Saturday, May 7, 2011

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Watermelon (Melancia)

The watermelons is one of the most universally-consumed fruits on our planet, and is a common sight in markets and supermarkets from China to Canada to Chile and on to the Congo. Genetic and botanical evidence indicates that the plant originated in southern Africa, where it still grows wild, but it was probably eaten in ancient Egypt and certainly had spread as far as China by the 10th century CE. It's route to Brazil was direct from Africa, and watermelon (melancia in Portuguese) is only one of the many Brazilian foods that arrived on this side of the Atlantic via the African slave trade.

Watermelons are members of the same botanical family as other melons (Cucurbitaceae), but are more closely related to plants like cucumbers than they are to cantaloupes or honeydews. If you think of a melon, or of their close relative the squash, the fruit surrounds a hollow core filled with seeds. Watermelons and cucumbers, however, are not hollow, and the seeds are carried in the flesh of the fruit. Watermelons and cucumbers also share the characteristic of being composed primarily of water - in the case of the aptly-named watermelon the percentage is 92% by weight. The preponderance of what remains is sugar (6% by weight). Watermelon is a good source of vitamin C, and has high levels of beta-carotene, and in red varieties lycopenes.

Brazil's annual production of watermelons is huge - in recent years approaching 620,000 tons annually. Almost all of Brazil has climate conditions that allow successful cultivation of watermelons, and most watermelon is consumed close to where it was grown. The commercial value of the crop is so high that the Brazilian government has proclaimed a National Watermelon Day - 26 November - and there is a National Watermelon Fair held annually in September in the city of Uruana, in the state of Goiás.

Most of Brazil's watermelons grown in Brazil are commercialized in the domestic market, though there is an export market to other countries further south in South America, such as Argentina and Chile, where climate conditions are less favorable to watermelon cultivation. Most watermelons are eaten fresh, though watermelon juice is popular in the thousands of juice bars that populate Brazilian urban centers.

In the past few years, the newest generation of Brazilian chefs has begun to pay attention to the culinary potential of the watermelon. Flavors of Brazil will post some of their recipes in the next few posts.

5 comments:

  1. I always learned in School in History books that the Watermelon was brought to Brazil by the Americans who immigrated to the region of Americana and Santa Barbara, both in the state of Sao Paulo, after the end of the Civil War.
    It is interesting to read about the African/slave connection, which in news to me!

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  2. I wouldn't be surprised if those unrepentant Confederates did bring watermelon seeds with them when they came to Brazil at the end of the American Civil War. And the ancestors of those seeds most likely came to the USA on board slave ships from Africa. From what I've read no one is sure exactly how the watermelon spread around the world, but it seems to be clear from DNA research that it did originate in Africa.
    Thanks for the interesting comment.
    JAMES

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  4. Do blackberries grow in brazil?

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    Replies
    1. I once saw a bush of them,so I guess they do... but at least here in Rio it's kind of rare. Probably could find some down south, though.

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