Do you think that tomatoes were always the way you see them today? Error. Many types of fruit and vegetables are the result of a controlled selection. They were very different in the past. When did the tomatoes start turning red? How did the watermelon get sweet?
Looking for watermelons
A plant as Mediterranean as the tomato is the watermelon. A few hundred years ago they were very different. They were small, whitish inside, and much more bitter. And how did the watermelon get sweet? It is a puzzle that is not visited much.
Researchers at the University of St. Louis in the United States set out to solve the problem. They searched for the origin of the sweet local watermelons that we consume today.
Its scientific name is Citrullus lanatus vulgaris. Susanne Renner, Guillaume Chomicki and their colleagues examined the ancient iconography in relation to fruits from different cultures. They performed genetic sequencing of the current native watermelon. The results will be published this week in PNAS magazine. The article is A genome of a Kordofan melon at the chromosome level sheds light on the origin of domesticated watermelons.
They analyzed the Sudanese melon kordofan (Citrullus lanatus cordophanus). It has a whitish pulp, although not bitter. It is the closest relative and the one who could be the direct precursor of the domestic watermelons. They carried out a comparative genome analysis. They suggest the bitterness of yesterday’s watermelon pulp may have been lost before domestication. The first farmers could not have cultivated bitter game varieties. “The sweetness of the pulp has probably increased over the course of domestication. The reddish color of the pulp is caused by the accumulation of lycopene. It was probably the result of artificial selection, ”they add.
You mention a papyrus illustration from the 21st Dynasty of Egypt. And two Egyptian tomb paintings from around 4,450 years ago. They showed pictures of elongated fruits with dark green stripes. They were represented on trays and tables with other sweet foods such as grapes. How did the watermelon get sweet? Yes, through domestication, although it is not clear when. But we do know that in ancient Egypt they already enjoyed a sweet watermelon.