by Micky Ellenbecker, Purchasing Assistant
When given a choice between a seeded vs. seedless watermelon, many people will opt for the seedless. Seeds are generally considered annoying and messy and make you feel like you’re bringing rude behavior to the kitchen table with all that spitting. However, there’s been a resurgence for the desire of seeded fruits, and watermelon seems to be one of the trend leaders. The driving force behind the demand for seeds are vitamins, minerals, fats and proteins that have been pushed aside by eliminating the seeds. But I wanted to compare the two options, so I talked with the Co-op’s long-standing expert watermelon grower, Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce, to help me hash it all out.
As I mentioned above, watermelon seeds have nutritional value. They are a good source of magnesium, phosphorus, copper, and zinc and also contain B vitamins, essential fatty acids, and amino acids. The capacity in which you consume the seeds will certainly affect how much you absorb from them though. Like most seeds, you’ll maximize your nutrient load by saving and sprouting the seeds (I know, I know, this sounds intense, but might be worth trying it just for the experience) or you can just chew them. If you swallow them whole they’re likely to pass through you without much nutrient benefit at all.
Does this make a seedless watermelon inferior, and how is it grown?
The flesh of the fruit (and the rind for that matter) is also nutritious, so both seeded and seedless still have great health benefits. Watermelon is a good source of potassium and is 91% water making it great for hydration. The red color of the flesh comes from the antioxidant lycopene, and watermelon has the highest levels of any other fruit or vegetable. Lycopene has a range of health benefits including protection against sunburn and particular types of cancer. There is also research showing that the amino acid citrulline, which watermelon is one of the best sources for, supports good cardiovascular health and reduces blood pressure. It’s also a source of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin B6.
Seedless watermelon is not a genetically modified food; it is a result of cross-breeding. The male pollen of a watermelon, containing 22 chromosomes, is crossed with the female watermelon flower, which has been chemically altered to contain 44 chromosomes. The result is a watermelon with 33 chromosomes, and the tiny white seed husks don’t mature into fertile seeds and therefore is sterile. Another example often used to illustrate this point is cross-breeding a horse with a donkey to produce a sterile mule.
Does one taste better than the other?
Some people are dedicated followers to seeded or seedless solely based on flavor, but I think most can agree that they’ve had good and not-so-good versions of just about any kind of fruit. I will make the argument that it has a lot more to do with an item being in peak season and grown on healthy soils by an experienced farmer that knows their varieties.
Enter watermelon super-farmer, Steve Pincus of Tipi Produce. In the eyes of the Produce staff here at the Co-op, there is no better expert to talk to about watermelon. Steve has been growing watermelon for at least 40 years and has been selling it to the Co-op for about 30 years. Steve recently described the Tipi/Co-op relationship as such: “We’re like an old married couple; steady, productive, and still in love.” He personally hand-picks each watermelon that leaves his fields (with the support of a crew to wash and pack them as they go) and aims for ideal ripeness. I have always enjoyed watermelon, but it wasn’t until I started eating watermelon from Steve’s farm that I became watermelon-obsessed. Now I pretty much only eat it when he has it available, and I eat a lot of it.
Watermelon, and pretty much all other food, is only as nutritious as the soil it is grown in, and our local organic farmers are constantly working to build soil health. Healthy soil is the key to healthy plants and resiliency, and as long as the weather doesn’t throw a wrench in things, also great-tasting food. Steve and his wife, Beth, have been farming organically on their current farm since 2002, and they’ve been building up soil health ever since, with noticeable improvements year after year. He has invested a lot into his soils, including compost, mineral and soil amendments, cover crops, and organic matter from his own property, such as leaves.
Why does Steve grow seeded watermelon?
Well, the truth is he grows mostly seeded watermelon, but dabbles in small quantities of seedless to remain informed. When he first started farming, seedless watermelon varieties were bland and didn’t hold a candle to the flavor and sweetness of seeded varieties. Today all the breeding research is going into seedless varieties and there are almost no new seeded varieties being released onto the market. Steve acknowledges the breeding has greatly improved in the last 10 to 15 years and there are good seedless varieties available now, but he sees the high demand for seedless a bit differently at this point. By growing the older seeded varieties that are less prevalent, he has a more unique product to offer. And with his decades of experience and his continued dedication to healthy soil, you can be confident that you’re getting both a nutritious and delicious watermelon.
In honor of Eat Local Month here at the Co-op, Steve’s red watermelons will be on sale for Owners for 49¢/lb September 2 through September 8. Eat to your heart’s content! I know I will!