By Tariq Hussain
Once again, we have entered the hot, dry season of Riyadh. During this
time of the year, the desert becomes harsher and the dust and sand
storms more frequent. The temperature usually becomes unbearable and
the hot wind irritating. But in all, maybe we should not protest and
bewail against Mother Nature because it is by virtue of this heat that
some of the most delicious and mouthwatering fruits come our way.
Mangos, dates, and melons are just a few examples.
A foreign fruit, the mango is mostly imported from the neighboring
countries, such as Sudan, Egypt, India, and Pakistan. Dates are grown
locally, with some of the finest coming from Al-Qasim and the Hijaz
Watermelons (Citrullus lanatus or Citrullus vulgaris), on the other
hand, are also grown locally. They are imported, as well as exported
These succulent fruits of the gourd family are among those that are
best associated with the summer season. Their agricultural antiquity
goes back to more than 4000 years. They appear to have originated in
tropical and subtropical Africa and later introduced to Europe and the
Middle East. They are now cultivated seasonally in temperature zones
on every continent.
Watermelons come in many shapes and colors. The sweet, juicy flesh may
be reddish, white, or yellow. The color, size, shape, and the
thickness of the rind depend on the variety, which, in turn, depends
on the geographical origin of the fruit.
In Saudi Arabia, the most common ones are the long, green,
oblong-shaped melons. They are grown in almost all parts of the
Kingdom. However, Riyadh market mostly gets its supply from nearby
areas like Al Kharj and Al Zulm.
The beauty of this fruit is that it is juicy, colorful, and a cool
despite being a desert fruit where heat, dryness, and paleness is the
usual order. As it matures, it accumulates sugars and other rich
quantities of minerals. It is low in calories yet very high in fibers
that has several dietary and digestive benefits. It contains vitamin A
and some vitamin C. It is also an hindrance to dehydration complaints
specially in this kind of arid weather.
Weight of watermelons varies from 1 to 2 kilograms to 20 kg or more.
It costs anywhere from SR5 each to SR25 at its peak season depending
on the size and variety. Its peak season usually starts from mid June.
It is a very short-lived fruit. Its life span is only 85 to 100 days
from planting to market maturity. After which it starts to decay. Its
approximate length of storage is 7 to 14 days in ambient temperatures
of 36-40 oF.(2.2-4.4 oC), in relative humidity of 80-85 percent.
Choosing a right melon is always a difficult task, or atleast for the
amateurs. Bigger in size and greener in colour does not always means
it is sweet. However, there are some signs on the outside that can
give you a rough idea of what is inside.
For example, look for a white area along the length of one side of a
melon. That is the resting area of a melon during its growth. It
should be notably white ensuring enough days from planting to field
maturity. Also look for the stem site on its one side where it was
once attached to its vine. It should be smooth.
The rind is normally thick and hard. Any softened part could be the
start of the decaying process. Also look for prominent mottled pattern
on the rind with shades of dark and light green with pale white lines.
Tap a melon on all sides and listen for a dull sound but not
outright flat. Also feel the moderate vibrations generated from
tapping. Too much would mean that the fruit has over ripened.
Some people roll a melon on sand and if it picks up sand particles
then they are happy. Probably it is due to the widened pores in a
mature melon that allows increased fluid permeability across its rind
which picks up the sand particles.
Other people rest a melon on a corner of any surface and press hard
against it. What they are doing is listening closely for a popping
sound inside. A mature melon would give a good crack.
Melons, known in Arabic as Battikh, Hub Hub, and Jahh, come only once
a year for a short while so the consumers should have the best of it.
And the best depends on their assessment. But if all else fails then
use a knife as the last resort. Some sellers would happily cut it for
free but beware of those who increase the price by two Riyals for
stabbing each of their melons.