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Grapefruit: It's Not Just for Breakfast (Plus 6 Recipes)

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

Learn about grapefruit's history, folklore, and six imaginative recipes.

Learn about grapefruit's history, folklore, and six imaginative recipes.

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

— Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde on Grapefruit

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

Forbidden Fruit

The northeast corner of Borneo is a tropical paradise, bathed in the equatorial sun, with a shroud of atmosphere that is so humid and so thick that 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, 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, Chaddock, 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 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)

data from

CountryMetric Tons



United States




South Africa






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.

Rise 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.


Disney diner grapefruit cake

Disney diner grapefruit cake

1. Disney Diner Grapefruit Cake

A few years ago my family and I vacationed at 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

Grapefruit and sugar-rubbed pork tenderloin

2. Grapefruit and Sugar-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

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

Roasted chicken thighs with grapefruit honey glaze

3. Roasted Chicken Thighs With Grapefruit Honey Glaze

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

Ruby red grapefruit and cranberry chicken

4. Ruby Red Grapefruit and Cranberry Chicken

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

Strawberry grapefruit marmalade

5. Strawberry Grapefruit Marmalade

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

Cajun shrimp tacos with grapefruit pineapple salsa

6. Cajun Shrimp Tacos With Grapefruit Pineapple Salsa

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.

© 2019 Linda Lum