10 Refreshing Facts About Watermelon

iStock
iStock

August 3 is National Watermelon Day, and throughout summer, the backyard mainstay is added to drinks and served as dessert at barbecues across the country. Here are some tasty facts about this colorful, summertime treat.

1. WATERMELONS ARE BOTH A FRUIT AND A VEGETABLE.

Thanks to their sweet taste, watermelons are most commonly considered a fruit. And they do grow like fruit, originating from flowers that have been pollinated by bees, and, from a botanical perspective, they're fruits because they contain seeds. But many gardeners think of them as vegetables, since they grow them in their gardens alongside other summer veggies like peas and corn. Not to mention, watermelon is classified as part of a botanical family of gourds that includes other culinary vegetables like cucumber, squash, and pumpkin.

2. YOU CAN EAT THE ENTIRE FRUIT.

While we tend to focus on the melon’s succulent flesh, watermelon rinds are also edible—as well as full of nutrients with surprising health benefits. In China, the rinds are often stir-fried or stewed, while in the South, cooks like to pickle them. And, across the Middle East and China, the seeds are dried and roasted (similar to pumpkin seeds) to make for a light, easy snack.

3. THEY’RE CALLED WATERMELONS FOR A REASON.

They’re 92 percent water, making them a perfect refresher for those hot summer months.

4. THEY COME IN 1200 DIFFERENT VARIETIES.

To make classification a little easier, however, watermelons tend to be grouped into four main categories: seeded (or picnic), seedless, icebox (also known as mini, or personal size) and yellow/orange. One of the most popular varieties is the Crimson Sweet, a seeded melon with deep red, sweet flesh. Some of the more unusual varieties include the Golden Midget, whose rind turns yellow when it's ripe, and the Cream of Saskatchewan, whose flesh is cream-colored.

5. THE SEEDLESS ONES ARE NOT GENETICALLY ENGINEERED.

A pile of watermelons
iStock

Contrary to what you might have heard, seedless watermelons are the result of hybridization, a perfectly natural phenomenon that farmers can nevertheless capitalize on. A couple of decades ago, seedless watermelons were hard to find, but today they make up around 85 percent of those sold in the U.S. And those white “seeds” that you still find in your seedless slices? They’re actually empty seed coats and are perfectly safe to eat.

6. WATERMELONS CAN GROW TO BE REALLY, REALLY BIG.

The heaviest watermelon to date was grown by Guinness World Record holder Chris Kent, of Sevierville, Tennessee, in 2013. A Carolina Cross, it weighed in at 350.5 pounds. To give you some perspective, that’s the equivalent of an NFL lineman.

7. WATERMELONS CAN HELP PREVENT CANCER.

Watermelons are a great source of lycopene, an antioxidant that’s been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancers, including prostate, lung, and stomach.

8. FARMERS IN JAPAN HAVE PERFECTED THE ART OF GROWING THEM IN ODD SHAPES.

A cube-shaped watermelon
Getty Images

In Japan, farmers have been growing cube-shaped watermelons for the past 40 years, forcing them into their square shape by cultivating them in box-like braces. When the watermelon fills the cube and gets picked, it's generally not ripe yet, meaning the inedible melons are sold—for prices upwards of $100—as novelty items and gifts. (The original idea was for them to better fit into standard refrigerators.) More recently, farmers have grown watermelon in the shape of hearts—these particular melons taste as sweet as they look—as well as pyramids and human faces.

9. ONE SOUTH CAROLINA FAMILY KEPT AN HEIRLOOM VARIETY ALIVE FOR ALMOST 100 YEARS.

The unusually sweet Bradford—created by Nathaniel Napoleon Bradford in Sumter County, South Carolina, in the 1840s—was one of the most sought-after varieties of watermelon the South has ever seen. But its soft skin made it hard to transport, and by the early 1920s it had proved to be commercially unviable. It would have disappeared completely had the Bradford family not kept it alive in their backyard gardens for multiple generations. It’s now being grown commercially again by Nat Bradford, Nathaniel’s great-great-great grandson.

