Japan corners the market on square fruit
By Thom Patterson
ZENTSUJI, Japan (CNN) -- Japan appears to have cornered the market on square-shaped fruit.
Farmers in the southern Japanese town of Zentsuji have figured out how to grow their watermelons so they turn out square.
It's not a fad. The technique actually has practical applications. "The reason they're doing this in Japan is because of lack of space," said Samantha Winters of the National Watermelon Promotion Board in Orlando, Florida.
A fat, round watermelon can take up a lot of room in a refrigerator, and the usually round fruit often sits awkwardly on refrigerator shelves.
But clever Japanese farmers have solved this dilemma by forcing their watermelons to grow into a square shape. Farmers insert the melons into square, tempered glass cases while the fruit is still growing on the vine.
The square boxes are the exact dimensions of Japanese refrigerators, allowing full-grown watermelons to fit conveniently and precisely onto refrigerator shelves.
But cubic fruit comes with a caveat: Each square watermelon costs 10,000 yen, the equivalent of about $82. Regular watermelons in Japan cost from $15 to $25 each.
At $82 apiece, Winters said she didn't know if there would be a market for square-grown watermelons in the United States.
"I think that's a pretty expensive watermelon," she said. "Maybe they give them as gifts. Maybe it says something for the gift-fruit market, perhaps."
But Winters also said that there does appear to be a growing U.S. market for watermelon that is more refrigerator-friendly. She said the industry is hearing from consumers that size matters.
"Our growers grow round, seedless melons in various sizes," she said. "And that's one reason why we grow the smaller watermelons ... so they'll fit into a refrigerator."
Winters added that so-called fresh-cut watermelon is widely available at U.S. groceries, another possible solution to a crisis created by oversized melons.
A recipe on the board's website calls for half-inch watermelon squares for use in martinis.
"You can find two-inch cubes" in groceries, Winters said. "They have watermelon that's cut in quarters and halves. And you can find clamshell containers with fresh-cut watermelon in there as well." Watermelon also can be pureed and poured into ice-cube trays for freezing.
So it seems U.S. watermelon lovers will have to settle for fresh-cut for now, and the $82, square watermelon won't be showing up at American groceries anytime soon.
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