Though I grew up in Bergen County and we had our family produce store (Napolitano’s Produce) in Bergenfield for years, I’ll never forget the first house my father bought in Florida in the late 1950s. The first time we traveled down there after Christmas, my younger brother David and I were absolutely amazed to see grapefruit hanging from a tree in the backyard—we Jersey boys had never seen anything like that before! Although the house was older, the yard was full of beautiful citrus trees, and for the time we were there we relished the opportunity to pick and eat grapefruit and oranges right off the trees.
The Scoop on Grapefruit
Experts believe that the name “grapefruit” originally came from the way grapefruit grows—in clusters just like grapes, with up to as many as 25 fruits in a cluster hanging from a tree. Although grapefruit grows in many parts of the world, the U.S. is the main producer and consumer of grapefruit, with Florida currently producing over two-thirds of the domestic crop, followed by Texas (a distant second) and California. However, based on property values and weather conditions, Texas may someday become the grapefruit capital of the world, unseating the position Florida has held for nearly a century.
In Florida, grapefruit are grown in two distinct geographic areas—Central Florida and the Indian River area on the state’s eastern coast, where the soil and climate offer ideal growing conditions. Because the Indian River valley runs parallel to the Gulf Stream, the warm ocean current shields the groves from temperature changes and spares them from frost even when groves much farther south are damaged. Compared to grapefruit from California, Florida grapefruit have a thinner rind and are sweeter and less pulpy.
Grapefruit with a clear yellow rind are called “goldens,” while those with some bronzing are
“bronzes” and those with heavy bronzing are called “russets.” Flesh color runs from yellow-white to pink to nearly red, but while their colors vary, there’s not much difference in their flavor and juiciness; those qualities are determined by the lateness of the season, the specific variety, and how the fruit has been handled. Among varieties, the “Marsh seedless” has a nice flavor and texture; hybridizers have since developed a pink Marsh and an even darker-pink strain called the “Ruby Red,” which is a very good grapefruit that’s now grown primarily in Texas. The large Marsh rubies from Florida are now called “Star Rubies” and are probably the sweetest of all and great for segmenting, juicing, or eating with a spoon.
Grapefruit are available year-round, but the best fruit—hailing from Florida and Texas—are found between November and June, with the peak starting around Christmas and continuing through April. Small early golden and pink grapefruit are the first to show up on the market in October; they’re very juicy but not as sweet as they are later in the season. Don’t be afraid to buy a small grapefruit. As the season progresses into winter and early spring, the smaller varieties get sweeter even as they maintain their high juice content. Whether they’re large or small, the Florida and Texas crops improve in quality from October to December and are at their sweetest and juiciest in late winter and early spring.
Other Fun Facts About Grapefruit
—Grapefruits are about 90 percent water (there’s four ounces of water in a medium grapefruit) and eating them helps keep the body hydrated.
—At only 50-70 calories each, grapefruit are high in Vitamins A and C and antioxidants and can boost the immune system.
—Because grapefruits contain fiber, they induce feelings of fullness and have been found to promote weight loss.
—Dark pink and red grapefruit are slightly more nutritious than yellow or white grapefruit; specifically, red grapefruit has 25 times more vitamin A than golden types, but otherwise they’re almost equivalent nutritionally.
—Grapefruit contains substances that inhibit an enzyme the body needs to metabolize certain medications, so they’re not for everyone. Avoid grapefruit if you’re taking such medications as Allegra, Claritin, BuSpar or a statin.
Selection and Storage
Look for smooth, thin-skinned fruit that’s either round or slightly flattened at each end. Like other citrus fruits, grapefruit should be firm, shiny, and heavy in the hand for their size, as this promises the most juice and flavor. Avoid coarse or rough-looking fruit that has a puffy or protruding end, which indicates that it’s dry and flavorless. Leave grapefruit out on the counter if you’re going to consume it in less than a week, or else refrigerate it for longer storage.
Grapefruit are great on their own or served broiled with a little brown or white sugar and a dot of butter. Or you can serve peeled and sectioned grapefruit in a salad of mixed mild and bitter greens with a light dressing, as offered in the following recipe, which is a longtime favorite in the Napolitano household based on its interesting flavor profile and refreshing and nutritious qualities.
Pete’s Perfect Grapefruit Salad
Makes 6 servings
2 roasted red peppers
3 pink grapefruit
½ small red onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon grapefruit juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 drops Tabasco sauce
6 cups mixed lettuce (bibb, red leaf, radicchio, and romaine)
18 black olives
Freshly ground pepper to taste
Cut the peppers into wide strips. Section the grapefruit, slice the onion very thin, and place the peppers, grapefruit sections, and onions into a large bowl. In another bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, lime juice, salt, and Tabasco sauce together and pour over the grapefruit mix. Let the mixture stand for 2 hours, then add to the lettuce, toss, and garnish with olives and black pepper. Enjoy!
About “Produce Pete” Napolitano
With over 65 years of experience in the produce industry, New Jersey’s own “Produce Pete” Napolitano is a renowned fruit and vegetable expert, author, and television personality who’s appeared on a highly-popular segment on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York broadcast every Saturday mornings for over 27 years. For more information, visit Pete’s website.
About Susan Bloom
A contributor to New Jersey Monthly and a variety of other well-known local and national publications, Susan Bloom is an award-winning New Jersey-based freelance writer who covers topics ranging from health and lifestyle to business, food and more. She’s collaborated with Produce Pete on a broad range of articles for nearly a decade.