10. THEY’RE THE OFFICIAL STATE VEGETABLE OF OKLAHOMA.

In 2007, the Oklahoma State Senate honored its then-14th biggest crop by voting 44–2 to make it the state vegetable. (Why not fruit? That distinction was already given to the strawberry.) Its celebrated status was threatened in 2015, however, when State Senator Nathan Dahm moved to repeal the bill based on the argument that watermelon is a fruit. Thankfully for Oklahoma’s Rush Springs, home to an annual watermelon festival and the original bill’s sponsor, then-State Representative Joe Dorman, Dahm’s bill died in committee.

Upper Crust: The Story of Pizza Hut's Forgotten Priazzo Pizza

Pizza Hut tried to up their game in 1985 with a high-rise "Italian pie."
Pizza Hut tried to up their game in 1985 with a high-rise "Italian pie."
Presley Ann, Getty Images for Pizza Hut

When Pizza Hut rolled out its newest menu item in the summer of 1985 under the nonexistent Italian word Priazzo, the chain was quick to correct anyone who declared it a new variety of pizza.

The Priazzo was unlike any pizza Americans had ever come across. With two layers of dough, pepperoni, mushroom, onions, spinach, ham, bacon, tomatoes, and one full pound of cheese, Pizza Hut called it a pie; others called it a strange alchemy of pizza, quiche, and lasagna. PepsiCo, which owned the franchise, hoped it would boost revenue by 10 percent.

It did. For a while. But there were problems inherent in a pizza chain that claimed to be serving something other than pizza.

The Priazzo, which spent two years in development, followed the successful 1983 rollout of Pizza Hut's Personal Pan Pizza. That menu item, which was intended to appeal to customers who wanted just a single portion on their lunch break, was a tremendous hit, increasing the company's lunchtime business by 70 percent. With the Priazzo, however, the restaurant went in the opposite direction—super-sizing a dinner option and limiting its availability to after 4 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends.

Though the name was nonsensical—it was the invention of Charles Brymer, a marketing consultant who had also named the Pontiac Fiero—Pizza Hut used names of Italian cities for the three variations. There was the Roma, which had a mix of meat (pepperoni, Italian sausage, and pork) along with mozzarella and the very non-Italian cheddar cheese, plus onions and mushrooms; the Milano had all the meat of the Roma plus beef and bacon, mozzarella and cheddar on top, but no mushrooms or onions; and the gut-busting Florentine, which featured spinach, ham, and five different kinds of cheese, including ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, romano, and cheddar. (A fourth pie, the vegetarian Napoli, was added later.)

All the pies were stuffed with ingredients and then had a layer of dough with tomato sauce and cheese baked on top. A small Priazzo sold for about $8.05, a medium was $10.95, and a large ran around $13.75. For that you got the full Priazzo experience and nothing extra, as customers were not allowed to change or substitute toppings—or, more accurately, stuffing—as the surplus of ingredients was the entire point of the Priazzo. Diners could, however, ask that ingredients be subtracted.

“Most Italian homes have a version of their own,” Arthur Gunther, Pizza Hut's president at the time, told the Chicago Tribune of the idea behind the Priazzo in 1985. “We looked for those that we felt would have application in the United States.” In Italy, such double-crusted pies are known as pizza rusticha, though putting sauce and cheese over the top crust was unique to the Priazzo.

On the strength of a $15 million marketing campaign and a commercial shot in Italy, and accompanied by music from famed Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini, the Priazzo made a splashy debut in June 1985, right around the same time that Pizza Hut and other chains were moving into home delivery. While it was not exactly a deep dish pizza, it promised something of similar gastronomic substance, and Pizza Hut hoped that would entice people who didn’t have access to table-tipping pizzas outside of Chicago.

The Priazzo gained some early devotees who enjoyed the dish's generous and layered presentation. One notable exception was Evelyne Slomon, a cooking instructor and author of 1984's The Pizza Book: Everything There Is To Know About the World's Greatest Pie. She refused an offer to endorse the pizza and noted that actual Italians would rarely put so much meat in their pies. Others observed that pizza is one of the words commonly used for pie in Italian, making Pizza Hut’s insistence that their “Italian pie” was not a pizza rather grating for linguists.

