A pomelo is a large citrus fruit that grows throughout Southeast Asia and many islands of the South Pacific, including Tahiti and Fiji. Commercial exportation and trade has led to the fruit’s widespread availability around the world, and orchards in warmer climates from Florida to Australia can be found growing it; nevertheless, it remains most popular in Asian cultures and cuisines. It is perhaps best known in the West as one of the “parents” of the more common grapefruit: grapefruits are a hybrid made by crossing a pomelo with an orange.
”Pomelo” is also sometimes written pummelo or pommelo, depending on region. In some places the fruit is also known as a jabong; in the Caribbean, it is frequently referred to as a shaddock in reference to English naval captain Shaddock who is widely believed to have introduced the fruit to the islands from mainland Asia before bringing it home to England.
The fruit is easily identifiable by its large pear shape and light green color. It grows on trees as any citrus does, but requires mature branches to sustain its large size: fully ripened, the fruit is often close to 12 inches (about 30 cm) across and can weigh up to 22 pounds (about 10 kg).
The rind is quite thick, but the fruit within is segmented like an orange or lemon and carries a pale pink color when fully ripe. The pith that surrounds the segments is generally considered too bitter to consume, though the fruit itself is often quite sweet. It can be sliced or broken into segments, and is usually eaten raw.
Eating and Cooking
Pomelo is a popular accompaniment to many Asian meals, and is particularly common alongside desserts. It is often drizzled in syrup, dipped in a salty broth, or used to top cakes and other confections; of course, it is also widely consumed on its own as a snack.
Innovative cooks have also found many uses for the thick rind. It is commonly boiled and used to flavor soups and stews, or pickled for use as a flavorful garnish. Simmering the rind in syrup yields a candy that is popular in many places, particularly when rolled in sugar or dipped in chocolate. The peel can also be used in marmalade.
Like most members of the citrus family, the fruit is very high in vitamin C. It is also a good source of dietary fiber, and is typically very low in sugar — which contributes to a generally low calorie count. The fruit also contains small amounts of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, all of which are essential to good health.
Pomelo trees prosper best in tropical or near tropical climates, which means that there are few that grow naturally very far north of the equator. Gardeners in the relatively mild climates of San Diego, California and parts of Florida have had good luck cultivating them, as have people with controlled greenhouses.
Like most citruses, the fruits ripen in winter. Widespread commercial growth and for-profit orchards in much of mainland Asia has meant that the fruits are often widely available around the world during the winter months; sometimes, thanks to cold storage technology, they are actually available year-round, though much of this depends on location.
Medicinal and Cosmetic Uses
Ancient alternative medical practices suggest that the fruit may have been used to calm seizures and coughs, and parts of the plant are still used for these purposes today. In some parts of Brazil, for instance, it is common for pharmacists to mix the bark and sap of the pomelo tree to make a thick cough syrup. Medical professionals in some Asian provinces may also apply a preparation of the tree’s wide leaves to skin swellings to cure rashes and ulcers.
The plant also carries a number of cosmetic uses. In Vietnam, people frequently gather the blooms of the pomelo to make perfume. The juices and essential oils from the fruit itself can also be added to soaps and lotions, and the seeds are often ground into a skin-cleansing exfoliating scrub.
The pomelo is relatively easy to cross-breed with other citrus fruits, which has led many horticulturists to experiment with different combinations — many of which are able to grow in a wider variety of climates. The grapefruit is one of the most common results, and comes from crossing the pomelo with a naval orange. The tangelo is also widely known, and comes from crossbreeding with a tangerine.
Medical Interaction Concerns and Precautions
The fruit’s relationship to the grapefruit is interesting trivia for most people, but can also have serious medical consequences for anyone taking prescription drugs that have negative interactions with grapefruit. Drug manufacturers in countries where pomelos are not common tend to list only grapefruit as a food to avoid, though the larger Asian relative is usually just as dangerous. Interactions are most common in medications containing carbamazepine, which is used to treat seizures and manic depression, however anyone who is concerned about a possible negative effect with any medication should talk to a medical professional before eating pomelo or drinking its juice.