Watermelons might appear just a regular summer produce found in abundance, but they are much more beyond a thirst quencher. This fruit's origin takes us back to Egypt, where it is said to appear 5000 years back. It wasn't just random edible stuff but was cultivated for water and aesthetic beauty. Even the Egyptian Pharos' tomb used to contain watermelons. As you take a bite of this hydrating fruit, try to strike a chord with its history.
The beginning of summer in India ushers in a plethora of green hues, which can be seen all over the fruit stalls and sidewalks. Sometimes a jade green colour announces its presence, and other times elegant stripes of pastel greens captivate the eye of everybody who enjoys summer fruits. As I'm sure, you can all imagine, watermelon is the topic at hand. Watermelons are a delicious natural wonder that, although often overshadowed by the unparalleled renown of the King of Fruit, AKA mango, has a history that may make one fall head over heels for this luscious masterpiece of nature. Do you know that over 5,000 years ago, in Egypt, the first watermelon harvest was documented? It was cultivated and prized for its aesthetic value and delicious flavour. It's hardly an exaggeration to say that watermelons were of such significance that even the Pharaohs kept supplies of them in their tombs. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Stay tuned as this story unveils many chapters of Watermelon's history.
Name and Family
Cucumber, melon, pumpkin, and squash come from the same family, Cucurbitaceae, as does watermelon. The USP of watermelons is that they can flourish in various climates and soil types because of their versatility and adaptability. Heat is all a watermelon needs, and the hotter it is, the better. In the early centuries CE, the watermelon was known by several other names, including the Greek word pepon, the Latin word pepo, and the Hebrew word avattiah. In 1615, the term "watermelon" had its debut in the English language.
Origin in Egypt: 5000-year-old
Watermelon seeds have been discovered in Africa's northeast that date back 5,000 years. There are a few records that testify to it. An Egyptian tomb depicting a huge, striped, rectangular fruit on a platter goes back at least 4000 years. Numerous sightings of wild, primitive watermelons have been reported from Sudan and the countries to its northeast.
Time travel of watermelons across the globe
The journey of watermelons in most recorded accounts suggests that they were initially planted in Egypt, and from there, they spread across the Middle East and the rest of the world. It was likely taken to India from Egypt in prehistoric times.
Historical narratives suggest that between the years 1000 and 1200, it made its way from India to China. From here, watermelons quickly spread throughout the region, reaching Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Australia. The subtropical climates of Japan, Taiwan, and Florida proved ideal for this vine's growth. But it is strange to know that vegetable status has been given to the fruit in Taiwan and Thailand.
Along with African slaves, the United States gained their cherished watermelon. A minority of historians, however, place watermelons' genesis in the Americas.
Cultivation as the Water source
Watermelons are legit to get the moniker. There are mentions of narratives that they were cultivated for water and food in northern Africa. The sweet dessert watermelons evolved in Mediterranean areas around 2000 years ago, according to the evidence.
Watermelons' debut in India and gradual progress
The fourth century AD saw the introduction of the watermelon to India. According to the Susruta Samhita, written by the famous Indian physician and surgeon Susruta, watermelons were grown on the Indus River's banks. A kalinda or kalinga is what he christened the fruit.
A watermelon with yellow flesh, Image Source: Shutterstock
Watermelons are cultivated in several regions of India. About 30 commercial kinds are produced in India; a few of them have enticingly unusual names like New Hampshire midget, Madhuri 64, black magic, sugar baby, Noorjehani, Anarkali, Sharbat-e-Anar, etc. Some cultivars are even given place names close to where they are harvested. The American sugar baby is highly well-liked in Maharashtra. In West Bengal, the Japanese Asahi Yamato cultivar is popular. Indian scientists in the field of agriculture have created a new, experimental seedless species they've named Pusa Bedana.
Fun facts about watermelons
Mark Twain, a fan of the fruit, said, "When one has tasted watermelon, he knows what the angels eat." Although round is the most common shape for watermelons, elongated and even cylindrical variations exist. The American variant Charlston Gray is a cylinder with rounded ends. This shape facilitates shipping since they do not roll or burst open when handled, unlike their round and elliptical counterparts. The beta-carotene content in pink-fleshed watermelons is much higher than that of their yellow-fleshed counterparts. If you're invited to someone's home in China or Japan, watermelon makes a great present. Japanese scientists created the first seedless watermelon. While most people would agree that seedless watermelons are preferable to those with many black seeds, individuals who live in the Kalahari region regard the black seeds as a delicacy that may be roasted and ground into a nutty source of nourishment. Farmers in Japan have also created cube-shaped watermelons. A farmer came up with the concept of growing cube-shaped watermelons to be more readily transported and stored. They spend their formative period contained within cubed glasses. US farms may produce watermelons up to 20 kilograms in weight. Bill Carson of Arrington, USA, raised the heaviest watermelon in 1990, weighing in at 119 kilograms, as documented in the 1998 edition of The Guinness Book of World Records.
With the advent of advanced research facilities and techniques, several studies are on tracing the evolutionary links between wild and primitive watermelons native to northern Africa and their contemporary, sweet dessert counterparts and other Citrullus species.