If you’ve noticed the giant, greenish pomelos in the produce department, you may have just thought these citrus fruits were just freakishly large, unripened grapefruit.
Actually, the pomelo is just a distant cousin of the grapefruit – but you may find you like them even better. Most people will find them juicier, sweeter and milder than most grapefruit.
In fact, if it weren’t for pomelos, we probably wouldn’t even have grapefruit today. Pomelos (sometimes called “pummelos” ) are native to southeast Asia, and were particularly common in Malaysia, Indonesia and southern China, even as far back as thousands of years ago.
According to the authoritative Oxford Companion to Food, food historians believe that sailors brought pomelos to the Carribbean West Indies in the 17th century. There, they were cultivated, cross-bred and refined until the modern grapefruit was produced.
Only in the last few years have pomelos been common in U.S. supermarkets again. Maybe that’s because of appearances: The pomelo does look like an ungainly stepsister to more common, petite citrus fruits. Its skin is usually green or yellowish-green, and slightly rough. Pomelos are usually at least an inch or two larger in diameter than even the largest grapefruit.
The skin, or rind, is also very thick and soft, with a thick white pith. Rather than eating it on the half-shell like a grapefruit, it’s easier to eat a pomelo like an orange, by peeling away the rind and separating the fruit into sections. The flesh doesn’t have the tart edge of a grapefruit or the high acidity of other citrus fruits.
You can use pomelo in just about the same way as you would a grapefruit, in a salad or by itself. Peak season is now through late winter.