Exploring Grapefruit: It's Not Just for Breakfast

Updated on July 23, 2019
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

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Grapefruit is just a lemon that saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.

— Oscar Wilde

Wit, But Not Wisdom

Mr. Wilde was a witty poet and playwright but he fails in horticulture. The grapefruit is not simply an overgrown lemon. The lemon was first cultivated in China. From there it gradually migrated westward from China, India, and Southeast Asia to the kingdom of the Medes and the Persian Empire.

The grapefruit has a more exotic story to tell.

grapefruit blossoms
grapefruit blossoms | Source

Forbidden Fruit

The northeast corner of Borneo is a tropical paradise, bathed in the equatorial sun, with a shroud of atmosphere so humid, so thick one can scarcely take a deep breath for fear of drowning. Could this be the second garden of Eden? Mango, guava, papaya, and starfruit perfume the air but the pomelo towers above them all, reaching 40 feet or more into the heavens.

Her ebony-hued branches are filled with glossy oval-shaped leaves and snowy sun-kissed blossoms. The air is heady with her fragrance and she spreads her graceful arms, reaching out, creating a sheltering canopy.

According to legend, in 1693 a Captain Phillip Shaddock took seeds of this masterful tree to the West Indies where the resulting fruits grew and flourished. However, William Shaddock, in writing on the history of his family's surname, says we should not be too hasty in accepting this as fact. There are no records in the archives of the British Admiralty of a Phillip Shaddock; further research has revealed numerous spellings (and mis-spellings) of the name including Shattocke, Chaddocke, Shattuck, and Shaddick.

The story of how the pomelo arrived in the West may never be proven; Captain Shaddock may be nothing more than a bit of island folklore, but what is known is that the pomelo was crossed with an orange, either with intent or by a fluke of nature. It has been called the Shattock and the forbidden fruit, but today we know it as the grapefruit.

Not an Overnight Sensation

Odette Phillipe (pronounced Oh-Day Phil-EEp) was born in Lyon, France in 1787. He emigrated to the United States as a young man and filed for citizenship in 1822 in Charleston, South Carolina. He engaged in several lines of work (not all of them legal) in order to make a living.

Financial difficulties forced him to move, first to the area now known as Ft. Lauderdale, then to Key West. The Second Seminole War forced him to again relocate, this time to Tampa and it was there that fortune finally shone kindly upon him. The government was looking for settlers to monitor the coastline; his 165 acres along the Bay became St. Helena Plantation, now Phillipe Park. He is credited with introducing cigar-making to Florida and being the first to cultivate the grapefruit in the United States. Can you imagine Florida without grapefruit?

However, grapefruit was not an immediate success. The skin was much thicker than the familiar orange, and the flavor of the flesh was certainly a shock. One American gardening encyclopedia referred to grapefruit as "thick-skinned and worthless."

But in 1870 John MacDonald noticed a strange-looking tree growing near his home in Orange County. He bought some of the fruits from that tree, loved the taste, planted the seeds, and ultimately established the first grapefruit nursery. By 1885 grapefruits were being shipped to New York. They were well received and the commercial grapefruit industry began.

Today Florida is still the Number 1 producer of grapefruit in the United States, followed by Texas, California, and Arizona.

Top Worldwide Producers of Grapefruit (2017)

Country
Metric Tons
China
4,800
United States
469
Mexico
440
South Africa
370
Turkey
265
Israel
150
data from indexmundi.com

Types of Grapefruit

  • Oro Blanco - This cross between the pomelo and a white grapefruit has lemon yellow skin, a thick rind, sweet and almost no bitterness.
  • Ruby Red - The redder the flesh, the sweeter the fruit but it tends to be bitter.
  • Pink - A favorite for flavor. Mildly tangy sweetness.
  • Pomelo - Not exactly a grapefruit, but a cousin. As stated above, the grapefruit is a hybrid of the pomelo and the orange. They are LARGE, with mellow flesh and a very bitter thick pith.
  • White - The least sweet of all the varieties with a wonderful aroma and intense flavor.

