Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

How to choose a watermelon (karpouzi)

Many people in Greece count the number of swims as a measure of how good summer was to them. I count the number of watermelons to judge how sweet or hot my summer was.*

How to choose a watermelon (karpouzi)

In my opinion, the best place to get a watermelon is from a neighborhood green grocer (manavis) because they have the freshest produce and a lot of turnover.

Farmer’s markets (laiki) are not always sure bets since some vendors carry watermelons from town to town; some established roadside stands next to a field are OK (see Comments). Grocery stores are fine, especially if: a) you’re short on time; b) you’re single and the store will cut one to fit in your mini fridge; or c) you’re on foot and it’s the closest location. Walking home and uphill with a 10-kilo watermelon in your arms is no easy task! I’ve done it more than once in 39°C weather and don’t wish to repeat the experience.

Purchasing from a stationary or roving watermelon truck — you know, the dude who yells incomprehensible stuff over a loudspeaker — is sometimes a risk because you don’t know if these are rejects from city farmer’s markets (laiki) or how long they’ve been baking in the sun, though it is convenient for people who are far from town without a vehicle or physically unable to lift, carry or travel long distances.

No matter where you get a watermelon, it comes down to selecting a ripe, fresh one. How do you do that?

1. Look for a yellow or cream-colored spot
Every watermelon has a non-photogenic, non-green side that sat on the ground to grow (see above photo) — if it’s yellow, it’s ripe. Watermelons don’t ripen once picked, so it’s essential to find one that was picked at its peak.

2. Look for a stem that is still green
The greener the stem, the fresher the watermelon. If it’s brown, dried and shriveled, it might still be OK if #1 and #3 are true, but more likely it’s been sitting around and may soon turn mealy. You can still eat the watermelon or use it for sorbet and popsicles if it’s slightly mealy, but it’s not at its peak freshness.

Warning: If the grocer has purposely cut off the stem, (s)he is trying to trick you into buying a bad or old watermelon.

3. Pick it up and feel if it’s heavy
I realize all watermelons are heavy, but it should seem weighty for its size because you’re looking for high water content. i.e., A melon we purchased was 14 kilos, which seemed like a lot because it looked small. If it’s light or average, it might be drying up inside.

4. Listen for a high-pitched hollow sound
When thumping a watermelon, it should not thump; it should sound high pitched like hitting a tight drum. If you don’t understand what to listen for, feel free to skip this step and use the other three tips.

Some people talk about symmetry or looking at the lines of the watermelon; I’ve found that it makes absolutely no difference. Others say to scrape or look at the dullness or shininess of a rind, but that’s not a good indicator either if the rind has been waxed or treated.

Usually, if #1 and #2 are true, you don’t need to go any further. I’ve chosen many wonderful watermelons using only the first two criteria and using the last two as experiments. All have been sweet, all have been ripe, all have been fresh.

When cutting it, I recommend starting on the stem side if you intend to stand it up in the fridge. It’s flatter on the non-stem side.

* We ate a record 19 watermelons one summer because our ex-apartment logged an indoor temperature of 92°F (33°C) or higher every day, as it was uninsulated, on the top floor, and the air conditioner broke. We moved and bought a new AC unit since then. I also favor watermelon over sugary “juice” from Tetra Paks that many people are inexplicably crazy for in Greece, which is why I’m eating them well into October.

Interesting facts

  • In ” Όλα με το μαχαίρι,” Greek newspaper Ta Nea reminds us that the Greek word for watermelon is υδροπέπων (ydropepon) — hydro (water), pepon (melon). So where did the word karpouzi come from? The Turkish word for watermelon is karpuz.
  • Watermelon has lycopene, which helps the skin on your face look smoother, tighter and moisturized. Combined with cherries and nectarines, the skin stands a better chance against the sun though they’re not substitutes for a minimum SPF 15 lotion to fight the effects of aging. See “Eat These 3 Fruits for Great Summer Skin.”

