What is a Pomelo? Everything to Know About Grapefruit’s Sweeter Cousin

The largest member of the citrus family packs big flavor.


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You know lemons and limes, oranges and grapefruits—but what about pomelos? Also known as pamplemousse, pummelo, shaddock, and Chinese grapefruit, a pomelo is similar in flavor to grapefruit but less bitter, with a sweet, tart flavor profile. Here, you’ll learn everything you need to know about buying, storing, and eating this intriguing winter fruit.

What Are Pomelos?

Pomelos are the largest member of the citrus family (the fruit’s scientific name is citrus maxima). Pomelos typically measure anywhere from 6 to 12 inches in diameter but can grow as large as a basketball. The shape can vary; some varieties, including Valentine pomelos and Honey pomelos, have a teardrop or pear shape, while many others, such as the Chandler pomelo, are round like a grapefruit. 

Pomelos are often compared to grapefruits, and for good reason. Farmer Tony Marquez of Pearson Ranch, a citrus farm based in California’s San Joaquin Valley that grows pomelos in addition to lemons, limes, oranges, and other specialty citrus fruits, likes to refer to pomelos as “the grandparent of modern-day grapefruit,” as grapefruit itself is actually a hybrid of pomelo and sweet orange.

But pomelos and grapefruits are distinct in many ways. Pomelos have a yellow or light green rind with yellow to pink flesh inside, and they are generally sweeter and milder than grapefruits with little to none of grapefruit’s trademark bitterness. Pomelos also have a thicker rind and more pith (the white part of the peel located underneath the rind). Unlike many other citrus fruits, that rind is extremely bitter and, as such, is usually removed before eating. Pomelos also typically have less juice than grapefruits and oranges as well as few seeds.

Where Do Pomelos Come From?

Pomelos are native to southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia, and have been cultivated in China for thousands of years. They are traditionally eaten during Lunar New Year, which falls on Jan. 22 this year, as the fruit is said to represent prosperity and status. Like other citrus fruits, pomelos prefer a Mediterranean climate—not too hot and not too cold, though their thick rinds make them slightly more cold-resistant. In the U.S., pomelos are grown primarily in citrus-producing climates such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas. Pomelos are typically in season from late October through late February.

How to Choose a Ripe Pomelo 

If you’re shopping for ripe pomelos at the grocery store or farmer’s market, color is key. Look for a bright or pale yellow color, though a little bit of green is okay. “They’ll taste good before they’re completely yellow on the outside, when they are still fairly green with a little bit of yellow, they’ll be delicious,” Marquez says. “But the more yellow you get on the outside, the riper it’s going to be.” But beware of too much color—if the pomelo starts to develop a tinge of pink color, it’s over-ripe.

How to Store Pomelos

In order to keep your pomelos fresh for as long as possible, make sure to store them in a cool spot. The best place to store pomelos, naturally, is in the refrigerator, but if you’ve got a whole box of the fruit, that might not be possible. Pearson Ranch, which ships its fresh citrus door to door across the country, recommends storing the fruit in a cool area with relatively high humidity, such as an unheated garage, basement, or shed, where the temperature will stay uniform throughout the day. Pomelos in particular will keep for a while; even if the fruit starts to get a little soft, its thick pith will keep it protected. The cooler you store the fruit—without going below 40°F—the longer it will keep. According to Pearson Ranch, citrus stored at 40 to 44°F can be stored up to 4 to 5 weeks and will even last up to 2 to 3 weeks in temperatures up to an average of 60°F.

How to Peel Pomelos

When you’re ready to eat your pomelo, you’ll want to cut it carefully to avoid the bitter rind and pith. Marquez recommends starting by cutting the top and bottom of the pomelo off with a sharp knife. Unlike with a grapefruit or orange, you’ll still be left with quite a bit of pith at this point. Next, use your knife to score top to bottom a few times around the pomelo, about 1 inch deep. Using your fingers, peel back the pith and rind and remove the fruit out of the shell, removing as much of the pith as you can. Finally, break the pomelo apart into segments, removing the flesh from the membrane as you go. “I kind of peel it like a shrimp, in a way,” Marquez says. “How you would take a shrimp out of its shell to get to all the good meat on the inside—it’s the same with the pomelo. You want to take it out of that shell, if you will.”

How to Use Pomelos

Pomelos can be used in place of oranges or grapefruits in a variety of sweet and savory applications. Of course, you can juice them—a squeeze of pomelo juice can easily stand in for lemon juice in your favorite vinaigrette recipe—or you can simply slice the fruit into segments and eat raw. Pomelos are commonly used in salads such as yum som-o, a popular dish in Thailand. Try tossing a few slices into this simple green salad or use the juice to make a bright and refreshing vinaigrette for this winter slaw.

You can also sub pomelo in for one of the citrus fruits in this Lemon-Lime-Orange Marmalade or mix its juice into this tropical Grapefruit-Guava Fruit Punch. With its naturally sweet flavor profile, pomelos are a no-brainer for desserts—try switching them out for the other citrus in these Pink Grapefruit Sandies, Grapefruit and White Chocolate CookiesBlood Orange Bars, or Easy Orange Cake.

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