In-season, ripe grapefruit are almost as sweet as oranges. In fact, they are a cross between an orange and a pomelo. However, their bitterness can make them taste less sweet, which is why people often add sugar.
When are grapefruit in season?
Grapefruit are available from fall through spring, thanks to the different climates from big growers like Texas, Florida, and California. If you don't live in a state that grows grapefruit, you can still get high quality ones in your area. That's because they ship well, thanks to their thick, protective peel.
Texas and Florida are the two dominant grapefruit growers, with their season starting in November and lasting until May.
Southern California has recently become a big player in the grapefruit industry and their season covers the summer supply gap in the Florida and Texas market. California grapefruit are available from January through June.
The longer the fruit is left to ripen on the tree, the larger and sweeter they get. So you are more likely to find sweeter ones later in the season. In fact, I often don't start buying them from any source until January.
Types of grapefruit
There are white, red, and pink varieties. A general rule of thumb is that the sweeter varieties have a deep red flesh.
Grapefruit have become more marketable over the years thanks to breeding programs that increase the sugar content while also reducing the number of seeds. Ruby Red grapefruit is one of the most popular varietals grown today.
Ruby Red has since become an entire category of grapefruit grown in Texas as a result of breeding programs to get redder and sweeter flesh. These include several types of grapefruit that might be labeled as 'Ruby Red' or by their varietal names. Two of the main varieties are Rio Red and Star Ruby (sometimes labeled as, Rio Star).
If you can find red grapefruit labeled as Flame, give them a try. It's a mutation of Ruby Red that was discovered in a citrus grove in Texas. Flame grapefruit are one of the sweetest varieties.
Pink grapefruit have a more salmon-pink colored flesh than red varieties. They have a good balance of sweet and tart, with a more complex flavor than other types. They are also usually less bitter than red varieties.
It's very rare to find white grapefruit sold in the stores. The predominant variety, Duncan, is choke full of seeds. However, the flavor is excellent and is great for juicing.
This variety is mostly sold to companies that make grapefruit juice and is rarely sold to consumers.
Oro Blanco and Melogold are a cross between pomelos and white grapefruit. These varieties both have pale yellow flesh and are seedless. They are known for having almost no bitterness, low acidity, and high sugar levels.
An agriculturalist at the University of California says Melogolds are better for mass-farming, but Oro Blancos have better flavor. I've had both, and I agree.
The season for these two varieties is shorter since they aren't grown as widely as red grapefruit. You can find them between December and March.
Look for Flame or ruby red varieties (including Rio Red and Star Ruby).
Getting a super sweet grapefruit isn't just about picking the right variety, a few other things go into it as well:
- Fully tree-ripened: the longer they ripen on the tree, the sweeter they are and the larger they get. Look for bigger grapefruit within the same variety for a better chance at a fruit that ripened longer on the tree.
- Late season: late season grapefruit are often sweeter because they were left longer on the tree. Try buying grapefruit in March, April, and May.
- Less bitterness: bitterness inhibits our ability to taste sweetness, so varieties lower in bitterness make the fruit seem sweeter. Flame, ruby reds, and Oro Blanco all have lower bitterness.
If you run into bitter grapefruit, don't despair. You can add sugar, salt, or even fat to fix it.
How to pick
Grapefruits that are heavier for their size are juicier (because more water content makes them heavier). Larger grapefruit (compared to ones of the same variety) indicate they were left longer on the tree, so they will be sweeter.
Scarring on the fruit's outer peel is perfectly fine, but you don't want to see hard or soft spots on the peel (a sign of deterioration).
How to store
- Whole grapefruit: you can leave them on the counter for about a week, or they will last 3 weeks in the fridge.
- Cut grapefruit: If you've cut a grapefruit in half, wrap the exposed part with plastic wrap and store in the fruit drawer of your fridge.
- Cut segments: can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge.
- Zest: Tests from Cook's Illustrated show that frozen zest retains most of its flavor, unlike storing it in the fridge or on the counter. Freeze zest by spreading it out on a tray, then transferring to a freezer bag once frozen (this keeps the zest separated instead of one big clump).
Nutrition and benefits
A whole grapefruit is about 100 calories and 120% of your daily vitamin C. It also has 17g of sugar, which is about the same as an apple, and twice as much as an orange.
1 Pink/Red Grapefruit
- 1 medium grapefruit has...
- ⅔ cup of juice
- 2 Tbs zest
- 10-14 sections
- Grapefruit has 6% sugar by weight (for comparison, oranges are 10%, lemons are 1%)
- Red and white grapefruit have nearly identical nutrition, including the amount of sugar. The only substantial difference is that Red grapefruit have 25x more vitamin A than white ones.
- 1 grapefruit has more vitamin C than an orange - making it great for cold & flu season.
- It is high in antioxidants, including the peel (so get zesting).
Interaction with medicationsGrapefruit juice can interact with certain medications, either causing too much or too little of the drug to get into your body. For more information, visit the FDA's article, "Grapefruit juice and some drugs don't mix."
How to cut & zest
You can cut it in half (around the equator) and eat each segment with a spoon, or you can peel it and cut segments out (similar to an orange). The Pioneer Woman shares 3 ways to slice grapefruit, with plenty of pictures.
Remove wax before you zest: Grapefruits (and all citrus) are usually coated with a thin layer of wax to prevent moisture loss, which is currently approved by the FDA. Organic grapefruit are also coated in wax, but from an organic source like palm oil. To remove the wax, use a stiff bristle brush (like a vegetable brush), and clean it under hot running water.
Zest the outer, colored part of the peel, stopping when you get to the white part. The white part is the pith and is bitter.
Recipes & flavor pairings
Grapefruit pairs well with strong flavored herbs like rosemary, basil and mint. Subtle notes of cardamom and almonds are quite complementary as well. And don't forget the classic citrus & fish pairing. Get over 50 recipes in the Grapefruit pairings feature.