Summer is watermelon season, and just as there’s nothing like biting into a perfectly juicy, sweet slice, there’s no disappointment like finding it tasteless and mushy. Unlike many other types of fruit, watermelon will not ripen any further once it’s harvested. It also doesn’t readily announce its ripeness; the outside doesn’t turn soft like a peach and it doesn’t emit a sweet scent like a cantaloupe. So how do you pick a ripe watermelon at the store?
There are many tips and tricks circulating around spotting the perfect watermelon, like a large amount of brown webbing is a good indicator of a sweet melon, or elongated “male” watermelons are more watery and bland than rounder “female” fruits. Different sources say to look for a green, curly tendril or a dry, brown stem (neither of which are often even attached to the watermelons at the supermarket).
The truth is, there are really only two or three things you need to look for to find the best watermelon in the bunch, whether you’re at the grocery store or a farm stand.
How to Tell if Watermelon Is Ripe
It Should Have a Pale Yellow Spot
Some sources suggest looking for darker green watermelons that aren’t too shiny, or to check the color between the stripes, but looks can sometimes be deceiving. What almost everyone agrees on is that you should check for a yellow belly. The creamy yellow patch is known as the field spot and is where the watermelon rested on the ground. The whiter this ground spot is, the less time the melon had to ripen on the vine before being picked, so a deeper, more buttery shade suggests a better, sweeter flavor.
It Should Feel Heavy for Its Size
This can be hard to judge if you’re not used to hefting watermelons, but pick up a few of a similar size and see if you can tell that one seems heavier. That’s your best bet. When you’re weighing the merits of your melons, also check the rind; you shouldn’t feel much give since the outside of the fruit stays firm even when ripe. The stem end should have a little bit of flex, but if there are any other soft spots, pick another one, no matter how heavy it feels.
It Should Sound Hollow When You Thump It
Again, you’ll get better at this with practice, but if you tap or flick the underside of the melon, it should produce a deep, low-pitched, hollow sound, rather than a dull ping. (But know that this is not foolproof either.)
What About Yellow Watermelons?
Yellow-fleshed watermelons are a natural mutation that look the same as your standard red or pink watermelon from outside, so you’d pick one the same way. You can expect it to be sweeter, with almost floral notes of honey, but you can still use it in all your usual watermelon recipes when you’re tired of eating it as a snack. Try grilling it and using it in watermelon drinks, and don’t forget to use the watermelon rind.
Can You Ripen a Watermelon?
Not after you buy it, no. If you get your unripe watermelon home and find out it doesn’t taste like much, you can always try sprinkling it with gin to boost the flavor.
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