Watermelon Seeds: The New ‘Superfood’?

What could be more refreshing than a slice of juicy watermelon on a hot summer day? And the seeds? You probably spit those out. After all, you don’t want a watermelon growing in your stomach, as your mother or grandmother may have warned you. It turns out, no surprise, that this is an old wives’ tale.

But even the Watermelon Board can’t seem to dig up the birth of this scare-mongering (yet somewhat humorous) myth, speculating that it might have the same origins as the myth that if you swallow chewing gum it will stick to your insides.

People in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have long used watermelon seeds—which have a pleasant, nutty flavor—roasting them as a snack, grinding them into flour to make bread, mashing them into a pulp to thicken soup, and using the seed oil in cooking and frying.

That’s a smart move, considering that the seeds actually have more nutrients than the fruit’s flesh: A one-ounce serving of dried watermelon seeds has 160 calories, 8 grams of protein, and 13 grams of fat (mostly unsaturated), plus minerals such as iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc. The seeds also contain various phytochemicals, including flavonoids.

In the West, watermelon seeds are now being promoted as a “superfood,” with claims that they are beneficial for everything from obesity and arthritis to diabetes and the immune system. But studies have largely been animal investigations. Clinical trials are needed before anyone starts eating watermelon seeds for supposed medicinal effects.

A sea of seed products

The watermelon seed market is expected to swell over the next several years due to the increased popularity of veganism and protein-rich foods and that eternal quest for the next big “superfood.” And the market is not just limited to packaged watermelon seeds. You can also find watermelon seed butter (which you can spread on bread or crackers as you would a nut butter), protein bars (from Go Raw) containing sprouted watermelon seeds, and watermelon seed powder (that you can mix into a smoothie for flavor and for extra protein, though most Americans already get enough protein in their diet).

Watermelon seed tinctures are promoted as a remedy for urinary infections, kidney function, improving skin, and reducing fevers, for example, though there’s no scientific evidence to support such claims.

Pop a seed, or two or twelve

Chewing watermelon seeds straight from the melon isn’t very appetizing because of the hard and bitter seed coat. If you don’t want to spend money on packaged watermelon seeds, you can roast them yourself: Use the hard, mature dark seeds, not the undeveloped white ones. After rinsing in a colander, allow them to dry thoroughly. Heat vegetable oil (such as canola, olive, or sesame) in a wok or skillet and add the seeds, stirring them frequently until they’re brown. When they’re almost done, add a sprinkling of salt if you want. After they cool, you can crack them in your mouth as you would a sunflower seed and eat the inside.

An alternative method is to spread the seeds on a baking sheet—optionally with a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of salt—and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes at 325°F or until they start to smell toasty.

Also see Watermelon: Refreshing and Versatile.

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