Evolution of the Use of Grapefruit in the United States

  • The Great Depression of 1929 introduced grapefruit to many families who otherwise would not have purchased it. Citrus fruits could be obtained for free with food stamps from the welfare board.
  • In the 1930s and 40s silverware sets almost always included a spoon with a narrow bowl and serrated edge—a grapefruit spoon, made to separate the flesh of the fruit into segments.
  • During the 1950s commercial fruit processors began to sell canned fruit cocktail, a combination of grapefruit and orange sections with a maraschino cherry on top.
  • Broiled grapefruit topped with sugar became a popular dessert.

Recipes

Disney Diner Grapefruit Cake

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A few years ago my family and I vacationed in Disney World (Florida). It's an amazing experience, with four separate themed lands—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. We visited them all, and Hollywood Studios is absolutely my favorite. While there we ate at the Brown Derby and discovered a "Grapefruit Cake" on the dessert menu. It sounded just strange enough to pique my curiosity, and so glad I tried it. I think you'll enjoy it too.

Grapefruit and Sugar-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

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I promised some innovative ways of using grapefruit and this recipe from the Saveur website is certainly one of them. Grapefruit is zested (the pretty colored part of the peel, not the bitter white pith underneath is removed). Then the zest is combined with the grapefruit flesh, dark brown sugar, smoked paprika, cumin, fennel, garlic, and cayenne to create a paste marinade for a lovely pork tenderloin.

How can you go wrong with pork tenderloin? It's lean, quick and easy to cook, and when handled properly is moist and succulent. Follow the simple instructions from Saveur, and you'll have a memorable meal in just one hour.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with Grapefruit Honey Glaze

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Once upon a time I always bought, cooked, and served boneless, skinless chicken breasts for my family. Then, one day, my local grocery store had a crazy, unbelievable price on their bone-in chicken thighs. I'm a frugal homemaker and honestly, it was a deal I could not refuse. I removed the skin (an easy task) and was left with bone-in chicken meat that (once you remove that fat-laden covering) isn't much fattier than the chicken breast cousin.

Ohmygoodness! What a difference in taste. It was night and day. I still purchase chicken breasts—they are great stuffed, but for a simple chicken dish, skinless bone-in thighs are the way to go. So much more flavor.

These roasted thighs with grapefruit glaze by WinterSweetz suggest that you saute the thighs in an oven-safe skillet, tuck in grapefruit slices, and then finish cooking in the oven. I would suggest that once you sear the thighs you remove the skin and then proceed with the recipe.

While the thighs roast in the oven, grapefruit juice is simmered in a pot with honey, soy, and other aromatics to create a flavorful syrupy glaze.

Ruby Red Grapefruit and Cranberry Chicken

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Here's a slightly different approach to using grapefruit with poultry from the food blog A Family Feast. Cranberries are a well-known tart fruit popular especially during the winter holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Grapefruit is an obvious companion, and the juice, zest, and fruit combine in this recipe with honey and brown sugar to make an amazing sweet/sour chicken dish your whole family will love.

Strawberry-Grapefruit Marmalade

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I love marmalade. Perhaps it's the 50 percent Brit in my genes. Sweet raspberry jam or strawberry preserves are just too cloying for my taste buds, but a bittersweet marmalade is the perfect topping for a crisp buttered toast on a lazy Saturday morning. This strawberry-grapefruit marmalade from GoodDinnerMom certainly works.

Cajun Shrimp Tacos with Grapefruit Pineapple Salsa

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Do the labels "gluten-free" and "dairy-free" sound boring to you? This recipe from NutritionistInTheKitchen will change your mind. Christal uses clear instructions and beautiful photographs to illustrate how to make these amazing Cajun Shrimp Tacos with Grapefruit Pineapple Salsa and Avocado Crema. Prawns are seasoned with hot/savory dry spices. Avocado crema is a cool and creamy contrast. But the star of the show is (in my humble opinion) the grapefruit salsa. Don't just use it on these shrimp tacos. It would be equally good with chicken or fish.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Linda Lum

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      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Peggy, wow! I can't imagine having a real orange tree. They are so beautiful.

