Produce Pete: Make Way for Seedless Watermelon This July

Everything you ever needed to know about watermelon—including how to store them, some fun facts and a salad recipe.

Produce Pete
Produce Pete offers tips on picking a ripe watermelon during a recent segment of "NBC Weekend Today in New York" taped from his home. Photo courtesy of Pete Napolitano/NBC

Watermelon is a quintessential sign of summer and always brings back memories of my childhood (which was a very long time ago!). Years ago in Bergen County, where I grew up, my family used to peddle produce door-to-door—a time when the supermarkets came to you. In those days, we used to have what were called “straight loads,” which most of the time were watermelons.

Back then, watermelons were usually sold whole, never cut, unless you “plugged” them, which is when you make a triangle cut into the watermelon, then pull that piece out to see if the watermelon is ripe (red, juicy and with a thin rind is what you’re looking for). In those years, everybody bought whole watermelons because they had big families. As the seedless variety began to get more popular, the cutting of watermelon also became the thing to do. Now watermelons are mostly sold by the piece.

Summertime or year-round, there’s nothing better than a good ripe watermelon. The seedless variety didn’t come about overnight or even over the span of a few growing seasons—it took years and years of hybridization to get rid of those seeds. The result, however, is truly amazing to behold and even more amazing to taste, as the seedless watermelon is sweeter and crunchier than its predecessor, with a nice thin rind. Seedless watermelons have since become the standard and now account for 85 percent of the watermelons sold in the United States.


Watermelon is among the best sources of lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that not only helps prevent cancer and heart disease, but also protects the skin from UV damage from the sun. Photo courtesy of Susan Bloom

All About Watermelon

Watermelons originated in Africa and are actually edible gourds that are related to cucumbers, squash and pumpkins. Today, 75 percent of the watermelon crop is produced in June-August (often sourced from Florida, Georgia, California, Texas and locally during the spring and summer). They’re also available during the winter (imported from Mexico and Central America), though they’re more expensive and in limited supply during the colder months. As with most fruits, I recommend that people buy watermelons when the domestic crop is in season.

Sweet and refreshing, watermelon is also a nutritional powerhouse. Offering 15-20 mg of lycopene in a serving, watermelon contains among the highest concentrations of lycopene of any fresh produce (even more than raw tomatoes). The redder the watermelon, the more lycopene it contains. A well-known phytonutrient (a chemical compound in plants that contributes to a healthy gut), lycopene is the ingredient that gives watermelon its red pigment and is a powerful antioxidant that not only helps prevent cancer, but can also help prevent asthma and heart disease, as well as protect the skin from UV damage from the sun. Watermelon is additionally a rich source of vitamins A, B6, and C, contributes to a healthy immune system, and, at just 80 calories for two cups—a satisfying serving—is a filling snack and a dieter’s dream!

8 Fascinating Facts About Watermelon

  1. The first recorded watermelon harvest occurred in Egypt nearly 5,000 years ago.
  2. There are over 1,200 varieties of watermelon grown in nearly 100 countries around the world. Popular varieties here include seedless watermelon, traditional seeded “sugar babies,” crimson sweet striped watermelon, and icebox-sized ‘yellow doll’ and orange watermelons.
  3. By definition, watermelon is both a fruit (because it grows from and contains seeds) and a vegetable (because it emanates from plants and is harvested in a field like other vegetables).
  4. According to, early explorers used watermelons as canteens.
  5. Watermelons are 92 percent water.
  6. Watermelons typically weigh anywhere from 5-30 pounds, with the smallest varieties weighing as little as two pounds and the heaviest—as recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records—weighing in at over 350 pounds.
  7. Nearly nine out of 10 of the watermelons sold in America are seedless today, but if you eat seeded watermelon or come upon any seeds in a seedless watermelon, don’t necessarily discard them. Recent studies show that watermelon seeds, especially sprouted ones, are a rich source of magnesium, protein and vitamin B.
  8. I’ve seen people apply a variety of different and often questionable tests to determine if a watermelon is ripe (including seeing if it will float in a bucket of water), but the best way is to look for a yellow belly (a sign of maturity), slap the melon and listen for a hollow thump, and look for a stem that’s shrunken, shriveled, or decayed (a sign of ripeness). A green stem means that the watermelon is too green and not ripe.

Storage and Preparation

Because chilling zaps the compound in watermelons that prevents spoilage, I recommend storing a whole seedless watermelon at room temperature away from direct sunlight and not refrigerating it unless it’s cut or you want to chill it for a few hours before serving.

Watermelon is great eaten on its own, but you can also purée seedless watermelon for a delicious drink, freeze the purée to make ice pops, smoothies, or sorbet, or pair sweet watermelon slices with savory flavors such as fresh mint or salty ham. Or else combine chunks or balls of watermelon with other fruits in fruit salad that you can serve right in the watermelon shell, as my wife Bette likes to make for parties in the summer. We also love the simple and refreshing summer flavors of a watermelon salad tossed with feta cheese and cucumber, as shared in the following recipe by, which combines the best of sweet and savory ingredients this season!

Easy Watermelon Salad with Feta Cheese

  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cups seedless watermelon, cubed
  • 1 cup medium cucumber, chopped
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • ½ cup red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped mint, plus more for garnish
  • Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)

In a small bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar and salt. In a large serving bowl, combine watermelon, cucumber, feta, red onion and mint. Add dressing and toss to coat. Garnish with more mint and flaky sea salt if desired and enjoy!

About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and tv personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast every Saturday mornings for over 28 years.  For more information, visit

About Susan Bloom
A regular contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food, and more.  She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for over a decade.

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