Watermelon sorbet

Near the end of the season, I have perfectly good watermelon sitting around because I can’t eat a 15-kilo monster on my own. That’s when the watermelon sorbet recipe comes out, and I put a little bit of summer in the freezer. I also make watermelon syrup for homemade soda.


3/4 cup (175 ml) sugar or fructose* (Splenda does not work well)
3/4 cup (175 ml) water
3 1/2 cups (830 ml)  chopped watermelon pulp without seeds
1/4 cup (60 ml) fresh lemon juice
Ice cream maker
Reusable ice cream container or Tupperware (or eat it all!)

*The amount of sugar/fructose should be adjusted according to the sweetness of the watermelon and your personal taste.


1. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower heat, cover and gently boil for 4 minutes. Cool, then chill syrup well in the refrigerator.

2. Puree the watermelon in a blender. The end result should net 2 1/2 cups (590 ml); use more watermelon if needed.

3. Combine watermelon puree, sugar syrup and lemon juice.  (I chill again after combining; having the coldest possible ingredients is ideal when making ice cream or sorbet)

4. Pour into the ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, you can also put the mixture in a shallow metal pan, put it in the freezer and beat/scrape it every half hour or so.

Makes 1 quart and is best eaten right away. Recipe based on Beat This! by Anne Hodgman, a staple in my kitchen

Photos from (sorbet) and (watermelon)

In the News

Watermelon thieves saved from well by Greek police” – Telegraph
Looters hide Greek antiquities in watermelons” – BBC
Immigrants found in watermelon truck” – Reuters
Watermelon and melon producers protest prices” — Kathimerini
Siamese watermelon of Larissa, Greece” — Eleftherotypia
Smugglers hide migrants in watermelon truck” — Eleftherotypia
Simple ways to stay cool in the heat” — Ta Nea

Other recipes

Remix your gazpacho with watermelon and feta” — Bon Appetit
Seven unique ways to use watermelon” — Fox News

Related posts

10 Easy ways to save the planet
Remembering Mr. Takis
10 Tips for saving money on food

* Article updated June 28, 2014


  Cωνσtantίnoς wrote @ September 5th, 2008 at 12:47

Thanks for the tips (I’d love to try the recipe), but for me that ship has sailed. I will have to wait until next summer 🙁

Kat Reply:

Well, there’s always next year! At least you had a great time. 🙂

  Aris wrote @ September 5th, 2008 at 14:46

That sounds great actually. My son loves watermelon, but the best we can do here in the UK are spanish seedless ones (which are quite nice). I have seen Greek ones in some markets, but they tend to be massive – much too big to fit in my fridge. Perhaps I can put half in the fridge, and turn the other half into sorbet.!

Kat Reply:

That’s a good point. We moved the shelf, then checked the weight load to make sure 15 kilos wouldn’t break it. We usually buy one after our other groceries have been pared down since it takes considerable space, despite the large size of our fridge. My Greek counterpart swallows the seeds and I don’t mind them, but seedless is convenient, isn’t it?

  FMS wrote @ September 5th, 2008 at 16:02

I rely heavily on the pitch and character of the hollow sound when you knock on the melon. The higher but focused sound indicates a tightly stretched skin (like a drum) and the method seems to be foolproof, as long as you check for suitable visual appearance as well (i,e, no strange colours or soggy bits!)

Kat Reply:

I do think that’s a fine way to select a melon, but it’s confusing to some who don’t know what to listen for.

  photene wrote @ September 5th, 2008 at 16:19

Loved this post, great tips and am going to try the recipe this weekend albeit with good ole’ midwestern watemelons.

Kat Reply:

The nationality and origin of the melon does not matter for the recipe. Hehe 😉

  Margaret wrote @ September 6th, 2008 at 03:01

The sorbet recipe sounds great; I’d love to get hold of the book. We only managed two watermelons this summer-that-barely-was in the UK. The second, a giant, was bought by my husband. He was told it was Greek. Which was odd because our Iranian friends had bought an identical melon from the same shop an hour or so earlier and had been told they were all Turkish … Whatever, they were both delicious, and I’ll remember your “ripeness” tips for next time.