Still, they fulfilled their objective. In early 1986, PepsiCo reported a 12 percent increase in Pizza Hut revenue, aided in part by the Priazzo. But its success would not last. In the fast-casual atmosphere of a pizza chain, consumers wanted their typical fare. After the initial curiosity wore off, not many customers were returning to the Priazzo for pizza nights. Anecdotally, there were also reports of employees finding the thick pies too cumbersome and time-consuming to deal with.

Whatever the case, the Priazzo was disappearing by 1991 and was last mentioned in print by Pizza Hut in 1993. The baton of pizza excess was later picked up by their stuffed crust pizza, which was introduced in 1995 and has remained a perennial favorite. That might be due in some part to the fact that Pizza Hut was content to call it what it was: a pizza.

Why Isn't Fish Considered Meat During Lent?

AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images
AlexRaths/iStock via Getty Images

For six Fridays each spring, Catholics observing Lent skip sirloin in favor of fish sticks and swap Big Macs for Filet-O-Fish. Why?

Legend has it that centuries ago a medieval pope with connections to Europe's fishing business banned red meat on Fridays to give his buddies' industry a boost. But that story isn't true. Sunday school teachers have a more theological answer: Jesus fasted for 40 days and died on a Friday. Catholics honor both occasions by making a small sacrifice: avoiding animal flesh one day out of the week. That explanation is dandy for a homily, but it doesn't explain why only red meat and poultry are targeted and seafood is fine.

For centuries, the reason evolved with the fast. In the beginning, some worshippers only ate bread. But by the Middle Ages, they were avoiding meat, eggs, and dairy. By the 13th century, the meat-fish divide was firmly established—and Saint Thomas Aquinas gave a lovely answer explaining why: sex, simplicity, and farts.

In Part II of his Summa Theologica, Aquinas wrote:

"Fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust. Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products."

Put differently, Aquinas thought fellow Catholics should abstain from eating land-locked animals because they were too darn tasty. Lent was a time for simplicity, and he suggested that everyone tone it down. It makes sense. In the 1200s, meat was a luxury. Eating something as decadent as beef was no way to celebrate a holiday centered on modesty. But Aquinas had another reason, too: He believed meat made you horny.

"For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods."

There you have it. You can now blame those impure thoughts on a beef patty. (Aquinas might have had it backwards though. According to the American Dietetic Association, red meat doesn't boost "seminal matter." Men trying to increase their sperm count are generally advised to cut back on meat. However, red meat does improve testosterone levels, so it's give-and-take.)

Aquinas gave a third reason to avoid meat: it won't give you gas. "Those who fast," Aquinas wrote, "are forbidden the use of flesh meat rather than of wine or vegetables, which are flatulent foods." Aquinas argued that "flatulent foods" gave your "vital spirit" a quick pick-me-up. Meat, on the other hand, boosts the body's long-lasting, lustful humors—a religious no-no.

But why isn't fish considered meat?

The reason is foggy. Saint Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, for one, has been used to justify fasting rules. Paul wrote, " … There is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fish, and another of birds" (15:39). That distinction was possibly taken from Judaism's own dietary restrictions, which separates fleishig (which includes land-locked mammals and fowl) from pareve (which includes fish). Neither the Torah, Talmud, or New Testament clearly explains the rationale behind the divide.

It's arbitrary, anyway. In the 17th century, the Bishop of Quebec ruled that beavers were fish. In Latin America, it's OK to eat capybara, as the largest living rodent is apparently also a fish on Lenten Fridays. Churchgoers around Detroit can guiltlessly munch on muskrat every Friday. And in 2010, the Archbishop of New Orleans gave alligator the thumbs up when he declared, “Alligator is considered in the fish family."

Thanks to King Henry VIII and Martin Luther, Protestants don't have to worry about their diet. When Henry ruled, fish was one of England's most popular dishes. But when the Church refused to grant the King a divorce, he broke from the Church. Consuming fish became a pro-Catholic political statement. Anglicans and the King's sympathizers made it a point to eat meat on Fridays. Around that same time, Martin Luther declared that fasting was up to the individual, not the Church. Those attitudes hurt England's fishing industry so much that, in 1547, Henry's son King Edward VI—who was just 10 at the time—tried to reinstate the fast to improve the country's fishing economy. Some Anglicans picked the practice back up, but Protestants—who were strongest in Continental Europe—didn't need to take the bait.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This story was updated in 2020.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER