Grocery Ninja: Pomelos aka the Answer to 'What on Earth Is That?'

The Grocery Ninja leaves no aisle unexplored, no jar unopened, no produce untasted. Creep along with her below, and read her past market missions here.


I get asked this all the time, so I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of sharing it here before. But the tipping point came on Wednesday night, when the beau and I picked out three magnificent pomelos at Wegmans. In the 25-minutes we were there, we got asked, not once, not twice, but four different times "what is that?" First, by the old guy who had been gravely tossing oranges in the air next to us, making sure each of his picks were "full of juice and heavy for their size." Then, by the lady who watched us place the bowling ball-sized fruit in our cart and blurted out, "Are those giant grapefruits?" Followed by the teenaged cashier who eyed our loot and evidently decided they were mutant oranges, asking, "How do you guys squeeze those? That’s a lot of juice!" And finally, by a grandmotherly-type who spotted the bulge in our bags and beckoned us over, "I’ve never seen anyone buy those…are they any good? How do you pick them?"

20080331pomeloscale.jpgGiven that the United States is the top producer of grapefruit and pomelos (followed by China and Mexico), and we’re constantly looking for bigger, better, best (one pound burgers; need I say more?), you’d imagine people would have taken to pomelos—the largest of all citrus fruit—but, gauging from the results of a straw poll I took in the office, apparently not. So, to answer all those questions, the pomelo or pummelo isn’t just a grapefruit on steroids, it is a fruit in its own right. Perhaps because it’s sometimes also called a “Chinese grapefruit,” it’s been described as a mild-tasting one, but to me that sounds like what you’d get if you were to dilute grapefruit juice with water: completely blah. Which would be a grievous insult to this prized tropical fruit.

What does it taste like then? You know how some women spritz on so much perfume that it’s overpowering and you get a headache just standing next to them? These are the women who think, "more is more is more" and don camisole tops with ultra-short shorts and fishnet tights. But the women who get it, who understand the magic of leaving someone wanting and something to the imagination—you don’t smell them when they’re seated next to you. It’s when they get up to leave and walk past, that there’s a lingering, almost beguiling scent of clean, gently floral sweetness. That’s the pomelo. That’s how it smells, and remarkably, also how it tastes.

Pomelos have a thick rind that’s used to make everything from marmalade to shampoo—good to know considering there have been posters here who have complained about it being "all skin and pith and no fruit!" But seriously, I'd echo another poster’s response: "That comment made me gasp!” Unless you’ve picked a sadly shriveled specimen, most pomelos are generous and giving—the reason why they symbolize prosperity and fertility (along with pomegranates) in several cultures. The boyfriend has a "guaranteed" method for picking winners: always go for the ones which "give you water," as opposed to "take water from you." Translation: When you pick up the fruit, does it feel lustrous, and almost (but not quite) oily in your hands? That’s the pomelo “giving you water” and a good indicator of goodness within. However, if the one you’ve grabbed feels parched and stingy, you’ve picked a bad egg—move on.


Those who like tangelos may recognize them as a hybrid of the pomelo and the tangerine, while Thai food fans will be familiar with the ubiquitous Yam Som-O, a refreshing salad of juicy pomelo sacs and some type of protein (chicken, shrimp, etc.) tossed with browned shallots, nam pla, basil, cilantro, and a touch of sugar. Pomelo pulp can range in color from pale dew-yellow to coral and brilliant sunset, and are often floated in Asian “sweet soup”-type desserts, my favorite being fresh mango chunks and pomelo in coconut cream. But the simplest way to enjoy it is to simply peel and dig in—the boyfriend likes to run a knife around the equator and pry the rind off in two hemispheres, so you get two nifty bowls in which to toss the pith and skin.

About the author: Wan Yan Ling is an impoverished grad student and sourdough finger-crosser living in Rhode Island. She can usually be found in the kitchen procrastinating on "real work" or online tracking down obscure recipes. Ling thinks eating alone is no fun, and she still believes in hand-mixing.

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