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Photo: Lab, technician Shelia Magby (left) and plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie examine a freshly sliced mini-watermelon. Link to photo information
Before analyzing it in the lab, technician Shelia Magby (left) and plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie examine a freshly sliced mini-watermelon. Click the image for more information about it.

Studies Yield Low-Sugar Watermelons, Probe "Minis'" Nutrition

By Luis Pons
December 2, 2004

What's new with watermelon? Try low-sugar and "mini" varieties. Both were the focus of recent Agricultural Research Service studies in Lane, Okla.

At the ARS South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory at Lane, plant geneticist Angela Davis has developed watermelons that would be welcome news to people looking to lower their sugar intake. Meanwhile, plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie expanded previous work confirming watermelon's high lycopene content, finding that mini-watermelons--a recent addition to the marketplace--are rich in the health-promoting compound.

According to Davis, decades of breeding practices have increased watermelon's sugar content to up to 14 percent, making it off limits to people looking to curb sugar intake. She said her low-sugar melons are just like regular watermelons--crisp and refreshing.

Davis' study found that pigments such as lycopene, which are considered key for watermelon consumer acceptance--the redder, the better--can occur without high sugar content.

Meanwhile, Perkins-Veazie investigated the nutritional aspects of mini-watermelons, which are about six inches in diameter and have been commercially available for about two years.

She tested 15 lines and found them chock-full of lycopene and beta-carotene. Lycopene has been linked to reduced incidence of certain cancer types and lower heart-attack risk. Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A, which promotes clear vision, bone growth and healthy reproduction.

Average lycopene concentrations in mini-melons ranged from 6,700 to 9,600 micrograms per 100 grams of melon. Several varieties scored higher lycopene levels than previously reported for conventional watermelons, which ranged from 3,700 to 6,900 micrograms per 100 grams.

Perkins-Veazie's latest studies were simplified by a technique she, Davis and Lane biochemist Wayne Fish developed that allows for rapid determination of watermelon's lycopene content.

Mini-melons are the result of conventional plant breeding, according to Perkins-Veazie.

Read more about this research in the December 2004 issue of Agricultural Research magazine.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.