, foie gras, and ghost pepper, too. Next time you’re craving an ice-cold cone, why not step out of your vanilla/chocolate comfort zone to try one of these 12 strange-but-real ice cream flavors.

1. Horse Flesh

There are two dozen attractions within Tokyo’s indoor amusement park, Namja Town, but it would be easy to spend all of your time there pondering the many out-there flavors at Ice Cream City, where Raw Horse Flesh, Cow Tongue, Salt, Yakisoba, Octopus, and Squid are among the flavors that have tickled (or strangled) visitors' taste buds.

2. Pickled Mango

As one of the country’s most decorated ice cream makers, Jeni Britton Bauer—proprietor of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams—is constantly pushing the boundaries of unique treats, as evidenced by her lineup of limited edition flavors, including last summer's Pickled Mango (a cream cheese-based ice cream with a slightly spicy mango sauce made of white balsamic vinegar, white pepper, allspice, and clove) and this year's Goat Cheese With Red Cherries.

3. Corn on the Cob

Since opening Max & Mina’s in Queens, New York in 1998, brothers/owners Bruce and Mark Becker have created more than 5000 one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors, many of them adapted from their grandfather’s original recipes. Daily flavor experiments mean that the menu is ever-changing, but Corn on the Cob (a summer favorite), Horseradish, Garlic, Pizza, Lox, and Jalapeño have all made the lineup.

4. Foie Gras

New York City's OddFellows takes the "odd" in its name seriously, and has become synonymous with experimental flavors. Since opening their doors in 2013, they've concocted more than 300 different kinds of the cold stuff—including a Foie Gras varietal.

5. Pear and Blue Cheese

“Salty-sweet” is the preferred palette at Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw, where sugar and spice blend together nicely with flavors like Strawberry Honey Balsamic Strawberry With Cracked Pepper and Pear With Blue Cheese, a well-balanced mix of sweet Oregon Trail Bartlett Pears mixed with crumbles of Rogue Creamery's award-winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese. Yum?

6. Ghost Pepper

“Traditional” isn’t the word you’d choose to describe any of the 100 ice cream varieties at The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They don’t have vanilla, they have African Vanilla or Madagascar Vanilla Bean. But things only get wilder from there, and the shop’s proprietors clearly have a penchant for the spicy stuff. In addition to their Devil's Breath Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream—a bright red vanilla ice cream mixed with cinnamon and a Carolina Reaper pepper mash—there's also the classic Ghost Pepper Ice Cream, which was featured in a Ripley's Believe It or Not book in 2016. Just be warned: you'll have to sign a waiver if you plan to order either flavor.

7. Bourbon and Corn Flake

You never know exactly which flavors will appear as part of the daily-changing lineup at San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe, but they always make room for the signature Secret Breakfast. Made with bourbon and Corn Flakes, you’d better get there early if you want to try it; it sells out quickly and on a daily basis.

8. Fig and Fresh Brown Turkey

The sweet-toothed scientists at New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato have never met a flavor they didn’t like—or want to turn into an ice cream. How else would one explain the popularity of their Fig & Fresh Brown Turkey gelato, a popular selection among the hundreds flavors they have created thus far. (Beet and Cucumber are just two of their other fascinating flavors.)

9. Lobster

Don’t let the “chocolate” in the title fool you: Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine makes the most of The Pine Tree State’s most famous delicacy with its signature Lobster Ice Cream, a butter ice cream-based treat with fresh (again buttered) lobster folded into each bite.

10. Creole Tomato

The philosophy at New Orleans’ Creole Creamery is simple: “Eat ice cream. Be happy.” What’s not as easy is choosing from among their dozens of rotating ice creams, sorbets, sherbets and ices. But only the most daring of diners might want to swap out a sweet indulgence for something that sounds more like a salad, as it the case with the Creole Tomato.

11. Eskimo Ice Cream

If you happen to find yourself in an ice cream shop in Juneau, remember this: Eskimo ice cream—also known as Akutag—is not the same thing as an Eskimo Pie, that chocolate-covered ice cream bar you’ll find in just about any grocery store. Though the statewide delicacy has usually got enough fresh berries mixed in to satisfy one’s sweet tooth, its base is actually animal fat (reindeer, caribou, possibly even whale).

12. Cheetos

Big Gay Ice Cream started out as an experimental ice cream truck and morphed into one of New York City’s most swoon-worthy ice cream shops, where the toppings make for an inimitable indulgence. One of their most unique culinary inventions? A Cheetos-inspired cone, where vanilla and cheese ice cream is dipped in Cheetos dust.

Why Do People Get Ice Cream Headaches?

CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus
CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus

Reader Susann writes in to ask, "What exactly is the cause of brain freeze?"

You may know an ice cream headache by one of its other names: brain freeze, a cold-stimulus headache, or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ("nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion"). But no matter what you call it, it hurts like hell.

Brain freeze is brought on by the speedy consumption of cold beverages or food. According to Dr. Joseph Hulihan—a principal at Paradigm Neuroscience and former associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Temple University Health Sciences Center, ice cream is a very common cause of head pain, with about one third of a randomly selected population succumbing to ice cream headaches.

What Causes That Pain?

As far back as the late 1960s, researchers pinned the blame on the same vascular mechanisms—rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels—that were responsible for the aura and pulsatile pain phases of migraine headaches. When something cold like ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, there is a rapid cooling of the blood vessels there, causing them to constrict. When the blood vessels warm up again, they experience rebound dilation. The dilation is sensed by pain receptors and pain signals are sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. This nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve, the fifth nerve, or just V) is responsible for sensation in the face, so when the pain signals are received, the brain often interprets them as coming from the forehead and we perceive a headache.

With brain freeze, we're perceiving pain in an area of the body that's at a distance from the site of the actual injury or reception of painful stimulus. This is a quirk of the body known as referred pain, and it's the reason people often feel pain in their neck, shoulders, and/or back instead of their chest during a heart attack.

To prevent brain freeze, try the following:

• Slow down. Eating or drinking cold food slowly allows one's mouth to get used to the temperature.

• Hold cold food or drink in the front part of your mouth and allow it to warm up before swallowing.

• Head north. Brain freeze requires a warm ambient temperature to occur, so it's almost impossible for it to happen if you're already cold.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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