When it comes to summer, the date on the calendar doesn't matter — it just doesn't feel like the season has officially arrived until you've snacked on a crisp, ripe, juicy watermelon, right? Watermelons are synonymous with sunshine and warm weather. You can't have one without the other, and we aren't just saying that because May through August is peak watermelon season. Thanks to its refreshing, sugary-sweet taste, you can easily include this fruit in your favorite summer salads, wraps, and desserts. Or you can slice it up and eat it right off the rind. But the tricky part is figuring out how to pick a good watermelon.
You’ve probably heard a lot of old wives’ tales about how to magically know the good watermelons from the bad watermelons — and some of that advice is solid. But there are also probably a few tricks you don’t know.
How to Pick a Good Watermelon
Over on TikTok, Vanessa Andrews, the owner and operator of Andrews Produce on Topsail Island, gave a quick 30-second rundown of exactly what you should look for when picking a watermelon — and it came down to four factors: webbing, pale spots, weight, and bee stings.
She shared her tips with Cook It Erica (@Cookiterica), a popular food content creator on TikTok, and it went viral quickly, tallying over 5.5 million views. And just to back up what she’s saying, we also spoke to plant pathologist Sue Colucci for her best tips, too.
"Watermelons sit on the vine for about 70 to 100 days before they reach peak harvest and are hand-picked by farmers," Colucci, a plant pathologist and seed sales representative at Clifton Seed Company, tells Scary Mommy. "Similar to strawberries, watermelons don't ripen off the vine. So once a watermelon is picked, that's as ripe as it's going to get."
In other words, you can't place a watermelon in a paper bag and hope it ripens like you would an avocado or apricot. This also means a picked watermelon won't develop any more sugar. Because the watermelons at the grocery store are already ripe, picking a good watermelon is actually easy peasy. All it comes down to is physical appearance, weight, and whether or not the watermelon has a ground spot.
Grocery shopping with the kids can go one of two ways. If you want it to go the good way, the search for the perfect watermelon can be a fun and interactive distraction to keep them from slipping junk food into the cart (we see you, sneakers!). Keep reading for expert tips and tricks on picking a good watermelon. Plus, how to tell when the watermelon is drying out.
Step 1: Look for lots of webbing.
“First of all, we look for webbing,” Andrews begins. “It’s a sweet watermelon if it’s got some webbing to it.”
The webbing is the raised, brown marks that you can find on some melons. The more the better! If it has larger webbing, it's definitely sweeter, but if it's smaller webbing, it has less flavor and is probably bland. And if your watermelon has a shiny look, it's not ready yet.
Step 2: Consider the melon’s coloring and shine.
Next, you want to check the coloring.
“A big yellow or white spot on the bottom — that’s another good sign,” Andrews continues.
She’s referencing the watermelon’s ground spot — the spot where the melon was in contact with the dirt. And if it doesn’t have a good one, it could have been picked too early or not gotten enough time in the sun.
In other words, while all-green watermelons are pretty, they may not taste as sweet as they look.
"If a watermelon is all green, that could be a sign it was harvested too early," Colucci says. "The nice, creamy yellow spot on a watermelon indicates where the watermelon sat on the ground. The area turns yellow because it wasn't directly exposed to the sun." A round and heavy watermelon with a yellow spot should be perfectly ripe. Don't worry if the watermelon's stem is still attached, as the farmer could have just missed it. The color of a watermelon's stripes doesn't matter either.
Keep in mind that if your watermelon is dark and dull, it's ripe and ready to eat. Remember, bigger doesn't always mean better because longer watermelons are usually very watery — unless that's what you prefer.
Step 3: Scan for imperfections.
While you look for good things like webbing and ground spots, you want to look for any signs of injury, deformity, or rot, too.
"As with all produce, you want to ensure the watermelon is free of bruises, soft spots, and gashes that could have happened en route to the grocery store," Colucci explains.
Watermelons that were accidentally dropped or mishandled during transportation and delivery could have cuts or mushy indents, so be on the lookout for those. A good watermelon will be round and symmetrical with no deformities.
Step 4: Check the watermelon’s weight.
“Is it heavy? Does it feel heavy? Good sign,” Andrews says.
"Watermelon is 92% water, so a watermelon that feels heavier than it looks is a pretty strong indicator that you've picked a good one!" Colucci agrees.
Take the watermelon for a spin — lift it, hold it, fist pump it, and compare it to its neighbors. These things shouldn't come totally effortlessly; watermelons are supposed to feel heavy.
Step 5: Search for bee stings.
Finally, there’s one that you might not have heard about: tiny pinpricks in the rind.
“It looks like someone took a little nail or a little needle,” she said, taking a very close look at the fruit. “That’s bees, trying to get in there. And it’s a good sign.”
Bees are always on the lookout for sweet things, and if they’re attacking a watermelon, it means that it smells sweet enough to spend time on.
Step 6: Smell it for sweetness.
It’s not as easy to tell a good watermelon from smell as it might be for other thin-skinned fruits like peaches. But it can still give you helpful information — an underripe watermelon might not smell like anything, while a ripe watermelon might smell just slightly sweet. An overripe or rotting watermelon may smell foul.
Unproven Watermelon Ripeness Techniques
The experts have told us their best strategies for selecting a good watermelon and explained each once. But what about the common tricks you might have heard that aren’t listed above?
Tapping the Watermelon
Some people tap their watermelon to see if it gives off a hollow sound. The thought behind this is that a hollow sound means it’s more full of water. But there’s not really any evidence to back this up.
Looking at the Stem
Some say that a green stem is bad and a brown stem is good. Others say that you should look for the absence of a stem altogether. But the truth is, examining the stem isn’t going to get you as far as the five steps above.
How to Tell if a Watermelon Is Bad
Between summer camp schedules and pool playdates, summer days go by fast — and before you know it, the sliced watermelon has sat in the fridge untouched for a week. Watermelon (whole and sliced) should be eaten as soon as possible for best taste. If you're nervous that the watermelon is approaching its expiration date, inspect its flesh (the red part of the fruit).
You shouldn't eat a watermelon if the inside seems more slimy than juicy. If the color appears strange or has a foul-smelling or tangy odor, it shouldn't be going in your fruit salad. Check for a clean, fresh smell. When you crack open your melon, it should be a deep pink/reddish color instead of having a gritty look.
According to Colucci, its texture should be crisp, not hard, soft, or mushy. If the watermelon isn't holding its shape, or it's beginning to look watery and the flesh is translucent, that could also mean it's going bad. A wilting or dry rind could be yet another sign that the watermelon is aging.
However, that doesn't mean you have to toss it. "The cool thing about watermelon is that every part of it can be used," says Colucci. If the watermelon has passed its "snacking" stage, you can visit https://www.watermelon.org/ for recipe ideas and tutorials on what to do with its flesh, juice, and rind.
Sue Colucci, plant pathologist and seed sales representative at Clifton Seed Company
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