You haven’t known heartache until you’ve cut into a bad watermelon. I’m not even referring to rotten watermelons; a melon can be technically edible but still incredibly disappointing. If your watermelon’s rind is too thick, you’ll have less of that sweet melon flesh to enjoy. If the melon is overripe, you’re left with a pile of mush. And if you bring an underripe melon to the picnic, you’ll never be trusted with melon duty again. But is thumping a watermelon really the best way to determine its ripeness?
Patrol the produce section in early to mid-summer and you’ll likely see old-timers slapping the watermelons. The melons aren’t being disciplined for acts of melon misbehavior—these shoppers are simply checking the quality of the selection. But until today, I thought the slapping was the result of an old wives’ tale. Not so, says Garden & Gun: “Give [the melon] a solid flick with your fingers or a knock with your knuckles,” the magazine advised in a 2018 article. “The echo should sound hollow, with a deep, round tone.”
SFGate explains that the deep, hollow sound indicates ripeness, while a clear ringing sound points to an immature fruit sorely lacking in juiciness. But if you hear a dull thud, the melon is probably overripe. If you ask me, that’s a little subjective. How else does one determine the quality of a watermelon?
It goes without saying, but make sure you’re selecting a watermelon at peak season. Watermelon season peaks from mid-June to August; if you’re buying outside of that window, you might be out of luck. You can also examine the melon’s exterior, says SGFate. First, per Southern Living, you’ll want to avoid any melons with green stems. (Green stems typically indicate that a melon was picked too soon.)
You can also take a look at the bottom of the melon—that lighter-colored patch where they lay on the ground to grow, otherwise known as a “field spot.” Southern Living explains that a watermelon with a golden, mustard yellow, or orange patch is more likely to be ripe than a melon with a very pale green or cream patch. In general, the yellower the spot, the sweeter the melon.