With summer just around the corner, Israel’s long-awaited watermelon season has sprung.

In honor of this sweet occasion, ISRAEL21c brings you some juicy facts and recipes to enhance your enjoyment of this quintessential warm-weather treat.

Technically a vegetable, watermelon was first grown in northern Africa 5,000 years ago and is mentioned in the Bible as a staple of the Egyptian diet.

Ancient watermelons probably weren’t very sweet. A Byzantine mosaic uncovered in Israel, dated from 425 CE, depicts a cut watermelon with yellow-orange flesh. Over time, they became redder as they were bred to be sweeter, because redness and sweetness are genetically paired.

The redder the melon, the more healthful beta-carotene it contains. Despite containing mostly water, watermelon also is a good source of phenolic antioxidants, flavonoids, lycopene and vitamins A and C.

According to the Plant Production and Marketing Board of the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture, the average Israeli consumes 26 pounds (12 kilos) of watermelon each year. The average American eats 16 pounds per year.

Approximately 100 Israeli watermelon growers – mainly in the Arava desert, the Jordan Rift Valley and the Lower and Western Galilee – sell about 100,000 tons of their crops annually. Seedless varieties developed by Israeli researchers are especially popular.

Technion students made a device to test the sweetness of a watermelon without opening it. Photo: courtesy

Choosing a quality watermelon is usually a guessing game of sniffing, inspecting or poking. Last summer, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology students Salah Abd Alhalem, Adam Garah and Ayman Sarha’an decided to be scientific about it.

They developed a prototype sensor-and-smartphone device that photographs a watermelon from three angles, uses an algorithm to analyze its external properties, and predicts a flavor rating between 1 (atrocious) and 5 (divine). The computer-science students determined that a watermelon’s tone, color, stripe patterns, shape and size of the circle at the bottom all help determine its taste.

Once you buy your watermelon, you can simply slice it and enjoy a cool snack. But you can also use watermelon to add a refreshing kick to cocktails, cold soups, salads and more.

Red drum tartare with watermelon salsa and watermelon-ginger granita

The InterContinental David Tel Aviv shared this recipe with ISRAEL21c for an unusual appetizer.

80 grams (3 oz.) watermelon, cut into small cubes
50 grams ginger
200 grams (1 cup) watermelon, cubed
Handful chopped mint leaves
¼ teaspoon hot pepper, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
100 grams (3.5 oz.) fresh, boneless red drum cut into small cubes
Zest from ½ lemon
½ teaspoon sumac
Peel of 1 cucumber, cut into small squares
1 teaspoon coriander, chopped
A pinch salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
White spreadable cheese such as ricotta or feta
Toast fingers

For the watermelon granita, puree the 80g watermelon and ginger; filter well into a bowl and freeze until you get ice. Scrape the ice with a spoon or shred in a blender and keep in the freezer.

For the watermelon salsa, mix together 200g watermelon cubes, chopped mint, hot pepper, fresh lemon juice and soy sauce. Refrigerate for about an hour.

Mix the fish with lemon zest, sumac, cucumber peel, coriander, salt and olive oil.

In four martini cups, divide the watermelon salsa. Top with a thin layer of cream cheese and then the fish tartare to the level of about 1½ cups in each. Top with a spoonful of chilled watermelon ice and garnish with the toast fingers.

4 servings

Photo courtesy of InterContinental David Tel Aviv

Cold watermelon soup

This recipe from Chef Amir Kalfon at the Carmel Forest Spa Resort is one of about 100 recipes in the hotel’s new English-language cookbook.

Photo of Carmel Forest Spa Resort’s cold watermelon soup by Oded Marom for Isrotel.

1 beetroot, cooked and peeled
4.5 pounds (2 kilo) watermelon (about ½ a small watermelon), rind removed
2 ripe avocados, pitted and peeled
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar, honey or silan (date honey)
Salt and white pepper
Lemon zest and olive oil for garnish

Puree beetroot in a food processor. Add watermelon, avocado, vinegar, sweetener, salt and pepper; puree until smooth. Strain into a bowl to make sure there are no chunks. Chill at least two hours before serving. Serve cold garnished with a sprinkling of olive oil and lemon zest.

6 servings

Watermelon vinaigrette with green beans and peaches

This recipe is from the Israeli Plant Production and Marketing Board

5 pitted peaches
200 grams (1 cup) fresh green beans, cooked in water about 10 minutes
150 grams (2/3 cup) shelled sliced almonds

Vinaigrette:
2 cups cubed watermelon
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper

Puree watermelon cubes in a food processor until they reach a uniform texture. Add the remaining vinaigrette ingredients and mix well.

Slice the peaches into rounds and arrange on a serving platter.

Cool the cooked beans briefly in ice water. Drain and add to the platter.

Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, sprinkle with almonds and serve.

4 servings

A roadside watermelon stand in Sderot, Israel. Photo by Miriam Alster/FLASH90

Watermelon and star anise jam

Here’s a homemade jam served daily at the breakfast buffet at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel. 

1 kg. (2.2 lb.) watermelon
500 grams (17.5 oz.) apples
1½ lemons
6 star anise fruits
750 grams (26 oz.) sugar

Clean, wash and cube the watermelon and the apples. Sprinkle the apple with the juice of 1 lemon. Put the watermelon and apples in a deep, wide pan; add sugar, remaining lemon juice and star anise. Cook until it thickens.

Pour the jam in hot jars (previously heated to 100°C/212°F for 30 minutes) and close well. Turn the jars upside down for about 5 minutes, and then turn them back so the jam cools gradually.

Watermelons growing in a field in the Jezreel Valley in Lower Galilee. Photo by Yaakov Naumi/FLASH90

Refreshing summer watermelon soup

Herods Herzliya Chef Kfir Haddad created this watermelon soup recipe.

1 whole red watermelon
2 tablespoons mint leaves, coarsely chopped
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
A handful of ice cubes

Remove the watermelon from the rind and cut into coarse bits.

Place the watermelon, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, mint and water into a food processor.

Puree for about 2 minutes until smooth.

Pour into 10 cups, add ice, and drink l’chaim.

10 servings