Japan is known for producing some interesting and expensive fruit. But none is as iconic as the square watermelon, a simple yet beautiful specially grown fruit. Perfect for decorating and gift-giving, the square watermelon is prized as a status symbol (though its taste is not so great).
How are Square Watermelons Produced?
Square watermelons come from just one single grower in Zentsuji City in Kagawa prefecture. It is an otherwise ordinary watermelon farm, which uses some innovative growing techniques to create its flagship fruit. The square box used for growing is patented, meaning that Zentsuji are the only legal producers of square watermelons. That’s right – they’re not genetically modified, but grown in a custom box.
A square watermelon starts life as a standard oval watermelon, grown until they reach a certain size. When they are ready, they are placed inside the sturdy box which gives them the ideal 18cm x 18cm shape. While that sounds simple enough, a lot of care is required to create the perfect square watermelon shape. The corners need to be filled evenly, and the lines need to be aligned so they are parallel with the edges. The slightest crack can ruin months of work, and any watermelons that get sick or have a blemish are discarded.
The watermelons are packed into boxes perfect sized to fit them, and layered with packing material. An official sticker unique to the Zentsuji farm is affixed, and a guide to decorating them with a ribbon is included in the square packing box. They are sent off the supermarkets and department stores to be sold.
Why Were Square Watermelons Invented?
The watermelons were originally envisaged to be edible watermelons that could fit on a shelf or in the fridge. However, harvesting them fully ripe meant that they only lasted a few days before they could be eaten, not ideal for such an expensive show item. So, the farmers changed tactic, and began harvesting them unripe to increase their shelf life to about 6 months.
While this meant that the inside was yellow and unpleasant to eat, it allowed them to stay perfect for longer, and be used as a lasting ornament.
All That Hard Work Comes At A Price…
All of this special consideration means that square watermelons are not cheap. They sell for around ¥20,000 ($185USD). And because of the rigorous quality control needed to sign off on a perfect square watermelon, only about 200 are produced every year. This means they are very difficult to find. In fact, many fruit stores do not sell them, and those who can get their hands on one keep them for display only to give their fruit display a touch of class.
Naturally, copycats have sprung up in Japan and abroad. While Zentsuji is the only brand allowed to sell them in Japan, Chinese versions have become popular exports. Other shapes have sprung up as well, such as the heart-shaped watermelon.
There we have it, the story behind one of Japan’s most recognisable and beloved luxury gift fruits. But there are more crazy fruits out there to discover as well. On the shelf next to the square watermelon, you might find White Jewel Strawberries, Miyazaki Mangoes, or even the prized Yūbari melon!