I hardly ever ate watermelon before the seedless varieties hit the market. I’m not a huge fan of watermelon as a child, to start with, but almost everyone in my family was. My father didn’t even buy watermelon from the market because they weren’t fresh enough. Oh, no, we’d drive to farms in Bulacan where he’d pick the fruits while they were still attached to the vines. Whenever he asked me what I wanted, I’d say, “Sugar Baby” because that was the only one I knew. Whether that was red or yellow, I wasn’t even sure.
When exactly seedless watermelons came into the picture, I do not remember. My next encounter with the fruit was when Sam was about four months old and my father-in-law fed her with small pieces of watermelon. Sam seemed to like it. Speedy and I mentioned this to the pediatrician who warned us that Sam was too young for watermelon. After that, I would hover over Sam when we were in the dining room to make sure that the doting grandfather wouldn’t get a chance to slip pieces of watermelon into her mouth.
Whether it was because of that early exposure to the fruit or something else, Sam grew up loving watermelon. And she loves making watermelon smoothie. With seedless watermelon, of course. How can you make a smoothie with seeded watermelon, right? I mean, unless you want to pry off the seeds one by one… There came a point when I wondered where all the watermelon seeds had gone. With so much controversy surrounding genetically modified food, I decided it was time to find out if seedless watermelons are GMOs.
Are seedless watermelons genetically modified? The answer is yes and no. To be more specific, some are and some aren’t. The problem, of course, is how the heck do we determine which are and which aren’t. We can’t without honest labeling. If you buy fruits from the market (i.e., not the grocery) like we do, good luck on finding labels.
But if only for academic exercise, just how do watermelons become seedless? To start with, they aren’t really seedless. See the photo above and notice the white things embedded on the fruit flesh. There are seeds but the seeds don’t develop the hard black skin so they remain small, soft and edible.
There are two ways to grow seedless watermelons. The first is much like creating a hybrid of any plant.
A seedless watermelon is a sterile hybrid which is created by crossing male pollen for a watermelon, containing 22 chromosomes per cell, with a female watermelon flower with 44 chromosomes per cell. When this seeded fruit matures, the small, white seed coats inside contain 33 chromosomes, rendering it sterile and incapable of producing seeds… [The truth about seedless watermelon]
Strictly speaking, that is genetic modification BUT no chemical substance that may be harmful to humans is added.
The second way of producing seedless watermelon is by using a drug called colchicine which, in the US, has been used for treatment of rheumatism and gout without FDA approval. The controversy? Colchicine is toxic.
Insofar as producing seedless watermelons go, the watermelon seeds are soaked in colchicine. You can read how the process goes here and here. How much of the chemical properties of colchicine is retained in the mature plant, well, I can’t find any information about that.
The bottom line, if you can buy seedless watermelon from a reliable source (i.e., one who grows the fruits without the involvement of colchinine), then, by all means, go for it.