Of Watermelon and Waistlines: New Low-Sugar Varieties
By Erin Peabody
July 19, 2007
Just in time for bathing suit season: a
leaner, meaner watermelon that boasts all the refreshing flavor and
good-for-you nutrients of many conventional varieties, but contains more than
50 percent less sugar.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Davis in Lane, Okla., is the chief breeder of two new low-sugar melons that
should be a welcome treat for dieters, diabetics and everyone else wishing to
curb their sugar or carb intakes.
Davis, who works at the
South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, is currently
sharing the new watermelon stock with interested growers. And while their
official debut will depend upon farmers' receptiveness, the seeded watermelons
could start showing up in produce aisles by summer's end.
Davis embarked on the quest for a naturally low-sugar watermelon after
realizing the popular fruit was off limits for many consumers, including the
nation's more than 20 million diabetics.
But don't blame the melon for its current sugary taste. Over the decades,
breeders have increasingly selected for sweeter and sweeter fruit. In fact,
heirloom watermelons that might have rolled out of Granddad's garden contained
about 25 percent less sugar than their contemporary cousins.
Davis wasn't sure if she'd be able to achieve a low-sugar, red-fleshed
melon, given the tendency of richly-pigmented watermelons to contain higher
levels of sugar. But after screening hundreds of watermelons, she discovered
one with golden flesh and low sugar. It provides the genetic foundation for the
current lines, which are red.
Like all watermelons, the new cultivars are an excellent source of lycopene,
a powerful antioxidant associated with a lower incidence of some cancers.
They're also rich in vitamin A and potassium.
And for those who might miss the sweetness of this summertime favorite but
don't want to sacrifice calories, a little artificial sweetener can be
sprinkled onto the fruit to give it a flavor that's comparable to conventional
Davis has also developed a melon that's middle-of-the-road in terms of its
sugar content, satisfying consumers who still desire a touch of natural
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.