RED is an eye-catching colour. It attracts attention and is used to warn of dangers or emergencies. Fruits with red flesh such as watermelon never fail to entice us to taste and enjoy its goodness.
In the journal Food Chemistry 1991, Dr Tee E. S. and Lim C. L. of Institute of Medical Research (IMR), Kuala Lumpur, reported the carotenoid composition in Malaysian fruits.
Of great interest is the lycopene content in watermelon. Watermelon has the highest lycopene content of 5,301 microgrammes (mcg) per 100 grammes, surpassing that of other coloured fruits such as papaya and jackfruit. Mango, mandarin orange, banana and red plum do not contain this nutrient.
Lycopene is a carotinoid which is responsible for the red colouring in fruits.
Lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant, is often associated with tomatoes. Tomato has 723mcg lycopene per 100g. In recent years, tomato is claimed to be a red fruit that can lower the risk of prostate cancer.
Lycopene may enhance the expression of the RB gene, a typical anti-oncogene. It neutralises highly unstable molecules that would otherwise damage our cells.
Nevertheless, could the health-giving property of tomato be due to lycopene only or does it work in combination with other nutrients? Scientists are searching hard for the answer.
Diuretic with beneficial nutrients
Watermelon contains nutrients that are associated with lowering the risk of various health problems associated with the modern lifestyle.
A medium-sized serving of 300g supplies us with dietary fibre similar to a medium-sized banana.
Dietary fibre helps to lower blood cholesterol, reducing risk of heart attack and diabetes. It also gives us fibre which helps maintain bowel regularity and works to prevent colon and rectal cancer.
Watermelon is a good source of potassium, which helps regulate heart functions and normalise blood pressure. A generous serving of watermelon (500g ) supplies the amount of potassium equivalent to two pisang emas or one embun.
Not only is the fruit pulp beneficial, but watermelon seeds contain cucurbocitrin that aids in lowering blood pressure and improve kidney function.
Ninety per cent of watermelon is water. It has often been considered a low-nutrient fruit consisting mainly of water. Watermelon juice supplies much-needed water during a hot sunny day. The water in the juice is pure.
The juice also contains malic acid and potassium that make it a diuretic drink to flush out toxins accumulated in the body. Watermelon juice is also a drink to bring relieve to hang-overs.
Few words of caution
The diuretic property of watermelon increases urine production with water and mineral losses. It is not advisable to take excessive watermelon at night, especially for the aged and people who are prone to catching colds.
The sweet watermelon is low in calories and fat and is cholesterol free. It has a good source of nutrients to feed microorganisms that cause food poisoning. Make sure not to over expose cut watermelon and always keep the slices refrigerated.
Watermelon has a mild flavour that diminishes during food manufacturing . It has not been taken up readily by the food industry. As it is known that lycopene is easily assimilated after cooking, perhaps cooked watermelon will be the juice of the future.
Using watermelon in our cooking is certainly an innovative idea. Use watermelon to make a sweet or savoury sauce or topping, instead of tomato sauce, to serve with roast chicken.
Boil watermelon with dates in water flavoured with pandan leaves to make a cooling drink on hot and sunny days. You can also cook watermelon with meat or seafood, especially with dried scallops, to make a savoury clear soup.
Selecting the fruit
When you are buying the whole fruit, look at the skin.
The skin of a ripe watermelon looks dull but slightly waxy. It is a bit springy when pressed.
Always choose a fruit with its dry brownish stem attached which feels heavy for its size.
The bottom of the fruit should be a pale yellow colour, while those with white or light green are normally not fully matured.
The fruit will further ripen a little if kept at room temperature.
Try slapping the fruit or flicking a finger on it to create a thumping sound.
A ripe fruit produces a deep, rich thudding sound. An unripe fruit produces a higher pitched sound.
When you are buying cut fruits, look for pieces with bright red flesh. Avoid those with white streaks and those with the flesh breaking off from the seeds.
Chia Joo Suan is formerly a senior research officer at Mardi, Food Technology Centre.
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