Photo by Kat Kinsman

Pummelos count

Kat Kinsman
December 14, 2018

There are a million little decisions through which we can make our lives a smidge happier. Sometimes we may not even know we can make them. Most grapefruit just happens. There it is, showing up in the fruit cocktail. There’s some more, on the breakfast buffet. Go to the grocery store and hey, there's grapefruit—one kind, or maybe two. They're all usually fine to good, but especially at this time of year, grapefruit can be truly great. The many varieties may take a little effort to find, and of course regional availability will vary, but it's worth it to seek out your local fruit vendor or chat with the produce manager at your grocery store to see what citrus magic can be wrought.

There are a few hybrids and pomelos (sometimes spelled pummelo) in this list, but they're closely enough related that it made sense to include them. I acquired all the fruit in person at grocery and specialty produce stores, Asian markets (a reliable citrus goldmine), and a few street vendors. I didn’t mail order any, though it was tempting. Your favorite variety might be missing from the list, or you might live somewhere that the grapefruit grows so abundantly that you risk being bonked on the head by one when you go outside. Lucky you, please enjoy that. I did my best and have the aching shoulder muscles to prove it. Grapefruit is heavy. White grapefruit was unavailable. Where possible, I've included the country or state, variety, producer or importer, and product lookup code (that's the handy number on the sticker) so you can do a little sleuthing of your own.

(We've ranked other fruit, BTW, including apples, pears, and grapes. Oranges are coming soon.)

The less good

14. Pink/Red Grocery Store Grapefruit

Photo by Kat Kinsman

This was the only one out of the 14 for which there was no produce sticker or anything to indicate its country of origin. The sign on the bin at my local grocery store said "red grapefruit" and it rang up on the receipt as "pink grapefruit" and it tasted like the most bog-standard grapefruit in every conference room or chain hotel breakfast buffet fruit medley. Culinary editor Rebecca Firkser asked without prompting, "Is this just from the grocery store?" The internal texture was a little stiffer than some of the more ruby-skewing varieties, and flavor was more like a grapefruit-flavored agua fresca than actual grapefruit. It would be OK with some seltzer and ice. You can do better. Low benchmark set.

13. Star Ruby Grapefruit, South Africa, FVC (PLU: 4288 )

Photo by Kat Kinsman

Do you like tomatoes? This one might be for you, but our trio of tasters found the flavor and feel a little uncanny and off-putting. The deep red interior was visually appealing, but the deep, buttery sweetness that gave way to an almost oleaginous tongue sensation put this import at the bottom of the heap.

12. Starburst Pummelo, Florida, Noble Citrus (PLU: 3129)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

There was a lot going on here, but also very little. On initial bite, the flesh was watery, sweet-ish and dull, but a strange and almost briney aftertaste emerged. "Do you get basil from this?" Rebecca asked. I did. I did not wish to taste basil at the time.

The good but average

11. Large Red Grapefruit, Florida, Heller Bros. (PLU: 4281)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

"It tastes pink," I wrote in my notes—by which I meant the color pink, even though the flesh was red. This one was just fine if you want an average grapefruit experience and are not seeking out any particular ruby thrills and don't wish to contend with an excess of sour or bitter in the early hours of the day.

10. Medium Red Grapefruit, Florida, Heller Bros. (PLU: 4027)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

See above. Yes, this is just a smaller version of that grapefruit, but sometimes size matters. "A middling student," I wrote. This would be fine in a fruit salad, and it's pretty easy to find in stores. There is nothing wrong with this grapefruit, but once you've tasted the splendors of a really great grapefruit, you just want more.

9. Medium Pink Grapefruit, Florida (PLU: 4027)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

Yup—same code, only pink, and no distributor indicated, just Florida. It tasted much like the two above with a little less depth and a touch more sugar, which was pleasant. You wouldn't be overwhelmed or underwhelmed—just whelmed.

8. Star Ruby Grapefruit, Peru, Huamani (PLU: 4284)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

This one skewed a little more toward the orange-sweet side and was pleasant enough, but still sat firmly in the middle of the pack. This is a solid workhorse grapefruit. There are worse things to be.

The pretty great

7. MeloGold Grapefruit, California, Haury Farms (PLU: 3152)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

Dig pomelos? Have a thing for white grapefruit? This had some of the best of both worlds, with a mild floral note, as Rebecca found. I appreciated the juicy off-sweetness of it, with a bitter edge that deepened as I dug in.

6. Sweetie / Oro Blanco Grapefruit, Israel, Jaffa (PLU: 3902)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

"Like God's own lemonade," I wrote. "This feels alive." Yup, it's on the cusp of winter where I am, but this tasted like the stuff of a summertime stand and finished with a slight vegetal note that reminded me that the sun would come back someday.

5. Flame Grapefruit, Florida, Seald Sweet (PLU: 4284)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

This full-throated bellow of a grapefruit, like the South African Star Ruby was a tad on the tomatoey side, but here it worked. Our tasting notes included "meaty," "bloody," and "savage," so be prepared.

4. Red Grapefruit, Texas, Paramount (4286)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

Brace for a shock. This specimen was positively packed with bright, sour intensity that darkened to a lingering, lovely finish. I dug in for seconds.

The best

3. Red Grapefruit, Florida, Dandy (PLU: 4491)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

This was the platonic ideal of a dark red grapefruit. It boasted a glorious balance of sweet and tart with an intense depth of flavor and a hefty texture that verged on buttery. Sounds weird for a citrus, but Florida, man, they came through. This was the best of the straight-up, non-hybrid grapefruits.

2. Florida Red Pomelo, Arcadia Florida, Marsh Groves (No PLU)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

This was the "thicc boi" of the bunch. Our pal Max Falkowitz referred to it as an "absolute unit" after seeing a picture on Twitter, but this hefty lad delivered on flavor big time. Editor in Chief Ryan Grim is not a huge fan of grapefruit but sauntered in to try a few top picks and declared this to be "the Porterhouse of grapefruit" with its generous, solid flesh and mellow depth of flavor. It wasn't a shock to the senses like some of the more sour specimens and held an exceptional balance of sunny brightness with just enough sugar to balance things to an almost savory level. Strut into a party with this two-hander and you win the holidays.

1. Cocktail Grapefruit / Mandelo (No PLU)

Photo by Kat Kinsman

So this might have been a ringer, but I'm not apologizing. This green orb caught my attention last year when I was trying to leverage the power of social media to figure out what the heck it was, seeing as it had no label, and I can't read Mandarin. Around this time of year, they're all over New York’s Chinatowns, and I finally found one with a sticker. The cocktail grapefruit or mandelo is a hybrid of a Frua mandarin (itself a hybrid of a Dancy mandarin and a King tangor) and a Siamese Sweet pomelo, and it brings the best of both worlds. I did my best to remain completely objective throughout the taste test, but it was a delight watching both Rebecca and Ryan dig in unknowingly and discover its pleasures for themselves. It had the slight bitter tang and exceptional juiciness of grapefruit, tempered by the sweetness of an orange. Rebecca asked if I could pick up a few on my next store run. Ryan took half of one home. My work bore darned good fruit. (Read more about mandelos here.)

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