All About Grapefruit

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By all rights the grapefruit should have been called the shaddock, even though the shaddock is sometimes used interchangeably with the pummelo – often mistakenly spelled pumelo or pomelo – the fruit that is the precursor of the grapefruit. Are you still with me?

You see, a certain Captain Shaddock brought the seeds of the pummelo from the Malay Archipelago to the West Indies in 1693. The seeds produced fruit somewhat smaller than the current grapefruit, more like an orange. The size of the fruit and the fact that it grew in bunches or clusters like grapes prompted a 19th century naturalist to liken the new fruit to grapes, with which it has no botanical relationship whatsoever.

But the name stuck and for the next almost two centuries, people have been asking, “How come a grapefruit is called a grapefruit?”


Malay Archipelago

Malay Archipelago

Though Captain Shaddock is given credit for starting the grapefruit line, botanists and growers aren’t sure whether he should be called the father or the uncle. Some say the grapefruit is a cross between an orange and the pummelo (or shaddock), while others believe that grapefruit is a natural mutant (sometimes referred to as a small shaddock) derived from the seeds Captain Shaddock brought to the West Indies.

The pummelo grows wild in some regions of Malaysia and Indonesia, where it is believed to have originated. Also in the grapefruit family is the Ugli fruit, also marketed as the Uniq. Ugli, a trademarked name, is Jamaican in origin and appears to be a hybrid of the mandarin (tangerine) and grapefruit.

By 1823, Odet Phillippe, a French Nobleman, had planted the first grapefruit grove in the United States near Tampa, Florida. By 1840 the popularity of grapefruit was established. Within a few decades, refrigeration made shipping less difficult and botanists had developed a “seedless” grapefruit (less than eight seeds per fruit). By 1890 grapefruit growing was a major commercial venture in Florida.

As Northern states began getting more regular shipments around the turn of the century new varieties were being developed, the seedy pink Foster in 1907, the seedless pink Thompson in 1913, and the Ruby seedless red in 1929.

Ugli Fruit

Ugli Fruit

The United States is the major producer of grapefruit with 41% of the world’s share. It’s also the biggest grapefruit consumer. Florida grows about 75% of the U.S. grapefruit crop in two areas of the state, Central Florida and the Indian River. Texas is a distant second, then comes California and Arizona. The Indian River area of Florida is such a good spot because it runs parallel to the Gulfstream and the warm currents protect the groves from the killing frosts that may occur during Florida winters.

California is also the major supplier of pummelos. Jamaica provides Ugli fruit. Most of the grapefruit imported comes from the Bahamas.


Growers have consistently improved the flavor and sweetness of grapefruit and have worked to reduce the number of seeds. Most varieties found in the market today are seedless. Each grapefruit tree produces between 1300 to 1500 pounds of fruit annually. About 60% of the grapefruit commercial crop today is processed into juice and segments.

The are two main grapefruit varieties, white and red. The white Marsh or Marsh Seedless, a Florida grapefruit which superseded the Duncan, has no seeds but is less flavorful than the seedier Duncan. (What little Duncan there is left is used for processing.) The Redblush or Ruby Red is a red or pink variety which was developed from the Marsh and is primarily grown in Texas.

pummelo from


Marsh Seedless is also called white or golden because it has a bright yellow skin and honey colored meat that is firm and tart. Ruby Red or Red blush grapefruit has yellow skin with a pronounced red blush and flavorful, pink meat. The color of the meat can range from very pale to deeper reddish tones, depending on the time of year, variety and growing conditions.

In the past few years “super red” varieties such as the Star Ruby and Rio Red have become more popular. The Star Ruby has a yellow skin and a deeper red color than the Ruby Red. The Rio Red (also called Rio Star) is similar to the Star Ruby but has an even deeper red interior color as well as a red blush on the skin. Other red varieties are the Ruby Sweet (also called a Henderson or Ray) which is seedless with very dark red flesh, and the Flame.

Grapefruit quality depends largely on the time of year it is harvested (see Seasons) and where the fruit is grown. In general, Florida grapefruit is considered to have superior quality because grapefruit requires high heat for sweet flavor. (Though hot areas of California, Texas and Arizona also produce good fruit.) The Indian River Valley is one of the premier areas for Florida grapefruit, particularly for fruit labeled Orchid ,the name of an island in the area. Florida grapefruit has thinner rinds and is juicier than California grapefruit which is easier to peel.

