Watermelon's Power of Redin Powder
Form? By Erin
Peabody September 15, 2006
There's no upstaging watermelon at a summer picnic. The much-loved
fruit, with its juicy red flesh and seed-spitting fun, is also one of the best
sources of lycopene around. Lycopene is a red-pigmented antioxidant thought to
guard against heart disease and some cancers.
Now, a scientist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has made it easier to access
watermelon's impressive lycopene stores. Chemist
Fish, who works at the ARS
Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, Okla., has discovered a
way to gently extract the antioxidant from watermelon flesh and juice, ensuring
it stays in its most natural form.
The resulting lycopene can be processed into a powder, paste or liquid
suitable for use as a nutritional supplement or food coloring.
Right now, most lycopene formulations are made from tomatoesthat
is, the copious juice, skins and fleshy residue left over after processing. But
fresh watermelonwhich actually contains more lycopene than fresh
tomatoes, ounce for ounceis an ideal source of the powerful antioxidant.
With Fish's method, growers would also have a potential new market for
their imperfect melons. Each year U.S. watermelon growers must toss out 15 to
25 percent of their crop because the fruits don't make the grade. But despite
their bruised, misshapen or discolored exteriors, these melons could be a
valuable source of lycopene, since the fruit's outward appearance has no effect
on its nutrient content.
According to Fish, the lycopene formulation he's discovered is unlike
any currently available. That's because his extraction method respects the
melon's cellular makeup.
In the fruits and vegetables it's found in, lycopene is naturally
packaged in tiny structures called chromoplasts. Fish is careful not to injure
these delicate organelles, or their thin, fragile membranes. He's found that
lycopene left inside its protective membrane coat is more stable and boasts a
longer shelf life.
Fish's novel method can also be used to tap the lycopene found in
other fruits including tomatoes, guava, rosehips and pink grapefruit.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.