Real Food Encyclopedia | Grapefruit and Pummelo

First came the pummelo, a native of Malaysia and other parts of southeast Asia, as well as the Pacific island of Fiji. The largest of all the citrus fruits, pummelos are shaped like a globe or sometimes like a pear, with a somewhat flattened end. Peel away their easily maneuvered thick, yellow-green rind and you’ll be rewarded with a perfume that should be bottled. You’ll encounter a spongy and easily removed pith which gives way to enormous seedless segments in the shade of coral pink or green grapes, both delicately sweet and juicy.

By the late 17th century, the pummelo traveled across the world, from Fiji to Barbados, with a certain sea captain named Shaddock (or Chaddock). The similar subtropical conditions made the pummelo feel at home, where they were bred with sweet orange, resulting in the edible offspring that we’ve come to know as the grapefruit.

Dubbed the “shaddock” (after the captain), the new fruit made its way to Jamaica, where in 1737 it was officially documented in “The Flora of Jamaica” as botanically different from the pummelo, earning the classification Citrus paradisi. In the early 1800s, the shaddock (and possibly even the “shattuck”) traveled from the West Indies to Florida, where it became known as the ‘grapefruit’ for its grape-like clusters on trees. The name irked many American commercial growers who tried in the 1940s to market it as a “pomelo.” As you can imagine, all kinds of confusion ensued, ensuring ‘grapefruit’ history. But to this day, the ‘pummelo’ and the ‘grapefruit’ are both known as ‘pomelos,’ depending on who you’re talking to.

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Fun Facts about Grapefruits and Pummelos:

  • By the late 1800s, the grapefruit was cultivated in Texas.
  • It is the pummelo, not the grapefruit, that is prized during Chinese New Year celebrations. Pummelo is a traditional fruit for the new year, a symbol of prosperity and status.
  • South Texas is home to the famed (and patented!) red grapefruit. It was declared the official state fruit of Texas in 1993.

What to Look for When Buying Grapefruits and Pummelos

Hold the fruit in your hand — it should feel heavy and the skin should feel smooth. Avoid browning or squishy spots.

Sustainability of Grapefruits and Pummelos

Pesticides and Grapefruits and Pummelos

According to the Environmental Working Group’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce, conventional grapefruit is at a relatively high number 24 for pesticide residues. Due to its limited US production, pummelo is not included on the list. (Note that the guide ranks all grapefruit, without guidance on specific varieties.) There are a growing number of organic grapefruit groves in Texas, Florida and California.

Grapefruit and Pummelo Seasonality

Although grapefruit is sold year-round in supermarkets, the peak season runs from December until March. The peak for pummelo is similar, with a somewhat earlier arrival, around late November.

Grapefruits and Pummelos and Geography

The pummelo thrives in China, Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia and the Caribbean. It is commercially grown in the United States but limited to subtropical spots like Florida and California. You will have a better chance of finding a pummelo in an Asian grocery or specialty market than in a conventional supermarket.

As for grapefruit, the US is the number one producer, followed by China, South Africa and Mexico. The leading states are Arizona, California, Florida and Texas, where red grapefruit has a colorful story.

Grapefruit first came to Texas at the end of the 19th century, but not until 1929 did things start to get interesting. “In 1929, farmers stumbled on the Ruby Red grapefruit, a natural mutant,” per a 2007 New York Times article. “Its flesh eventually faded to pink, however, and scientists fired radiation to produce mutants of deeper color — Star Ruby, released in 1971, and Rio Red, released in 1985. The mutant offspring now account for about 75 percent of all grapefruit grown in Texas.” The resulting ruby-red mutations also have registered trademarks. Since 1962, the state of Texas stopped growing white and pink varieties to focus solely on ruby-red production.

Eating Grapefruit and Pummelo

Storing Grapefruit and Pummelo

Store in the refrigerator to avoid mold but even in the chill, citrus has a limited shelf life and should be eaten within 10 days of purchase.

Cooking with Less Waste

Cooking with Grapefruits and Pummelos

Aside from eating out of hand (perhaps sprinkled with a bit of sugar or drizzled with honey), both the pummelo and grapefruit pair beautifully with bitter greens — arugula, watercress, frisée and escarole. They also like fennel, red onion, avocado and leafy herbs such as basil and cilantro. Both grapefruit and pummelo are a great compliment to grilled shrimp or scallops and will brighten up a dark wintry night.

Preserving Grapefruits and Pummelos

Candied grapefruit peel is always a treat! Or make grapefruit marmalade.

Grapefruit and Pummelo Nutrition

One half of an average-size grapefruit, at just 41 calories, supplies nearly three-fourths of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C. This is an easy fix if you’re starting to feel under the weather. It’s also rich in Vitamin A, a decent source of fiber and potassium. The pink and red varieties are loaded the disease-fighting phytochemicals in the form of lycopene.

You’ll get even more Vitamin C from a pummelo — 130 percent of the recommended daily allowance — and that’s just from one-fourth of this bowling ball-sized orb.

All of this is great news unless you’re among the millions of Americans taking cholesterol-lowering statins, which can be compromised in combination with grapefruit. Ironically, a 2006 study revealed links between eating grapefruit and lowered blood cholesterol levels.