There's a lot happening in the world of watermelons. Just ask researchers at ARS's South Central Agricultural Research Laboratory in Lane, Oklahoma.
For starters, plant geneticist Angela Davis is developing low-sugar watermelons. These melons, which still maintain high lycopene levels, would be welcomed by diabetics.
Meanwhile, plant physiologist Penelope Perkins-Veazie has followed up previous work--in which she confirmed watermelon as a high-lycopene food (See "Watermelon Packs a Powerful Lycopene Punch," Agricultural Research, June 2002)--by finding that lycopene and beta-carotene are abundant in mini-watermelons, a niche product that's recently seen a surge in popularity.
Lycopene is a red pigment that gives watermelons and tomatoes their color. Studies have linked it to reduced incidence of certain cancer types and lower heart-attack risk. Beta-carotene, which is also found in regular watermelons, converts in the body to vitamin A, which promotes clear vision, bone growth, and healthy reproduction.
The researchers' latest studies were simplified by a technique they developed with Lane biochemist Wayne Fish, allowing rapid determination of watermelon's lycopene content.
Davis says that the low-sugar watermelons she's developed are "just like regular watermelons. They're crisp and refreshing, just like a melon should be." And she says people can use artificial sweeteners if they wish to fully duplicate the taste found in regular watermelon.
She says the market potential for these fruits is substantial "because many consumers view excess simple sugars as bad for them." Oklahoma State University food specialist Barbara Brown agrees. "They would be...
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