Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere


Citrus paradisi

By Scott Sheu

The grapefruit has perhaps the most misleading name of a widespread fruit. The fruit neither resembles nor tastes like the grape, but scholars have speculated that it was named because the grapefruit sometimes grows in clusters on the tree.

Origin and Description

The grapefruit has an interesting but ambiguous story; many conflicting stories exist about the origin of the fruit. This may be partly be explained by its originally unidentifiable botanical source; though botanists now know that it is a mutated hybrid between the pummello and sweet orange fruits, it seemingly appeared out of nowhere at the time.

It was first mentioned by Griffith Hughes as a "forbidden fruit" from Barbados in 1750 (though there are no claims to that island as its origin). The fruit was also known as a "small shaddock" due to its resemblance to the shaddock fruit, which is believed to have been brought to Barbados by Captain Shaddock from Indonesia. It became better known as the "grapefruit" in Jamaica, where it was first cultivated.

From there, it spread to Florida but did not become a commercially important crop until 1880. Its bitter taste was also an acquired taste, but one that quickly became popular. The pink grapefruit, discovered and cultivated in the early 1900s, only increased its popularity. Major production eventually also spread to Texas, Arizona, California, Israel, Argentina, and South Africa where it continues today. The United States is the largest producer of grapefruit today.

The two most common varieties of grapefruit are the Duncan, which is many-seeded, and the seedless Marsh, which is less flavorful than the Duncan.

Botanical Description

The attractive grapefruit tree is has long, spreading branches and a rounded circumference. It typically grows 15 to 20 ft. The long, evergreen leaves are dark green on top and a lighter green underneath. They are oval-shaped and have edges with small, rounded teeth. The flowers are soft white and four-petaled.

The fruit itself is typically round and fairly large. The thick peel is orange-yellow with pink blushes, smooth-skinned and has a soft fragrance. The flesh of the grapefruit is segmented into many small portions with thin, white walls separating them. The acidic flesh is pulpy and ranges from pale yellow to a pinkish red. Though some grapefruits contain small white seeds, there are many sold commercially now that are seedless.

Culinary Usage

Grapefruit juice is an especially popular beverage and about half of all grapefruits produced commercially are juiced. Much of this is concentrated and frozen. Grapefruits are less affected by processing than citrus fruits and can therefore withstand processes such as canning.

Eaten raw, the grapefruit is usually sliced in half and can be eaten with a grapefruit spoon, a spoon with serrated edges that dig out the juicy flesh. Because the rind of the grapefruit is relatively thick and difficult to take off, grapefruits are more rarely peeled and consumed in that manner. However, when done so, they are particularly delicious in both savory and sweet salads.

Grapefruits are also popular as flavoring in candies, soft drinks, and alcohols. Its bitterness and pithiness makes it less popular in other sweet dishes such as baked goods. The rinds can be candied and the seeds can be crushed into oil.

Other Usages

The seeds of the grapefruit are particularly well known for its antibacterial properties. It is commonly sold in tablet form at vitamin stores and has also been used to treat skin problems such as acne. Grapefruits are used as an appetite stimulant and are consumed for digestive and urinary problems as well. They are notably high in cancer-prevention and cholesterol-lowering nutrients.



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Kumamoto, J., R.W. Scora, H.W. Lawton, and W.A. Clerx. "Mystery of the Forbidden Fruit: Historical Epilogue on the Origin of the Grapefruit, Citrus paradisi (Rutaceae)." Economic Botany 41.1 (1987). JStor.

Morton, Julia. "Grapefruit." Fruits of Warm Climates. Miami: Florida Flair Books, 1987. Web.