This sweet summer fruit, a popular picnic staple and snacking delight across the world, has a long history beginning in Northeastern Africa. Although there are many different varieties of melons that grow all across the continent, the modern watermelon we eat today probably originated in Egypt thousands of years ago, where it still grows in the wild. The watermelon’s biological ancestor would have been a bitter fruit with a thick rind, but evidence shows that the ancient Egyptians cultivated a variety like the one we have today. Watermelon seeds and painted depictions of the red delicacy have been found in Egyptian tombs built over 4000 years ago— even King Tut’s! A main reason the watermelon might have been so popular in these times is right in its name: water. Naturally filled with fresh water and protected by a sturdy casing, watermelons would have been a great source of hydration during dry months. And with more groups of people trading watermelons in the Mediterranean, they may have also become a commodity to travellers on ships, who didn’t have unlimited access to fresh water.
The watermelon went on to spread across Asia and Europe, and was brought to the Americas by colonists and the slave trade from Africa. Today, 100 million tons of watermelons are grown annually worldwide, with China being the largest producer, and Egypt still being the ninth largest producer in the world.