I wish we’d had the weather to consume eight like you.

Kat Reply:

Many friends in the UK and Canada have told me that summer was greatly abbreviated, so they stuffed (or are stuffing) themselves while in GR.

  thundera wrote @ September 6th, 2008 at 12:55

We only ate at my mom’s house cause we have the “small fridge” problem..:p Anyway ..if you remember around 3 years ago people were very disappointed from the watermelons taste. The farmers were putting a lot of hormones to the watermelons in order to have more of them and fast which led to the fact that all the watermelons matured in size and colour really quickly and inside they were immature (not so deep red coloured, not sweet ,no “watermelon” taste).What happened is that people complained a lot to their suppliers and the TV ,after awhile stopped buying watermelons and the goverment was pressed to do something about it.Well…next year after that we had the greatest watermelons! The bad thing with the watermelons is that if you eat a lot ( like half a big watermelon / 2 persons) you have to wake up at least 4 times at night to go to the toilet! LOL! My way to choose is the weight and the “tapping the drum” technic :p

Kat Reply:

When I lived alone, that also was an issue for me so the manavis often agreed to cut a small one even if my fridge wasn’t ‘mini.’ It’s just too much, unless one buys those cute, imported ones.

  kalliope wrote @ September 6th, 2008 at 16:41

Based on your delightful post, I am happy to report that I have had a VERY good summer. Using both the Watermelon AND the Number-of-Swims, it has been one for the record books! All natural elements played in my favor. Happily my husband became a fan of both this summer too. Yes it will be the season to meet or beat in the future.

Kat Reply:

Nice to see you again! I suspect you’ll be back sometime and outdo yourselves.

  weetabx wrote @ September 6th, 2008 at 17:01

Eight? Just eight? I think I and my boyfriend must have eaten more than fifteen this summer! We are actually both eating watermelon as I am writing this very message! Criteria #1 and #2 work for us, too.

Kat Reply:

Well, I know (not “think”) for sure we ate eight; that’s a lot for us. We work two jobs each, have busy social lives, train and diversify our menu; it’s also difficult to get to the grocer before it closes with our schedules. Who knows how many we could have eaten if those factors weren’t true. In any case, I was by no means bragging or starting a contest; I was simply stating the number we consumed had to do with our shoddy apartment and AC breaking, as we historically eat fewer.

  melusina wrote @ September 6th, 2008 at 18:15

I actually never knew how to pick a watermelon! I haven’t bought one since I’ve been in Greece, and in America I usually bought ones that were already split up (because a single person can’t really eat that much watermelon, as you know!). Even then I got my share of crappy melons. Now I’ll know how to pick them!

Kat Reply:

You really should try it now that you have your home, fridge and someone to help you lift and eat it.

  FMS wrote @ September 7th, 2008 at 00:56

I was inspired to go and buy another karpousi, as i didn’t eat any for a week or two. Using the “knocking” technique, and eschewing the lazy cut half-melons of AB, I selected a VERY HEAVY medium-size melon and it is the best melon I have ever eaten! 🙂

Kat Reply:

Kalo karpouzi!

  A. Krassopoulos wrote @ September 7th, 2008 at 15:50

My secret weapon for finding a good watermelon – or any other fruit – is to find a good greengrocer and let him choose; they usually know the quality of their produce.

Kat Reply:

If someone has an established relationship with a green grocer, I think asking him to pick one is a fine idea. Sometimes (not always) “new” people or tourists are given substandard items because only the best customers get the best stuff. Depends on the green grocer.

  Sandra wrote @ September 7th, 2008 at 16:29

thanks for the post, vey usefull!!

Kat Reply:

You’re welcome. Thank you for stopping in.

  Peter wrote @ September 7th, 2008 at 16:38

Yep, that’s pretty much how I choose my karpouzi too….MELI!!!!

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