pamplemousse (French), Pampelmuse (German), pompelmo (Italian), pomelo (Spanish), toranja (Portuguese/Latin America), grapefrugt (Danish), grapefrukt (Norwegian), grapefrukt (Swedish), greippi (Finnish), grepfrut (Russian/Polish), grep(frut) (Serbo-Croat/Romanian), grejpfrout (Bulgarian), frapa (Greek), altintap (Turkish), eshkolit (Hebrew), tusorkh (Persian), pu tao you (Chinese)
The grapefruit tree is an evergreen that most agree is the result of a cross between a sweet orange and a pomelo or shaddock (Citrus grandis), a large sour fruit, first mentioned by Griffith Hughes in 1750 as the “forbidden fruit” of the Barbados.
The pomelos sold today, however, are a cross between a grapefruit and a shaddock.
The first known use of the term “grapefruit” occurred in 1814 in Jamaica. It is from there that the species designation paradisi was assigned in 1830, and likely received its name because of the way it grew in grape-like clusters.
Grapefruits are one of the largest citrus fruits commonly available today. Most have deep yellow skins, but the flesh can range from a very pale yellow, which are often called “white”, to a rosy pink or a deep pink colour referred to as “ruby”.
Generally speaking, the pinker the flesh, the sweeter the taste. There is a green-skinned grapefruit called Sweetie, whose flesh is, as its name suggests, very sweet.
Pummelo seeds likely arrived with an English sea captain, Philip Shaddock, about 1649. It was then taken to Florida from the Bahama Islands by a Frenchman, Count Odette Phillipe, who came to Safety Harbor (Tampa Bay) in 1823.
The fruit was slow in gaining popularity; but now, it is grown throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical regions.
There are two main varieties of grapefruit: the seedy, but good-flavoured, Duncan and the seedless Marsh, which has a lesser flavour.
The Duncan is a direct descendant from a seed planted by Phillippe and is the variety used for canning. In 1907, a pink form of Duncan developed; and, in 1913, a pink form of Marsh appeared. The latter is the ancestor of all the pink grapefruits grown today.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the industry had grown to its present size, with the US being the largest producer supplying 65% of the grapefruit demand.
Cultivation soon spread to California, Arizona, Texas, and then abroad to Israel, Cambodia, Cuba, Thailand, Argentina, and South Africa, which are now also major producers.
In the US, 75% of the crop is grown in Florida, while the other 25% is from California, Arizona, and Texas. About half of the world’s grapefruit crop is made into juice, which is less impaired by processing than other citrus fruits.
Compared to the red or pink grapefruit, the white is a poor source of Vitamin A. However, the red fares no better as it obtains its colour primarily from lycopene, a carotenoid that cannot be converted to Vitamin A in the body but still has health benefits in its own right. Be aware: Do not eat grapefruit or drink its juice if you are on medication.
Grapefruit juice is rich in potassium, providing about 80% of that which is found in equal amounts of fresh orange juice. The bioflavonoid activity of the peel, combined with its vitamin C content is useful in strengthening weak gums, arteries, and capillaries.
To extract these properties from the peel, a tea can be prepared by simmering fresh or dried peel for about 20 minutes. This tea can be used externally to treat frostbite as it helps to restore circulation to damaged tissues.
The bitter grapefruit seeds are used to make an extract that is known to be a natural antibiotic, antiseptic, and antimicrobial. It is particularly effective in getting rid of intestinal parasites and molds.
Grapefruit are most flavourful at room temperature which liberates the aromatic molecules that given them their characteristic scent and taste. However, it is better to keep them refrigerated and then bring them out several hours before you want to eat them. They will last up to six weeks in the fridge but only a few days at room temperature.
When choosing a grapefruit, pick one that feels heavier for its size as it will likely contain more juice. The fruit itself is better used as an appetizer than in cooking since its flavour is strong. Like other citrus fruits, grapefruit also makes good marmalade.
Some varieties of grapefruit include the following:
Burgundy is a very firm, sweet, juicy grapefruit whose flesh if free of bitterness, but does have a tart pomegranate aftertaste. This variety is a popular Indian River fruit, which has a long harvest season, running from November through July; but it is best eaten from May on. The Burgundy is a patented cultivar with a Thompson parentage. It is a deeper and more uniformly red fruit, with the pulp having a pinkish-bluish colour to its almost seedless flesh. Unlike pigmented or blood oranges, which derive their colours from cool or cold climates, the pigmented grapefruit derives its colours from periods of prolonged heat.
Duncan is the oldest known grapefruit in Florida and the one from which all other varieties were developed. It was not named until 1892. The Duncan is round, but slightly oblique, and can be very large. Its light yellow rind is sometimes referred to as white in the commercial industry. There are fourteen segments of very tender, white to buff coloured pulp which, although flavourful, can have as many as fifty seeds per fruit. Therefore, this grapefruit is used primarily for its juice.
Foster was the first pigmented grapefruit in Florida, and is great for juicing, but difficult to eat raw because of its numerous seeds. It is generally of a medium size, but can sometimes be very large. It is oblate, with a fat middle and a smooth yellow rind. The Foster’s pale pink pulp has a sour cherry aroma.
Marsh apparently originated as a chance seedling planted in 1860 on a farm near Lakeland, Florida. It is an average-sized round fruit with thick yellow rind. The flesh separates into twelve segments, often with no seeds, which are extremely rich and juicy. The Marsh is the variety most planted in Florida, and is cultivated mainly for processing because of its abundant and flavourful juice.
New Zealand Grapefruit is another large citrus fruit, usually classified as a tangelo or “poorman’s orange”. It has the shape and size of a grapefruit, but is more orange in colour and less acidic. It may be a mandarin and pomelo hybrid; but, whatever it is, it is the leading citrus fruit on the market in New Zealand.
Rio Red is a member of the redblush variety that includes the Ruby, Ruby Red, and Star Ruby. All these fruits have an intensely rich, red pulp. It is a relatively new variety, being released in 1988; but the Rio red seems destined to overtake the others in popularity and use. Originating in Texas, it is excellent for juicing with its sweet, but tart, grape flavour. It is a medium-sized oblique fruit with fourteen segments and very few seeds.
Ruby Red is the most widely grown grapefruit in Florida, and, in 1934, became the first citrus fruit to receive a patent. The taste has a tender, melting quality, leaving a pleasing aftertaste. Although the Ruby Red does not process well, it is popular for hand squeezing. It is a medium-sized fruit with twelve segments and few seeds. The taste is a mix of both grapefruit and orange flavours, with a pleasant litchi nut aftertaste.
Star Ruby is a newer seedless variety, produced by irradiating seed from the Hudson grapefruit, a process used by the Citrus Center of A&I University in Texas in 1959. The juice is clean and crisp, coming from the deep rich red flesh. It is seedless, or nearly so, and has a long harvest season running from December through May. The yellow rind is smooth and easy to peel revealing ten to twelve segments. In order for a grapefruit to be classified as seedless, it can contain no more than five seeds, which explains why some seedless fruits may have a few seeds in them.
Triumph appeared around 1884 and is noted for is lack of bitterness and rather suggests that of a sweet orange. The fruit is oblique with a lemony yellow rind. The white flesh is seedy but rich in flavour which suggests that of an orangelo or a mixture of an orange and a grapefruit.