Watermelons are suffering from severe sunburn this year – but South Africans still can’t get enough

Photo: Verité

 

  • Heatwaves in the northern provinces of South Africa have resulted in sun-damaged and smaller-than-usual watermelons.
  • But demand has been so strong that even sunburnt watermelons sold out quickly.
  • Eating watermelon could help to prevent getting sunburnt yourself.

The heatwave at the end of 2018 took a toll on the looks and size of one of South Africa’s favourite summer foods.

“The severe heat and lack of rain during November and December meant the All Sweet watermelon got heavily sunburnt and the fruit was a lot smaller due to insufficient water,” says Gary Webb, production director of Habata Farm Fresh Produce.

The “All Sweet” is the most common variety in South Africa.

Freshplaza, the international platform for fresh produce news, reported that there was a shortage of large watermelons in December due to the severe heat in the northern provinces, in particular Limpopo.

“There was a lot of bad quality fruit in the market which realized bad prices – which in turn provided an opportunity for those with good quality to increase their prices,” says Webb.

Habata grows watermelons in the Eastern Cape, and has not been affected by the heat damage.

Jumbo watermelons fetched around R70 each on the wholesale market, while 10kg watermelons went for R45 to R50, Freshplaza reported. This was slightly better than last year’s prices.

But watermelon demand was so strong in December that even fruit with sunburn was absorbed within a week by the market, reports Freshplaza.

Sunburnt watermelons have yellowish skin and are smaller, but moderate heat damage does not affect taste much.

Interestingly, watermelon can help with your sunburn – it is rich in antioxidants and sun-protective phytochemicals (chemical compounds produced by plants), which can protect your skin against UV-radiation. Also: watermelons are seen as both a fruit and vegetable.

Yellow watermelons

The yellow-fleshed watermelon variants that have gained some traction in Europe in recent years never really took off locally, says Webb. While local hotels introduced the product on their menus, he says, consumers weren’t adequately aware and “educated” about the fruit.”

“The quality of this fruit was never that great either.”

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