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        9 months ago from Houston, Texas

        I love eating grapefruit as well as other types of citrus fruits. My parents at one time used to have some citrus groves in the Rio Grande Valley. They also had fruit trees in their yards. It is wonderful to be able to go outside and pick fruit to eat. Right now I have an orange tree planted in our backyard. Waiting patiently for it to grow large and start producing fruit.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Audrey, I am so sorry to hear that. I will pray that you stay well.

      • vocalcoach profile image

        Audrey Hunt 

        9 months ago from Idyllwild Ca.

        I enjoy grapefruit, but unfortunately, I have thyroid problems (Hashimoto's disease) and can no longer have this wonderful fruit. I enjoyed this hub, even so. Thanks, Linda.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        9 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        So Linda this was back when I was a newlywed. A small town on the outskirts of Saigon. My bride was back in the states but business brought me to Hanoi and so I scooted down to meet in-laws.

        Grandma - only 100 at the time, Auntie who ran the farm in her 70's and mom who had the farm across the big canal. I think a girlfriend was there two - or maybe she was a farm hand.

        Full story later.

        The ladies sat around and gaggled and cleaned the Pomelos and jack fruit and dragon fruit and sugar cane and fresh pepper. Just for me. Some other fruit like a tree grown cranberry. They knew all was what I loved.

        Food is love and love is food for our hearts.

        PS Dad was not inspired to we went into the rubber tree groves and drank snake wine.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        My dear Eric, you may ramble as much as you wish when you're visiting me. Mi casa es su casa.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        9 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Alright I am mulling these over but I think at first glance I don't care for those flavors with other foods. I will give a salsa a try. The other issue that if I have a Pomelo or Grapefruit in the house I eat it!

        I was doing that sectioning thing for once a day. But read about how fantastically healthy the pith was. So now it is peel and eat.

        Why does my darling 92 year old lady friend call hers "Champagne". They are as sweet as an orange.

        Can you imagine that her son hollers over and we play catch over the fence so I get fresh daily all super natural for about 6 months a year. And he tosses over the fallen ones - for juicing.

        So sorry about my ramble and I haven't even touched on Vietnam.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Shauna, perhaps rum is the new bacon? Thanks for giving me a good chuckle.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        9 months ago from Central Florida

        I've never been a fan of grapefruit because I have to douse is with sugar in order for it to not make me pucker, which defeats the purpose. However, I have no problem squeezing it for juice (preferably pink or ruby red). For some reason I can drink it without adding sweetener. And a touch of rum makes it even more palatable. LOL

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, this snowfall is really putting a crimp in my style. The hellebores are up and the daffodils are crying for my attention. I need to get out there and tend to my "children", but I can't with 4 to 6 inches of slush to muck through.

        I'm with you on grapefruit Mr. Picky but Mr. Carb Diva loves them (with a heaping pile of sugar).

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Pamela, I can't imagine having my own citrus tree. I hope some of these recipes help.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, like you I've never been a big fan of grapefruit, but last week I saw them growing (along with oranges and lemons). Citrus trees are so beautiful, I just had to do some research on them, and this was the result. I'm definitely going with that cranberry chicken dish.

      • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda Lum 

        9 months ago from Washington State, USA

        RTalloni, that sounds wonderful. I'm sure my husband would really like that. Thanks for sharing your recipe with our fellow readers.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        9 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I can't stand grapefruit, although I loved Fresca. Go figure! Sorry I'm such a pain about food...Mr. Picky rides again!!!!

        Snow and more snow coming. Stay safe and warm....brrrrr

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        9 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I am happy to read some recipes using grapefruit. We have a grapefruit tree, and we can't use all the grapeftuit is produces. I have tried to donate them, but even that is complicated. Thans for some good information Linda.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        9 months ago from USA

        I’ve never looked twice at this fruit because of the pucker but you provide some beautiful recipes here that intrigue. Who would have imagined?

      • profile image

        RTalloni 

        9 months ago

        Viva grapefruit! We try to eat one half of one everyday. A favorite recipe is baked grapefruit: Cut into halves, loosen sections with a knife leaving them in place and removing seeds as needed. Sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar on the tops and drizzle a bit of honey over all. Bake in 350º oven for about 15 min, or until tops are a bit bubbly. Serve warm in winter, cold in summer. Looking forward to trying your strawberry grapefruit marmalade.

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