By: Co+op

With its juicy texture, tropical flavor and refreshing scent, grapefruit is a natural pick-me-up for your senses. It wasn't always a popular fruit, though. In fact, grapefruit was first bred in the 18th century in Barbados and introduced to Florida in the 1820s.

A hybrid of the pomelo and an orange, the grapefruit is a large tree with glossy green leaves. It was grown first as a novelty in Florida, without the use of the fruit. In the United States today, the top grapefruit producers are Florida, Texas, Arizona and California.

The name grapefruit is a reference to the way the fruit hangs while growing, in clusters like grapes. In 1962, there was an effort by Florida marketers to change the name of the grapefruit to something more enticing, but the public resisted. In the 1970s, grapefruit sales skyrocketed thanks to a popular "grapefruit diet."

Grapefruit is an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin A, potassium, folate and vitamin B5. Because they contain more of the red-pigment antioxidant lycopene, pink and red grapefruit varieties are more nutritious than the white.

Grapefruits range from four to six inches in diameter, each with 11 to 14 pulp segments. The skin may be yellow to orange on the outside, with pulp that's pale yellow, whitish, pink or deep red. It can be seedless or seeded.

More than 20 varieties of grapefruit are grown in the United States. Some are sweet-tart, while others have a tropical punch or honey flavor. White grapefruits tend to be the least sweet, while red are usually sweetest. Pink, predictably, are halfway between in sweetness; they have a mild tang.

Popular cultivars include:

  • Duncan, a very juicy variety with sweet white flesh that's excellent for sectioning.
  • Flame, another juicy, sweet variety with deep red flesh and dark pink peel.
  • Marsh has white flesh and tart, juicy pulp. It's used to make juice.
  • Pink varieties like Thompson and Pink Marsh have flesh that's white to pale pink.
  • Ruby Red has a pale pink blush on the peel and flesh that's pink to pale red color. Usually from Florida, this is a very juicy variety.
  • Star Ruby has a yellow/orange skin with a tinge of pink and intensely red flesh. It's aromatic, very juicy and sweet/tart. Not suitable for peeling, you'll need to carve out the flesh.
  • Rio Red, from Texas, is another red variety with a rosy peel and deep red flesh.

Humidity contributes to a thinner peel and juicier fruit, so grapefruit from more arid climates have a thicker, rougher peel and lower juice content.

There's good reason grapefruit is often served at breakfast. Raw or broiled with sweetener on top, it's a bright, fresh, welcome-to-the-day kind of fruit. By the way, sprinkling salt rather than sugar on grapefruit is said to make it taste sweeter.

At grapefruit's peak, try a simple, elegant fruit salad made of peeled grapefruit segments, honey, lime and fresh mint. In this recipe for Avocado and Grapefruit Salad, pink grapefruit is a sweet and colorful companion for avocado and greens. For an updated, ruby-tinted take on marmalade, try using sweet red grapefruits in place of oranges. Or add it to any salsa. The grapefruit salsa served with these Fish Tacos is lively and unexpected. While you're enjoying the partnering of seafood and grapefruit, be sure to check out this Pacific Halibut with Fennel and Grapefruit Salad, in which grapefruit makes a tasty bed for fish cooked in spiced white wine.

Grapefruit juice is another breakfast classic, but consider other flavorful uses for the juice. Substitute sweet-tart grapefruit juice for lemon in a vinaigrette, for example, or spritz it over grilled asparagus or steamed green beans.

When it comes to preparing grapefruit, you can slice it horizontally and scoop out sections (with a sharp knife, a curved grapefruit knife, or a serrated grapefruit spoon). Or you can eat it like an orange, peeling and dividing or slicing into sections.

Note: If you're taking prescription drugs, talk with your health care practitioner about eating grapefruit, which interacts with some pharmaceuticals, making their effects stronger and potentially harmful.

Grapefruits are typically available from winter through early spring. Choose fruit that's heavy for is size, firm but a little springy when you apply gentle pressure. Select glossy, round, smooth fruit. Avoid overly rough, wrinkled skin and skin with soft spots at the stem end or water-soaked areas. Scratches or skin discoloration won't affect the taste or quality of the fruit.

Store grapefruit at room temperature for up to a week or in the refrigerator for up to eight weeks. For maximum flavor and juiciness, leave the fruit at room temperature for a couple of hours before eating.