Pomelo: The World’s Largest Citrus Fruit

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The Pomelo is the world's largest citrus fruit and the great-grandfather to the grapefruit. It's noted for its sharp acidity, much like a grapefruit, with a nice sweetness that makes it a great breakfast treat.

What is a Pomelo?

The pomelo (Citrus maxima) is a non-hybrid citrus that grows in Southeast Asia. Many citrus fruits we know today are all hybrids of other citrus fruits. For instance, the lemon combines a bitter orange and a citron. Similar to citron, pomelos are considered to be one of the original varieties of citrus.

This ancient citrus fruit is known by many names. It goes by pomelo, Chinese grapefruit, pummelo, pommelo, or shaddock. In its homeland of Southeast Asia, it’s referred to as limau besar or limau betawi.

What’s striking about the pomelo is that it has a very similar flavor to a grapefruit. It’s one of the largest citrus fruits on the planet, with bold, sharp acidity and a kiss of sweetness.

While it has much in common with grapefruit, the pomelo flavor is milder and less bitter. An average pomelo measures six to ten inches and can weigh up to four pounds!

The History of Pomelo

The origins of the pomelo can be traced back to Malaysia, China, and other Asian regions. However, word of the Citrus Grandis traveled worldwide when an East India Company ship arrived in the Malay Archipelago during the 17th century.

The ship’s leader, Captain Shaddock, saved the seeds of the pomelo and brought them back to the West Indies. In fact, another name for Pomelo is Shaddock, the man that introduced this exotic tart citrus to the west.

The origin of the name “pomelo” is a little uncertain. Some historians believe the name pomelo originates from the Dutch word pompelmoes, which means “grapefruit’.

The humble pomelo is a celebrated fruit often consumed during the Chinese Moon Festival. The Moon Festival, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, celebrates the fall harvest, including the pomelo harvest. The Chinese believe that eating pomelo during the Moon Festival is a sign of good luck.

What Does a Pomelo Taste Like?

As the grandfather to the grapefruit, it should be no surprise that the pomelo tastes very similar to a grapefruit. However, the acidity and bitterness aren’t quite as sharp in pomelos, which are much sweeter. Grapefruits are a hybrid of a sweet orange and a pomelo, so the high acidity in grapefruit comes from the oranges.

The flavors of the pomelo have a subtle acidity and bitterness, with more sweetness than a grapefruit. The thick pear-shaped rind and white pith of pomelos are incredibly bitter and not palatable. Additionally, they are a striking pink shade inside that isn’t as tender and juicy as other citrus fruits.

How to Tell When Pomelo is Ripe

Unripe pomelos will be far too firm and bitter to the taste, while overripe pomelos tend to become too soft and start losing their flavor altogether. That’s why you must know how to find the perfectly ripe pomelo!

ColorA ripe pomelo has pale yellow skin with a touch of green; if the pomelo is entirely green, the membranes have yet to mature. When selecting a pomelo, choose one that is bright yellow or slightly orange with touches of green, especially around the stem.
WeightYou can also tell if a pomelo is ripe by holding it. If your pomelo feels a little on the light side, it means it’s not mature yet, and needs a little more time.
FirmnessWhen you squeeze the pomelo, it should feel firm. If it feels too soft and mushy, it’s overripe.

What’s the Difference Between Pomelo and Grapefruit?

A pomelo is a non-hybrid citrus fruit, while a grapefruit is a hybrid between an orange and a pomelo. Think of pomelo as the great-grandfather of the grapefruit. While the grapefruit has some of the features of a pomelo, it also has the characteristics of an orange.

Grapefruits have a reputation for being incredibly bitter thanks to the high amount of a chemical called naringin. They’re incredibly bitter with a small amount of sweetness, and it’s patented grapefruit flavors. 

Pomelos, on the other hand, carry the same grapefruit flavors without the bitterness. It doesn’t have as much naringin, so it tastes sweeter than a regular grapefruit. 

Cooking with Pomelo

To use a pomelo in things like marmalade, candied pomelos, marinade, fruit salad, vinaigrettes, or pomelo salads, you first need to know how to prepare it.

Pomelos have a thick, bitter rind that must be removed completely before being used in a recipe. Using a sharp knife, remove as much of the pith as possible. Once the skin is removed, it can be used in your favorite recipe!

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Always remove the rind and pith before cooking with pomelo.

Pomelos’ subtle sweetness and tartness make an excellent marinade for proteins like beef or chicken. This soy sauce and pomelo marinaded chicken creates a unique Asian-inspired dinner dish. The soy sauce and pomelo combination delivers a salty-sweet punch that also tenderizes the chicken.

In addition to marinades, it’s also great in salads. Pomelo Salad with Chile, Lime, Peanuts, and Coconut is a Thai-inspired dish that blends the sweetness from pomelos with savory additions like peanuts, chilis, and coconut.

For a tart breakfast treat to spread on toast, you must check out this pomelo marmalade!

How to Store Pomelo

Pomelos are one hearty citrus that doesn’t go bad quickly. Pomelos will stay fresh for up to two weeks when stored at room temperature. You can keep them in a bowl on the countertop, and they will stay nice and fresh. Pop them in the refrigerator to keep them fresh for longer.

To make those pomelos last even longer, you can also freeze them! It makes popping them into smoothies that much easier.

To freeze, cut them into pieces and place them on a single layer on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, transfer them to an air-tight container or freezer bag.

Nutritional Benefits of Pomelo

Like any good citrus, Pomelos are high in Vitamin C, antioxidants, and lycopene. They are a great way to boost overall dietary health. So, let’s break down some of the many health benefits of Pomelos.

High doses of Vitamin C protect your body from free radicals in the air, which help keep you healthy. Lower exposure to free radicals can boost heart health, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of cancer.

In addition to Vitamin C, Pomelos are an excellent lycopene source. Lycopene protects you from the sun and reduces your risk for heart disease and cancers. Lycopene can be taken as a supplement, but the best way to ensure you get enough is through the food you eat, like in pink citrus fruits like pomelos.

Where to Purchase Pomelo

Outside of Asia, pomelos are available at most local grocery stores with a wide citrus selection. If you can’t find them at your local grocery store, you can also find them at farmers’ or Asian markets. 

In Asian countries, Pomelos are autumn-harvested fruit readily available at most grocery stores from December through February. You can purchase them year-round, but peak harvest time happens in the late autumn to early winter.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

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