It’s often hard for food scientists to discover the truth about how fruits and vegetables used to look before we used breeding to turn them into heartier and more delicious produce.
But if you know where to look you can find out all kinds of things about the past, and when it came to discovering how much watermelons have changed since the Renaissance one professor looked to the world of fine art.
Horticulture professor James Nienhuis used a painting by Giovanni Stanchi as an example of what watermelons used to look like before we bred them to have the dense flesh and bright red color we look for today.
However, the "starring" we see in the watermelon's meat in the painting is something that still happens today due to sub-par growing conditions.
Here's more on how we've perfected the watermelon:
That fleshy interior is actually the watermelon's placenta, which holds the seeds. Before it was fully domesticated, that placenta lacked the high amounts of lycopene that give it the red color. Through hundreds of years of domestication, we've modified smaller watermelons with a white interior into the larger, lycopene-loaded versions we know today.
Of course, we haven't only changed the color of watermelon. Lately, we've also been experimenting with getting rid of the seeds — which Nienhuis reluctantly calls "the logical progression in domestication." Future generations will at least have photographs to understand what watermelons with seeds looked like. But to see the small, white watermelons of the past, they too will have to look at Renaissance art.