Where do deliciously sweet watermelons come from? It might seem like a very easy question to answer but in reality, watermelons hold quite a few mysteries. Scientists have been trying to pinpoint the exact time and place in history when wild unsavory watermelons were turned into a sweet delicious summer staple, but the facts have always been inconclusive. So who, where, and why domesticated watermelons?
You have to understand that ancient watermelons were nothing like the ones we can buy in our supermarkets today – they were almost colourless inside and tasted barely sweet. How can we tell? Most wild watermelon types can still be found today and they are nothing like the watery fruit we all love so much today. German botanist Susanne Renner and her team have conducted research, comparing modern watermelon we all know so well with ancient wild types that have been around for thousands of years. Genetic sequencing has shown that, unlike most domesticated fruit that came from Mesopotamia, it’s more related wild watermelons that were cultivated in Sudan.
The wild Sudanese watermelon is white, bitter, and quite tasteless. Ancient farmers were most likely growing this type of watermelon to feed the animals. Still, someone somewhere found a slightly sweeter type of watermelon and started growing it for its delicious taste. If the ancient Sudanese origin of our beloved watermelon doesn’t impress you much, then what if we say that even Ancient Egyptians were big fans of the fruit?
It turns out that more than 3,000 years ago, king Tutankhamun was snacking on watermelon seeds – at least, that’s what researchers think he did. The king was buried with some watermelon seeds in his tomb, so they must have been a pretty big deal for him! However, what’s even more impressive is that watermelons were depicted on a 4,300-year-old tomb painting alongside Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. Renner discovered these watermelons on an image published more than 100 years ago! Watermelons were depicted with sweet grapes, which proves they already tasted nice and sweet during those times. This leads to the conclusion that watermelon could be domesticated in Ancient Egypt or by other civilizations that existed nearby.