Fruit of the Month: White Grapefruit

Spring is bursting with grapefruits! Take a break from your harvesting to learn more about the White Grapefruit, our Fruit of the Month!

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Background and history

The grapefruit, a hybrid of the pomelo and orange, was once a novelty tree that produced undesirable fruit that often went uneaten.  Today, grapefruits are a breakfast staple and the go-to fruit for dieters.  The story of the grapefruit is relatively recent, with the first seeds appearing in 1683 when Captain Shaddock, an English sea captain with the East India Company, brought grapefruit seeds with him to the West Indies from the Malay Archipelago.

In 1823, grapefruit seeds were brought from the Bahamas to a harbor near Tampa, Florida.  At first, the tree was grown as a novelty.  By 1885, grapefruits were shipped from Florida to New York and Philadelphia, gaining traction as a suitable fruit for the commercial citrus industry.  By 1910, the fruit made its way to Texas, Arizona, and California.  Mutations and new climates created new varieties such as pink and red grapefruits.

The grapefruit has acquired a number of names since its beginning.  It has been called a pomelo, pamplemousse, Bali lemon, Limau besar, and shaddock. Eventually, it was named “grapefruit” by a Jamaican farmer who noticed the way it grows in clusters like grapes on trees.  American horticulturists have made several attempts to change the name from grapefruit to pomelo.  However, public resistance has thwarted these efforts and the name grapefruit well remain.

Types and Characteristics

Duncan: The Duncan Grapefruit is a true grapefruit and an old cultivar that is almost identical to the first grapefruit brought to Florida in 1823.  It has large, white fruits that are seedy but filled with juice and flavor.  Fruit ripens fairly early and can hold on to the tree for many months.

Marsh: The fruit of the Marsh Grapefruit is more oblong than round.  The peel is light yellow and the flesh is almost white and usually seedless.  The taste is not bitter.  The fruit can remain on the tree but the flavor weakens the longer it goes unpicked.  The fruit ripens in late fall through winter or spring.

Melogold: Melogold Grapefruit is a hybrid that needs less heat than a true grapefruit.  The fruit is thick skinned, large, with dark yellow fresh and seedless white flesh.  The fruit ripens in fall through winter.

Oroblanco: The Oroblanco Grapefruit is a hybrid and related to Melogold.  The fruit is large with glossy pale yellow skin and sweet flesh.  The fruit ripens in fall through winter.  Geneticists R.K. Soost and J.W. Cameron of the University of California, Riverside, developed this variety in 1958.

For more information about grapefruit varieties visit: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/grapefruit.html

 

Harvesting

The grapefruit takes 6 months to a year to ripen, and can last on the tree a long time before being harvested without affecting the fruit quality.  The best indicator of ripeness is not the peel color, but rather the weight and taste of the fruit.

The best time to harvest white grapefruits is when they have smooth, firm and shiny skin.  Pick fruit that is heavy for its size.  Some varieties will “regreen” if they remain on the tree too long.  This does not affect the flavor or quality of the fruit.  If the fruit is too soft and has dull and wrinkled skin, the fruit is overripe.

Harvesting is accomplished by handpicking and pruning.  Because the citrus twigs are thorny, gloves and protective clothing are helpful to avoid skin scratches.  Larger California citrus growers use harvesting machines that shake the fruits off the tree.

Once harvested, the fruit can be stored at room temperature for about a week and refrigerated for up to three weeks.

 

Care and Maintenance

Grapefruits thrive in hot conditions.  It is best to plant grapefruits in direct sunlight and in climates that experience hot summer days and nights.  The heat results in higher sugars and lower acids.  To increase summer heat, plant grapefruit trees against a sun-facing wall, which will reflect the heat back on to the tree.

Some varieties of grapefruit grow best in acidic soil, while others prefer a more alkaline environment.   Loamy soils are preferred and heavy clay soil will result in poor growth, fewer fruit, and a shorter life.

Got grapefruit trees and too much fruit to use? Click here to donate your fruit!

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