In the great soap opera of Earth, the grapefruit would undoubtedly play the long-lost twin of the pomelo – and we’re sure all the other fruits would be clutching their peels with shock.
But there’s no reason to be so dramatic: Pomelos and grapefruits have plenty in common, but there are enough different qualities among them to ensure each would be the star of its own show.
In fact, grapefruit isn’t pomelo’s twin at all, but rather a long lost child of the foundational fruit.
Grapefruits are the offspring of pomelos and sweet oranges, two citrus fruits who first met in Southeast Asia and Southern China – though went on to travel the world together. (More on that later.)
And unlike most fruity unions, prearranged by man in order to spawn ever-tastier or sturdier spawn, the hybridization of the two fruits was all natural, thanks to their complimentary genealogy, close natural proximity and citrusy background.
So there’s actually a fair amount of traits shared between the grapefruit and pomelo.
Since both are members of the citrus fruit family, they carry many of the same health benefits of their breed. Most notably, both fruity options are wonderful sources of vitamin C. But both also pack in their fair share of crucial antioxidants and plenty of fiber, making them excellent choices for everything from heart to kidney health.
And when it comes to structure, it’s tough to tell the difference, with grapefruit and pomelos both boasting tough rinds, a layer of fluffy pith and a flesh that breaks down into chewy segments that are full-to-bursting with the plants’ unique juice.
Still, like many children of well-known citizens, the grapefruit has found ways to step outside of its famous parents’ shadow, with the grapefruit and pomelo sporting a number of notable differences.
Most obvious among the fruits’ differences are the aesthetic adjustments made between parent and child.
At a glance, the pomelo – or, sometimes, pommelo or pummelo – is much larger than its progeny. In fact, the pomelo fruit is the largest member of the citrus fruit family, capable of growing as large as a watermelon if left unchecked and in the right conditions.
Grapefruits, on the other hand, are the still-large-for-a-fruit-but-objectively-much-smaller size of a human fist, on average, typically topping out at a diameter of around 5 or 6 inches.
On the outside, grapefruits are usually painted a pleasant yellow-orange. And, while a pomelo tends toward yellow as it ripens on the tree, the fruit is more typically seen rocking a lime green skin.
Internally, the two fruits differ, as well.
While their structures include the same parts, they appear inside the fruits in different ratios, with pomelos containing much thicker pith than their grapefruit children. The pomelo also includes only roughly two-to-four segments of fruit, which is typically seen in the same limey green as its skin.
Grapefruit, on the other hand, offer much more flesh for the pound, with nearly the entirety of the fruit’s insides made up of the edible stuff. And the fruits are famous for their burst of bright red or pink on the inside, making for a beautiful color pop that’s much flashier than the humble pomelo’s.
Yet the unique qualities of these two fruits goes more than skin deep.
As one of the world’s original – or, in other words, non-hybridized – fruits, pomelos first started sprouting up in their native Southeast Asia. Still, the plants didn’t stay rooted in place.
Pomelos, along with their mating partner, sweet oranges, were a favorite snack of sailors, thanks to their precious stores of scurvy-fighting vitamin C. And their well-stamped passports eventually included the islands of the Caribbean, where their baby, the grapefruit, was born – or at least first discovered.
As such, the two have developed different tolerances to cold, with pomelos coming off as a hardier breed and grapefruits preferring the sun and sweat of the tropics.
Yet perhaps most importantly, pomelos and grapefruits deliver distinctly different flavor pallets, which have influenced each fruit’s relative popularity and place in various cultures over the years.
Grapefruits are almost notoriously bitter and astringent, with the flesh often tempered with layers of sugar on a typical breakfast spread.
Pomelos, on the other hand, are much more mild-mannered, slightly sweeter and less bitter than their offspring.
Still, in a strange culinary twist, each is typically treated in the opposite manner of its natural taste.
In their native Southeast Asia, pomelos are often prepared as a savory snack, dipped in salt and chili powder, or used as a component in marinades and dressings, with their acid used to cut the sweetness and fat of other popular ingredients there.
Some countries, including Sri Lanka and Malaysia, also favor candying the fruit’s thick rind or throwing its green flesh into recipes for special seafood dishes.
Grapefruits, on the other hand, have become a bit more of a break-out star, commonly grown all over the world today, although still sticking to hotspots like California and their native Barbados.
And on the food scene, they’re a popular pick for typically sweeter products, like jams, jellies and marmalades – though the fruits do often stand in as a palate cleanser in everything from fancy prix fixe meals to fancy cocktails.
But no matter which way you slice it between pomelos and grapefruits, you’re bound to wind up with plenty of citrusy benefits.
We’ll just be here waiting for the grapefruit-pomelo crossover episode.
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