Watermelon History: A 5,000 Year Journey

Nov 19, 2015 09:46 AM EST | By Faye Marcos Jimenea

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The watermelon, a red juicy fruit that has become the symbol of fruits on a picnic blanket, a colorful fruit that instills picturesque summers in one's mind.

But the truth is, watermelon was not a fruit that was sweet and juicy and lovely to look at, before it was what it is now, it was hard and green and very bitter.

Selective breeding, genetic mutations and time have created the watermelon people know now, and this took over 5,000 years.

Harry Paris, a horticulturist at the Agricultural Research Organization in Israel made it his mission to trace the lineage, the proper lineage of how the modern watermelon came to be.

It was previously believed that the first watermelon was cultivated in Africa, but which part of Africa, no one really knows.

Paris, on the other hand believes that the watermelon was cultivated first by Egyptians some 4,000 years ago, which predates farming in Africa.

According to Paris, the real ancestor of the modern watermelon is citrullus lanatus var. colocynthoides, known as gurum in Egypt and Sudan.

"Why go all the way to western Africa, to a country like Nigeria, when you have these watermelons still growing wild in the deserts of Egypt and Sudan to this very day?" Paris said.

Yet, despite the fact the watermelon back then was bitter, hard and just unappetizing to eat, still people grew it.

The reason to this, according to Paris, is in the name of the fruit itself, "water."

During dry season in northeaster Africa it was watermelon that was being stored, in which the watermelons were periodically pummeled to extract their water.

This is also one of the reasons why there are ridiculous amounts of watermelon art on some of the pharaoh's tombs in Egypt.

 "These Egyptian pharaohs, when they died they had a long journey ahead of them so they needed a source of water-and what would that source of water be?" says Paris.

The colorful history of how modern watermelons came to be can be accessed in National Geographic's website.

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