Because Americans have shown a preference for sweet grapefruit over tart or bitter fruit, the less acidic Melogold and Oroblanco varieties – both crosses between the pummelo and the grapefruit – are becoming more popular. Each has yellow skin and white meat.

The pummelo, also known as the Chinese grapefruit or Shaddock, is popular in the Asia but is new to California and rarely seen in the Eastern United States. The largest of citrus fruits – it can be as big as a basketball – the pummelo has a very thick skin and white to deep pink flesh. The aromatic and sweet flesh has no trace of bitterness and is easily segmented.

red ruby grapefruit from

red ruby

The fragrant Ugli is allegedly pronounced OO-gli by Jamaicans who grow this cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. Ranging in size from an orange to a large grapefruit, the Ugli gets its name from the somewhat unattractive, russeted yellow-green skin which fits loosely over the fruit. Not surprisingly, this ill-fitting cloak comes off easily revealing yellow-orange fruit that is moderately sweet, tasting of grapefruit with hints of orange or mandarin.


Although this is a year-round fruit, the peak period for grapefruit runs from January to April when Florida grapefruit harvest is in full swing. As the Florida harvest slows to a trickle in late June and July, the California harvest picks up. Overall supplies of grapefruit are at their lowest from July through September.

Some red varieties such as Ruby Sweet, Rio Star and Flame are available from October through May. Oroblanco and Melogolds are harvested from December through April. Summer is a bad time for citrus in general and especially grapefruit which is often inferior in quality but still pricey.

Pummelo season is mid January through mid February. The Ugli is also a winter fruit but its season usually extends into the spring.


Look for grapefruit that is smooth, thin-skinned and round or slightly flattened at each end. These will have the best flavor and the most juice. They should be firm, shiny and heavy in the hand for their size, an indication of abundant juice.

Avoid coarse, rough-looking, puffy fruit or any with puffy protruding ends, which is an indication that the fruit is dry and flavorless. Good fruit should be springy to touch, not soft, wilted or flabby. Defects on the surface of the rind such as scale, scars, torn scratches, discoloration are minor affecting appearance only, not the eating quality.

melogold grapefruit from


Grapefruit is ripe when picked and will not ripen further once off the tree. Store at room temperature for several days. Otherwise refrigerate in a plastic bag or in the crisper section of the refrigerator where it will keep for several weeks.


A serving of 1/2 grapefruit (154 grams, 5.5 ounces) contains 70 calories, 18 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of protein, 5 grams of dietary fiber, 10% of the Daily Values (formerly the RDA) for vitamin A, 80 % for vitamin C and 4% for calcium. Grapefruit is also a good source of folic acid and potassium.

Some studies indicate that the pectin in grapefruit pulp (not the juice) helps lower blood cholesterol and may even help to dissolve the plaque that already clogs arteries. Grapefruit appears to have protective affects against certain forms of cancer, namely stomach and pancreatic cancer. It also is high in disease-fighting antioxidants, particularly the redder varieties.

Freshly squeezed juice stored at 40 degrees retains 98% of its Vitamin C for up to a week. Eight ounces of fresh-squeezed juice supplies 139% to 157% of the DV for Vitamin C, while canned juice supplies 112% of the DV. Grapefruit juice has antiviral properties though its acidic qualities may aggravate heartburn in some people.


Each medium grapefruit has 10 to 12 sections, 2/3 cup juice, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of grated peel.


Most people halve a grapefruit and eat it by scooping out the sections with a teaspoon, often one with a serrated edge specifically for this purpose. But try eating a grapefruit like an orange by pulling off the skin and separating the fruit into sections.

You can also cut grapefruit into wedges for snacks. Cut the fruit in half crosswise. With the halves cut side up, cut each into 4 or 5 wedges. For slices and segments free of pith see “Preparation” under Oranges.

For a change from lemon zest, try grapefruit grated or peeled and julienned in the same manner as a lemon. Or make a grapefruit twist for martinis. Use fresh juice for cocktails with rum, gin or vodka.


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