Watermelon is the new coconut: 2017 Superfood forecast

Watermelon juice is the new coconut water.
Watermelon juice is the new coconut water. Photo: iStock

The coconut craze is taking a back seat this summer as we welcome watermelon back to the table.

As the latest and greatest food fad, watermelon will be cementing its status in our social feeds – but not just for aesthetic reasons.

While the fruit itself is not new, now its content is sold separately.

Watermelon juice and its seeds are becoming "superfoods" and Beyonce may have played a small part. Recently the star invested in WTRMLN WTR (read: watermelon water). And if it's anything like the time she declared part-time veganism a thing, you can presume it's going to be big.

The water, said to be "the future of clean hydration" will take over as "the new coconut water", with claims it's packed with electrolytes and L-Citrulline (an amino acid that reduces muscle soreness and boosts performance).

But it's not only the juice that has people rushing to wholefood outlets – the black seeds we were told to spit out as kids are now gaining their own superfood status, too.

Watermelon water aka Wtrmln Wtr.
Watermelon water aka Wtrmln Wtr. Photo: Supplied

UK brand Mello is now selling the seeds, removing the bitter black shells and roasting to serve as a lightly salted, high protein snack.

But is it all marketing hype? Sydney dietitian Dr Joanna McMillan says there is some nutritional merit as, like any other seed, the watermelon pips contain key nutrients such as good fats and fibre.

As for the juice, McMillan isn't convinced. "I think it's another fad," she says. "Watermelon water is high in sugars (even if naturally present). When it comes to hydration, people just need water. But, if you're looking for health benefits, eating [the fruit] whole is the best option for a low kilojoule treat."

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"I've seen the seeds popping up in health bars and wholefood stores all over the US," says former MasterChef contestant and author of The Healthy Cook Dan Churchill. "I am a fan of the little guys – they have a similar texture and flavour to sunflower seeds."

With shell-less versions yet to hit the Australia, how should we eat or cook with them at home?

"For the greatest benefit, activate them (it improves the body's ability to absorb their protein) then toss in a quinoa, sweet potato and rocket salad," suggests Churchill. To "activate" the seeds, soak in salted water overnight then dehydrate for 12-24 hours.

Alternatively, spice them up. Somer Sivrioglu, chef at Sydney restaurants Anason and Efendy, currently features watermelon seeds on his breakfast board. He recommends dehydrating the pips with salt and sumac, tossing in hot oil to flash fry, before adding to a grain salad.

If watermelon seeds aren't your thing, there's a whole new bunch of intriguing superfoods entering the market. We've asked some top chefs to give us their superfood forecast for 2017 – along with how to eat them.

Tiger nuts

Not actually a nut, this unusual superfood is a tuber (underground root bulb) and stems from a weed called yellow nutsedge.

"These beauties are definitely something to look out for," says Churchill. "Traditionally used as a dairy milk alternative known as horchata in Spain, they have a beautiful sweetness and contain half our daily fibre need. I recommend toasting them or adding them to dips."

Avocado oil

The ultimate rival to coconut oil, avocado oil not only contains good fat but can also handle heat. "Its high smoke point makes it good for frying, while still preserving health benefits," says Christopher Hogarth, executive chef at Sydney's Papi Chulo.

"I would recommend cooking chips in avocado oil if you can afford it, otherwise save it for salad dressings, it has a wonderful nutty aroma and smooth flavour."

Churchill recommends drizzling it over white fish or adding to pesto or avocado salsa.

Prickly pear plants.

Prickly pear plants. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Cactus water

In case watermelon doesn't do it for you, there's always cactus water.

Derived from the prickly pear cactus, this plant-based water is said to contain betalins – antioxidants that hydrate and revive the skin – electrolytes, and taurine – an amino acid naturally found in the body and said to reverse muscle tissue damage and improve physical performance.

Despite the prickly connotations, it's sweeter and contains less sugar than coconut water. Claims even suggest it even cures hangovers. Cactus cocktail anyone?

Tiny grains ... Teff.

Tiny grains ... teff. Photo: Danielle Colley

Teff

Dubbed the new quinoa, teff is slowly gaining attention as a go-to gluten-free choice. But how we cook with it is still in the early stages.

"In Ethiopia teff is used to make injera – a type of flatbread sourdough. Once cooked, they tear it into portions and dip it into sauce or simmered dishes (much like how roti is used in Indian food)," says Churchill.

 Hogarth believes we should leave sourdough to the experts though. "It may work well as a gluten-free option, however I tried to make sourdough using teff and it sucked. It turned out more of a cake texture, so I'd give it a go as a flour substitute in cake instead."

Alternatively, Churchill uses teff as the staple ingredient in brunch classics. "I like to use it as a foundation for fritters or in my coconut cinnamon porridge."

Banana bread.

Banana flour is a no-brainer for banana bread. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Sweet potato flour and banana flour

If teff is a little too temperamental for you, sweet potato flour or banana flour will make great gluten-free friends.

Sweet potato flour offers all the health benefits of the root vegetable – high fibre, vitamin A, B5, B6 and beta carotene – while banana flour has potassium, resistant starch (which helps blood sugar) and magnesium (for muscle recovery).

As for how to use them, banana flour is a no-brainer for banana bread: "it adds density and a cake-like texture," says Churchill. The flour is made from ground, dried fruit.

Sweet potato flour in cacao-based brownies adds a "balanced carbohydrate and antioxidant hit" or will work well as a roux: "just coat vegies with a little flour prior to roasting and it'll give them some extra crispy attention," advises Churchill.

Dust sweet potato fries in sweet potato flour for extra crunch.

Dust sweet potato fries in sweet potato flour for extra crunch. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Pink and charcoal coconut

OK, maybe coconut will never be over and it'll just continue to evolve, next year, in the form of activated coconut charcoal and pink coconut water.

Activated coconut charcoal is the current smoothie supplement du jour of the health scene with the black powder appearing in juices and smoothies all over Australia, thanks to its detoxifying powers and mystifying appearance. Lola Berry's Happy Place in Melbourne offers a limited edition Black Magic smoothie and Pressed Juices sells a Black Lemonade tonic.

On the brighter side of the colour spectrum, pink coconut water is now the carton of choice. Made from young green coconuts, pink is said to be the natural colour the liquid takes when extracted in its purest form. Currently it's only available from Rebel Kitchen but is sure to hit Australia soon. Stay tuned.