Grapefruit has a strong sweet, tart, and bitter flavor profile. Depending on which aspect of the flavor you want to highlight, you can choose various ingredients to achieve your goals.
For example, if a grapefruit ends up too bitter, you can tame it with a sweeter recipe or add it to something salty. Or if you want an unexpected burst of flavor, broil grapefruit with a little bit of rosemary or red chile peppers.
Some grapefruits taste perfect on their own, others hit you with that astringent bitterness. Believe it or not, we can work with that! A few things can alter the bitterness, or our perception to it.
These are good things to keep in mind when looking for the right recipe and flavor pairing.
Sugar & salt
Sugar and bitterness inhibit each other. The sweeter something is, the less bitter it will taste. The inverse is also true - the more bitter something is, the less sweet it tastes.
Adding salt to grapefruit makes it taste sweeter by blocking the bitter receptors on your tongue. Salt also makes it easier for the volatile compounds to become airborne, which makes you smell more of the grapefruit aroma and actually increases your perception of the sweetness and overall flavor.
Check out the Grapefruit & Salt article on NPR for a very interesting history of salt and sugar usage on grapefruit in the US, including some war-time propaganda.
Heat breaks down bitterness
The bitter compounds found in grapefruit break down with heat, so you can turn to baking or broiling to fix overly bitter grapefruit. This is one of the best options, in my opinion, because it allows you to use several methods at the same time.
For example, you can make grapefruit muffins, which has added sugar and is baked, breaking down that bitterness. I even add zest to sugar to put on top of muffins, which tastes incredibly bitter when raw. But after it comes out of the oven, it's turned into a sweet and tart caramelized topping.
Balance with fat
Bitterness balances out fat, adding a little pop of flavor (just like a splash vinegar often adds the perfect finishing touch to heavy meals). This is why green peppers taste much less bitter on a cheesy pizza than in a simple saute.
Pair grapefruit with avocados and creamy cheeses for some balance.
Several strong flavored herbs stand up to the sweet-tart flavor of grapefruit, especially rosemary, basil, and mint. In fact, they have a lot of the same aroma compounds.
The subtly sweet note of cardamom is also a favorite pairing of mine - it adds that little something extra without competing for flavor.
The spicy heat of ginger adds another dimension to the sweet, tart, and bitter grapefruit flavor. In baked goods, ginger will have a subtle profile, whereas it will be bold and beautiful used raw in cocktails and salads.
Fennel & anise
Another bold pairing is the licorice flavor of fennel and anise. They also share chemical aroma compounds with grapefruit, which is why this unique pairing actually works so well.
A much more subtle pairing, almonds and grapefruit play well together. If you use salted almonds, the salt blocks some of the grapefruit's bitterness.
Fish loves to be paired with citrus fruits, and grapefruit are no exception. The sweet, tart, and bitter notes of grapefruit can actually provide a more complex tasting dish than citrus fruits that are merely just sweet.
Salt & fat
If you take a dish that is normally just salty and fatty, then add a pop of grapefruit, the dish comes alive. It makes you look forward to the variety of flavors in every bite.
This works great with meaty dishes, cheese, and even in a rich salad.
Sweet & natural
There's a time and place for a grapefruit recipe that adds sugar, and not much else. It puts the grapefruit be front and center, letting you enjoy the pure, natural flavor.
Gin & other alcohol
Gin is a very herbal liquor with notes of pine, juniper, and woody rosemary. This makes it pair especially well with grapefruit. Make a simple gin & tonic with freshly squeeze grapefruit juice.
Grapefruit is also excellent in cocktails because it's strong flavor actually masks some of the astringent alcohol taste. Add a simple syrup to cancel out the bitterness and you've got a cocktail that goes down a little too easy...
Other seasonal guides & recipes
Take a look at the different grapefruit varieties in the guide below, or browse around the other guides for more recipes.
Did any of the recipes catch your interest? Have you had a chance to try any yet? Leave a comment so other people can be inspired to cook seasonally too.