Watermelon radishes hail from China and are a unique and beautiful vegetable. Its versatility, nutritive value, and beneficial chemical compounds make it great for kitchens and kitchen gardens.
Raphanus sativus … say what?
Raphanus sativus, the watermelon radish, is an heirloom daikon radish. This root vegetable, a member of the Brassica (or mustard) family, has leafy greens on thin stems. The white to greenish globular root doesn’t look like much on the outside. But when you cut it open, you’ll find a dazzling white-rimmed, bright pink center (hence the name “watermelon”). At golf ball- to softball-size, it’s sweeter than other radish varieties, with a mild, slightly-peppery taste and subtle almond notes.
Also called Red Meat radish and Beauty Heart, this amazing veggie has ample benefits. In the garden, the chemical isothiocyanate contained inside it serves as a natural repellent for pests, weeds, and soil-borne pathogens. In your body, it delivers nutrients like folate, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin B6; and the leaves are a good source of calcium and vitamin C, especially when eaten raw. Watermelon radishes also:
- stimulate digestive function
- help prevent respiratory problems
- help lower cholesterol, high blood pressure, and cancer risk
How can you grow watermelon radishes?
Watermelon radishes require soil temperatures between 32 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit, so the peak season is spring to late fall. Well-drained soil with a pH of 5.8 to 6.8 is ideal for these veggies. Sow thinly 1/2 inch deep in early spring or mid-summer to early fall, and keep the soil moist. When seedlings appear in 4-6 days, thin to 2-3 inches apart. Resow every two weeks for a continuous harvest.
To care for your growing crop, water well; they’ll need about one inch of water every week. If you measure rainfall with a rain gauge, you may find you don’t need to water them yourself. Weeds may compete with your radishes for water and nutrients, so control them by mulching or cultivating. Fertilize sparingly, and be sure to avoid excess nitrogen.
After 50-65 days, your watermelon radishes will be ready to harvest. Feel under the soil for the presence of bulbs, and taste 2 or 3 for readiness. Complete your harvest before the weather warms in spring, or in fall before the ground freezes.
Of course, you don’t absolutely have to grow your own watermelon radishes. They’re available to buy year-round. Select bulbs with:
- smooth skin
- no deep cracks
- pink taproot
- very pink interior (if you can see it)
What can you do with watermelon radishes?
Store raw watermelon radishes unwashed, with greens removed, in the refrigerator. They’ll keep for up to three weeks. Pickle and can them for longer storage.
Applications are plentiful. Slice raw radishes thinly and use in salads, on sandwiches, or with sushi. Slice and pickle them to use as a condiment. In China, they are often cooked with fish. The greens are delicious in stews, soups, and stir-fries. Saute the roots in oil over medium heat, perhaps with carrots and ginger. Or roast them with other root veggies and herbs at 400 degrees for 40 minutes.
Watermelon radishes have a delicious sweet flavor as-is or cut into thin slices with some olive oil, vinegar, kosher salt, sea salt, cilantro, or garlic. They also pair well with:
- a grain bowl
- feta and goat cheese
- bacon (what isn’t good with bacon!)
- mixed greens, radish greens, and salad
- green onion and red onion
- soba, udon, and similar noodles
Delicious and good for you, these Chinese roots are easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen. Now that some of the mystery of the watermelon radish has been explained, why not try some for yourself?