WATERMELON: A FRUIT OR A VEGETABLE?

October 15th, 2009 by The Watermelon Guy

I know many of you are probably thinking, “Duh, it’s a fruit!”, but you might be surprised to learn that many people classify it as a vegetable. Just ask the folks in Oklahoma, where watermelon is the official state vegetable. Being the fact finder that I am, I did some digging to get to the bottom of this dilemma.

Something that tastes that sweet and delicious has to be a fruit, right?

Actually, no, but we’ll get back to that later. The distinction between fruit and vegetable goes beyond our taste buds and often has more to do with specific botanical classifications.

But it’s a type of melon, and other melons, like honeydew melons and cantaloupes, are fruits, so doesn’t that make the watermelon a fruit?

It’s true that watermelon and other melons like the honeydew and cantaloupe (which are fruits) are in the Cucurbitaceae family, but the watermelon is in the Citrullus genus, which is an important distinction between the two types of produce.

dictionary1This is a lot of scientific stuff. What’s the technical definition of a “fruit”?

Good question. The dictionary defines “fruit” as “the ripened ovary (pistil) of a seed plant and its contents which includes the seeds.” This includes things like apples, oranges and cherries. These are ripened ovaries that include seeds of the plant that bore them. A broader definition of a fruit is anything that contains seeds.

Just like watermelons! Problem solved!

Not quite. Under that definition, squash and green beans are fruits, even though most people would consider them vegetables. And don’t bother reading the definition of a “vegetable” because you won’t find much clarification there.

Great. So what’s the definition of a “vegetable?”

Our vague friend, the dictionary, defines vegetable as “anything made or obtained from plants.” Basically, that means all fruits are also vegetables.

So much for consulting the dictionary for clarification. Who makes these rules and why are they trying to confuse us?

The “rules” over what is or is not a vegetable are not set in stone and are often open to subjective interpretation. In many cases, the distinction is made based on how the produce is used and how it tastes. This is referred to as a culinary distinction.

For example, using culinary distinctions (related to our first question about taste), things that are low in fructose (i.e. sugar) and have a savory taste are considered vegetables, and things that are sweeter are considered fruits. To further clarify the vegetable family, most people consider vegetables to be the leaves, stems, stalks and roots of certain plants, which helps to define why celery, carrots, lettuce and onions are all, unequivocally, vegetables.

deerSo, from a culinary perspective, sweet things are fruits and not-sweet things are vegetables?

Essentially. Not to get sidetracked, but the fact that fruits have seeds (botanically speaking) and are sweet (culinarily speaking) is an important part of the biological process. The sweet aspect of fruit encourages many animals to eat it, and when they relieve themselves later, they spread the seeds along with some built-in fertilizer.

Yum.

That’s what the deer said when he discovered the apple orchard. And not to throw you a curveball, but it should also be noted that some things can be both fruits and vegetables.

That doesn’t sound quite right.

It’s true. Bell peppers and tomatoes are considered vegetables because they’re savory and low in fructose, even though they have seeds, which technically makes them fruits.

In a botanical or scientific sense, pumpkins, cucumbers and squash are all fruits because they have seeds. However, in a culinary sense, these items are all vegetables. Therefore, they’re both!

They’re fregetables?

You can call them that if you want, but people might look at you funny.

In some cases, the distinction between fruit and vegetable has even been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, as in the 1893 case of Nix v. Hedden. Under U.S. tariff laws back then, imported vegetables were taxed, but imported fruit was not. It wasn’t long before a few angry tomato importers (Nix) got tired of paying taxes on what was, botanically, a fruit and took their case to court. The high court eventually ruled in favor of the tax collector (Hedden) and classified the tomato as a vegetable… at least for tax purposes.

harvestIt always comes down to money, doesn’t it? So is that why watermelons are considered vegetables?

No. Some of the distinction comes from the USDA, which decided that since watermelon is planted from seeds, harvested and then cleared from the field like other vegetables, then it should be classified as a vegetable. The USDA strengthened this position by pointing out that watermelon is grown as a vegetable crop using vegetable production systems, but I won’t get into those details here.

And so, the mystery over whether watermelon is a fruit or a vegetable is solved!

If you say so.

Actually, the USDA says so, and they’re a pretty smart group of people. The bottom line is this: The difference between fruits and vegetables often overlap and, in many cases, come down to cultural distinctions. And no matter what you call it, nothing changes the fact that watermelon is one of the best things Mother Nature ever produced.

At least we agree on something!

Tags: , ,
Posted in General | 24 Comments »

HOW TO MAKE A WATERMELON BASKET

July 22nd, 2009 by The Watermelon Guy

I sat down the other day and, just for the heck of it I attempted to carve a watermelon basket. I’d seen them before, cut so intricately and carrying a bounty of cubed watermelon and other fruits, and I’m happy to report, it turned out better than I thought. Here’s a step-by-step guide with photos I took from my own efforts.

.

basket-start-small

Here’s the obvious starting point. I chose a nice sized, oblong watermelon for my basket with at least one good, unblemished side (the other side would be cut away later) and a flattish bottom to make it stable after it was created. I actually took several watermelons out of the bin at the grocery store, laid them on the floor and studied their stability before choosing just the right one. Other shoppers must have thought I was a little crazy.

.

basket-first-cuts-small

At home, after forming an idea in my head of what I wanted the finished product to look like, I made my first cuts. Two big 90-degree chunks taken out of each side (a little uneven and slanted on the left, but it doesn’t have to look perfect). It almost looks complete, doesn’t it? The standard watermelon basket is half cut-away basket with an intact handle. Some are more intricate and may require you to draw a design on your watermelon with a washable or erasable marker, but I didn’t do that.

.

basket-hollow-small

Next, I scooped out all the insides, down to the rind. Keep what you scoop out because you’ll need it later to fill the watermelon back up. You may want to use a melon ball scooper to make nice round watermelon pieces for your filling or you may just choose to cube it. I chose to cube my filling because I thought the squares created a nice contrast to the round watermelon basket. Yeah, I put a lot of thought into this.

.

basket-handle-pattern-small

Finally, you can cut shapes into your edges (optional, but it looks nice). I went with the standard jagged edge design, but you can do other things like rounded edges or wave-shaped edges. You can also make different edges and designs in the handle. By the way, I don’t recommend actually picking up your basket by the handle. It’s not very strong, although I test mine nervously for a few seconds and it didn’t break under the pressure, even when full or fruit.

.

basket-finished-small

Now the fun part (besides eating it). I filled my basket with balls of watermelon, cantaloupe, maraschino cherries and banana. It was devoured by hungry family and friends a short while later.

Tags: , ,
Posted in General | 4 Comments »