Selecting Fruit

Industry Insider's Trade Secrets to Choosing the Best Watermelon at the Market

Thwatermelon cutoutCredit: D.R.Lifee journey of enjoying watermelon is an adventurous one. You might find the best melon you have ever tasted. Then find your excitement give way to a sizzle as you cut into a dud after returning to the same retailer, or watermelon man. This is the point at which the journey actually begins. 

Watermelon has the exclusive privilege of being one of those foods that is both highly regarded nutritionally and beloved globally. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service, (USDA ERS), the average American consumes about 27 lbs. of melons annually. This includes watermelon, cantaloupe, and honeydew. In each year over the last decade, the U.S. harvested over 200,000 acres of melons. This accounted for over 6.0 billion pounds of melons, valued at over $800 million over a ten-year period. In 2012, U.S.  watermelon production ranked sixth, followed by Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Iran, and China. The largest importers in that year were the U.S., Canada, and Europe. Additionally, watermelon is grown in over 96 countries worldwide.

Watermelon is Always in Season Somewhere

The first thing to keep in mind when shopping for watermelon is that your retailer's product is contingent on what is available on the market. Melons are essentially sourced from geographical locations where they are in season, and based on the retailer's locale. This is subject to change throughout the year, and influences pricing. Throughout the United States, watermelon is generally in season April through November, and imported from Mexico, Central, and South America December through March. Of the potential choice on hand, knowing how to go about to pick a watermelon can empower shoppers and lend a sense of context to the course the fruit must take long before it's arrival at the retail destination. 

Eye Appeal

The 100% accuracy rated method of determining  if a watermelon is good is to cut it open and eat it. Let these words guide you in the process of choosing your watermelon. When selecting any fruit, it first must appeal to your visual sense. Weather the melon is a dark green or a lighter shade may not always be an exact sign of quality and taste. Look closely at the stem. This feature was the connection point of the fruit to the earth. It's the point that connects the fruit to the vine. Turn the melon over and notice the medium to large whitish yellow or yellow spot usually present. This is the underbelly, where the watermelon sits on the ground in the watermelon field as it matures. Also notice the small mark in the area opposing the stem, at the opposite end, referred to as the blossom end. Most fruits contain some of these characteristics.


The Stem

  watermelon stemCredit:

The stem can give some inkling of when it's cut from the vine. A greener, fuller stem will signal a recent harvest, within a week. A brownish dried stem may infer the harvest took place a week to two weeks earlier. Many grocery stores display melons with stems cut. You can still pick up information by looking at the area around the stem. I have yet to find a melon that is not sweet that reveals a drizzle or droplet of dried sugar, visible after it has dried as it trickled from the stem.  


There is much confusion surrounding the process of choosing a watermelon based on the sound. Some call it "thumping" the melon. You can give it a quick smack, tap or flick of the finger. Ultimately, the sound you want to hear is comparable to the tone that would be audible if you were knocking on hollowed wood. If you have ever struck a bongo drum you will be more inclined to pick up this tone. What you do not want to hear is analogous to the sound made by patting or smacking your stomach. Narrowing down the perceptible difference in tone can ultimately be your best indicator of a good melon. I have found this a precise measure 98% of the time.

Preventive Measures

It is a good idea to check for soft spots around the stem and opposing side. Soft spots on the body of the melon can result from the positioning of the melon while being transported on the load or in the storage bin. An overripe melon may also be detected by scent. If a faint, slightly fermented smell is present in a bin of watermelons, you can generally assume there is an overripe melon in there somewhere. Also look for any holes or cuts that might be more than just surface markings.

Transporting and Storing

Shopping for the watermelon is only part of the process. When transporting, always make sure the melon sits in a spot where it does not move or roll. Motion will turn the inside of the melon into the texture of slush. Exposure to extreme temperatures can also adversely impact the quality. Direct sunlight is powerful enough to heat a watermelon so it is best to cover with a cloth or tarp if transporting under direct sunlight. Store melons in a dry area away from extreme temperatures, and limit exposure to the sun.

Cutting into Your Melon

When you cut into the best of melons, they will split almost at the pressing of the knife.  Typically you will find a rind that is between 1/4 inch-1/2 inch thick. The Crimson Sweet varieties are generally known to have a thicker rind than the Jubilee or Sangria. These three are common varieties that you can find at major retailers and markets throughout the United States.

Eating too much watermelon at once can cause bloating. In my own experiences,  I have observed that drinking the juice of the melon is more easily digestible. Juicing with a blender or cold press juicer will retain the essential vitamins and minerals contained within the fruit. It's a little known secret that the rind has more nutritional benefits in addition to those contained in the meat of the melon. Watermelon contains 70% watermelon meat, and 30% rind. For an average 20 lb. melon, this equates to 14 lbs. of watermelon meat, and 6 lbs. of rind and it is essentially 100% edible.

Additional Words of Wisdom

Should you find yourself faced with another disappointing watermelon, assess whether the melon is salvageablewatermelon displayCredit: Ntional Watermelon Promotion Board . If it is and you have a blender in your possession, cut the melon into segments and make yourself a nutritious beverage. If you are unable to work with the melon,  and you're too far down the road to return to the retailer or vendor you bought it from, discard it appropriately. More importantly, you have the benefit of your experience  and much more watermelon picking to do.