Pomelo

The Biggest Citrus Fruit
Captain Shaddock’s Trophy

“In the southern provinces, there are pomelos, a drier kind of grapefruit.” — Buwei Yang Chao

What You Need To Know About Pomelos:  Pomelos  are a delicious Asian fruit, with nutrition and health benefits and an important culinary and cultural role in the Pacific Rim.  However, there’s a special reason why people with certain health conditions may need to exercise caution.  We’ll come back to that shortly.

The Biggest Citrus: You see them in Asian markets — huge, yellow fruits that look a lot like grapefruit, but much, much bigger! Not everything inside that thick rind is fruit.  You’ll find that it has a lot more skin, pith and membrane than a grapefruit.

The pomelo is by far the biggest citrus fruit and is about 10 inches in diameter and weights from 2 to 4 pounds each. Much of that is skin, pith and membrane.

What’s Inside: When you finally get to the pomelo fruit, you will see that the ratio of fruit to skin and pith is heavily tilted toward the non-fruit side.

The fruit itself tastes somewhat like grapefruit, but a bit sweeter, with none of the acid sharpness that often comes with grapefruit.  Once you get used to the taste, you may prefer pomelo over grapefruit. Many people do.

Pomelo skin is usually pale green to yellow.  There are two major varieties: one with white flesh and the other with pink fruit inside.

Pink Pomelo Fruit

Captain Shaddock’s Trophy: The pomelo is sometimes called shallock in English from Captain Shaddock who first brought the fruit from its native China.  In Chinese, it is known as wen dan or youzi. In Japanese, it is called buntan. The fruit is native to South and Southeast Asia.

Ancestor of the Grapefruit: The grapefruit is a hybrid of the pomelo and the orange.  So the pomelo is really the ancestor of the grapefruit.  This has a special meaning for certain people, as we’ll come to shortly.

Nutrition: Pomelo is a healthy food, low in calories and a good source of Vitamin C: 100 grams contain only 42 calories.  The fruit is 88 percent water and 10.5 percent sugars, and has

  • traces of iron and sodium
  • 45 milligrams of Vitamin C
  • 180 milligrams of potassium

Health Aspects: What food values does Pomelo have? The fruit is high in Vitamin C, potassium and fiber.  Numerous health benefits have been claimed.  It is said, among other things, to help

  • prevent urinary tract infections
  • prevent anemia and help prevent colds and flu

Pomelo is also said to help

  • regulate blood pressure
  • prevent osteoporosis
  • help in weight management

So pomelo has a lot to offer as a healthy food for many people.

Pomelo may be exchanged for grapefruit in the kitchen.  And that brings up a note of caution:

Grapefruit contains a compound known as naringin. Naringin provides certain health benefits but some risks.  Studies have raised concern about its possibly harmful interactions with certain medications.  These include calcium-channel blockers used for high blood pressure, and some other drugs.

Due to its history as ancestor of the grapefruit, the pomelo may contain enough naringin to cause concern for persons taking certain medications.  Further research is needed on the possible naringin levels in pomelo.

Meanwhile, persons taking prescription drugs need to check the printed instructions or consult with their medical adviser regarding whether grapefruit is safe for you.  If you need to stay away from grapefruit, you may want to exercise caution regarding Pomelo, until more is known.

Cultural Significance: In some Asian cultures pomelo has a high symbolic value, as a celebratory or auspicious food.  Sometimes the foods end up on altars instead of dining tables.

“Ivory, rhinoceros horn, silver, copper, and tropical fruits came to typify the luxury-producing south.” — Edward H. Schafer

Symbol of Southern Luxury: For the Chinese, especially Northern Chinese, fruits like pomelo and kumquat have long held a special meaning, symbolizing the luxury of South China and Southeastern Asia, source of so many exotic and delicious fruits.

“Pomelo are considered celebratory fruit, and you see them in shrines all the time.” — Charles Phan

Pomelo in the Kitchen: As Charles Phan of San Francisco’s Slanted Door Restaurant says, pomelo is a fruit for special occasions.  What’s the best way to use it?

First, you have to peel it, and this can be a challenge.  There is a tutorial on the Internet on how best to do this.

The membranes that surround the segments are bitter and must be completely removed when serving the fruit, leaving just the naked segment itself.

You could just eat them as is, as if often done in Southeast Asia.  Sometimes people there like to nibble Pomelo with a bit of salt.

Or, you could use the peel to make a delicious marmalade.  Or you can candy them with sugar and corn syrup, in the same way as candied orange peel.  In Japan they have candied pomelo peel, and a candy with Pomelo, called buntan ame.. Pomelo peel is also sometimes pickled and used in making various sweets and baked goods.

In China and Southeast Asia, when Pomelo is not just eaten as is, it often appears in salads — Charles Phan has given one he served at his Slanted Door. Restaurant in San Francisco. We have posted a recipe for Pomelo Jicama Salad. It is often also stir-fried.  Pomelo also often pairs with crab, prawns or shrimp, wing beans, jicama and even yogurt.

Where to buy it: You buy pomelo in Asian markets during much of the year.  They are sold by the weight. They are most common in the autumn around September in areas where there are many Chinese, as pomelo are commonly eaten fresh during the Moon Cake Festival.

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Moon Cake, Vegetarian

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