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Ali Baba Watermelon
Inventory, lb : 0
|Tom King Farms|
Ali Baba watermelons are large and elongated, oblong fruits, averaging 12 to 30 pounds. The rind is smooth and thick with a unique, light green hue, covered in dark green lines and mottling. Underneath the pale surface, the remaining rind is white and crunchy with a mild, vegetal flavor. The flesh ranges in color from pink to red and is crisp, aqueous, and fine-grained, encasing a few, large black-brown seeds. Ali Baba watermelons are subtly aromatic with a vibrant, sweet, and fruity flavor.
Ali Baba watermelons are available in the summer through fall.
Ali Baba watermelons, botanically classified as Citrullus lanatus, are a rare, heirloom variety belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family. The light green fruits were originally from Iraq and are cultivated for their unusual, light-skinned rind, often displayed in large piles at farm stands across the country. Growers favor the variety for its resistance to sun damage, transportability, and high yields, and the juicy melons were also seen as a vital source of clean water in the arid, desert regions. In the 20th century, Ali Baba watermelons were introduced to European and American farmers, becoming a specialized variety grown on a small scale through farms and home gardeners internationally.
Ali Baba watermelons are an excellent source of vitamins A and C, which are antioxidants that can strengthen the immune system and promote collagen production within the skin. The fruits also contain lycopene, which is an antioxidant that gives the flesh its red hue and has been shown to help reduce inflammation. In addition to antioxidants, the melons provide some magnesium, fiber, and potassium.
Ali Baba watermelons are best suited for raw applications as their juicy, sweet flesh is showcased when consumed fresh, out-of-hand. The flesh can be sliced, cubed, or balled and tossed into salads, fruit bowls, or used as a topping over ice cream. It can also be blended into smoothies, juices, and cocktails, served on appetizer plates with cheese, or frozen and used as flavored ice cubes. Beyond the flesh, the rind can be sliced into thin pieces and lightly stir-fried or pickled for extended use. Ali Baba watermelons pair well with herbs such as basil, mint, cilantro, and parsley, cheeses such as cotija, feta, and goat, fruits such as blackberries, blueberries, pomegranate, coconut, and peaches, nuts such as pecans, hazelnuts, and pistachios, fennel, and cinnamon. Whole Ali Baba watermelons can be stored at room temperature for 1-2 weeks. When cut, the slices should be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to four days.
Ali Baba watermelons are just one of many heirlooms that Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has worked to preserve from Iraq. The land of present-day Iraq used to be home to advanced Mesopotamian civilizations centered around the study of agriculture. These civilizations would take produce, such as melons, and would be carefully select, save, and pass on the seeds exhibiting optimal qualities to cultivate crops with increased flavor, heat tolerance, and transportability. Though the art of seed saving was once considered invaluable, the practice has been recently lost in Iraq due to years of war, a shortage of clean irrigation water, and a lack of cultivable land. Today less than twenty-seven percent of the country is used for agriculture. Farmers have also felt the increasing pressure to feed a growing population without resources, causing many of the agricultural productions to become unsustainable. Despite Iraq’s political and socioeconomic unrest, many of the heirloom varieties found in the country have been documented and protected before they were completely lost through the efforts of seed companies such as Baker Creek. The purpose of these seed saving programs is to honor the seed’s rich history, preserve it for future generations, and raise awareness of the genetic diversity found throughout the world.
Ali Baba watermelons are native to Iraq and were introduced to the United States through Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in the late 20th century. The company obtained the seeds through a partnership with Iraqi seed collector, Aziz Nael, and the seeds were first offered to American growers through Baker Creek’s Rareseeds website. Today the parental lineage of Ali Baba watermelons is believed to have been lost in Iraq due to war, but the seeds have been distributed to other online retailers across the United States to expand cultivation. In the United States, Ali Baba watermelons can be found through specialty growers at farmer’s markets and are also grown in home gardens. The Ali Baba watermelons featured in the photograph above were cultivated at Tom King Farms, an organic grower located in Ramona, California.