Pomelos Are Like Grapefruits on Steroids

By: Jeremy Glass  | 

pomelo
Pomelos are massive fruits that are native to southeastern Asia. They made their way to the West in the 17th century. Alex Liew/Getty Images

You know the feeling when you think you've at least heard of every type of fruit in existence and — BAM! — one comes out of left field, surprising and intriguing you. Then you wonder how many other fruits there are that you don't know of.

Well, we're going to tell you about one of those fruits. It's a giant citrus fruit called the pomelo (also spelled pummelo). And the best news of all is it's freakin' delicious.

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What Is a Pomelo?

The pomelo is actually one of the oldest citrus fruits. They're considered ancestor fruits because many other citrus we have today is derived from the pomelo. The largest member of the citrus family, the pomelo is native to southeastern Asia (including all of Malaysia and Fiji where they grow wild on the riverbanks) and they're typically eaten on celebratory occasions like the Moon Festival.

The first seeds were likely brought from Asia to the New World in the late 17th century. Today pomelos are cultivated in tropical regions worldwide, including California and Hawaii, where it's known as jabong.

Pomelo is generally milder and less tangy than grapefruit, though it's bigger — way bigger. The average pomelo can be about 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) in diameter, though much of that is pith inside. Pomelos are teardrop-shaped and have a green or yellow skin and pink or yellow flesh, and they're known for their extra-thick pith and mild taste. Its flesh can be eaten raw and its rind is typically dried and candied.

"It tastes very similar to grapefruit," says chef Darrell "DAS" Smith, who's cooked for everyone from first lady Michelle Obama to Oprah Winfrey. "Sweet and bitter. The skin is kind of tough, [but] it peels it like an orange."

pomelo
The pomelo has a very thick rind and membrane covering the flesh inside.
Barbara Rich/Getty Images

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What Are the Health Benefits of Eating Pomelo?

Pomelos are an excellent source of vitamin C and can provide up to 400 percent of the recommended daily allowance. And like other citrus fruit, pomelo is low in calories (one is about 230 calories) and contains an ample amount of fiber, potassium, copy, thiamine and protein.

Because of the pomelo's high fiber and protein content, the fruit can help promote weight loss by helping those who eat it feel full for a longer amount of time.

If you're looking for a source of natural antioxidants, then consider the pomelo the gift that keeps on giving. The fruit contains lycopene (typically found in tomatoes), which helps fight the good fight against chronic diseases by reducing inflammation while repairing cell damage. As if you needed another reason to love these wild fruits, a 2018 study found the pomelo peel suppressed sarcoma cancer cell tumor growth in mice.

Like the grapefruit, however, there is a small risk of drug interactions with pomelos through the inhibition of "cytochrome P450-mediated metabolism" in anti-hypertensives and anticoagulants. Limes and Seville oranges have the same risk of interaction.

pomelo
The pomelo is the largest fruit of the citrus family.
Barbara Rich/Getty Images

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How Do You Eat a Pomelo Fruit?

First, you need to know how to pick one out. Pomelos are in season between the months of November and March, but you'll likely have to venture to your local Asian or Latin grocery stores to find them. Ripe pomelos are heavy, firm and yellow to pale green in color (with blemishes to be expected) and can last up to a week in the refrigerator.

"It's best with sugar sprinkled on top," Smith says, explaining how the fruit's sweet natural flavors are extracted when sugar is added. Eating the dried, candied skin of the pomelo is a common way to enjoy the massive citrus fruit, while others simply eat the flesh as you would a grapefruit.

However, one of the best things about pomelo is its versatility. Toss it in a fruit salad or use it to make marmalade. You can also juice several and replace it in recipes that call for grapefruit juice. Or just sub it in where recipes call for grapefruit or oranges. If you want a more outside-the-box way to eat the fruit, chop it up with fresh garlic, bell peppers, jalapenos, cilantro, scallions and a dash of salt for some fresh pomelo salsa.

pomelo
Trimming the peel and pith from the pomelo before you eat it is easy, but important, because they make up so much of the fruit.
Sunkist

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Peeling a Pomelo

To peel a pomelo, you need a sharp paring knife and a cutting board.

  • Find where the pith meets the flesh and slice off the top and bottom of the pomelo.
  • Trying not to cut the flesh, score four cuts in the peel from top to bottom.
  • Peel off the skin. Pro-tip: Save it and make your own candied pomelo peel treats.
  • Cut the peeled pomelo in half and remove the wall membranes from each segment with your paring knife.
  • Sprinkle with sugar or salt and enjoy.

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