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Why Pomelos Are Worth It, Thick Skin and All

I would like to defend the divinely delicious pomelo. I know a pomelo looks like a grapefruit on steroids with skin so thick you might be disappointed (if and when you get inside) by the size of the actual fruit. And I know a pomelo is marginally harder to peel and eat out of hand than an orange, but…

Since when do we evaluate a food experience in terms of yield? Or the ratio of what’s edible to what isn’t? Or the speed of getting to the meat of things? Do we dismiss the Dungeness crab, the fresh oyster, or unshelled nuts because of the work or time required to get to the good part?

Are Pomelos Worth It?
Are Pomelos Worth It?
by Caroline Lange

Flavor-wise, a pomelo seems most related to a grapefruit, but it’s subtler and gently sweeter. By comparison, even a sweet grapefruit tastes decidedly sour, bitter, and often metallic—even if you are a fan of the latter. A pomelo also has a lovely floral notes, reminiscent of rose geranium leaf. (That might be a reach, but it’s the best analogue I’ve found so far!) This all being said, while I do love the flavor, it’s the combination of taste and texture—and even the sound of the fruit in my mouth—that makes eating a pomelo a feast for the senses.

The process is a part of the pleasure. Take your time. Share one with a friend over the kitchen table or in the garden sometime. Talk and eat. The air will be scented with fragrant oils, your hands will get sticky as you pull the fruit apart and tear the membranes from each segment. You’ll lick your fingers. You’ll slow down and relax.

There is another secret to enjoying the pomelo experience. You should use your fingers—rather than a knife— to dismantle it. Do this even if you are preparing the fruit to add to a salad. Stay with me here: My point is practical as well as poetic.

Relative to an orange or grapefruit, or any other citrus, the pomelo’s cells that hold its juice and flesh—called vesicles—are unusually large and firm. They’re so large and firm that they pop when you bite into them, making the flesh seem both crunchy and juicy at the same time. The effect is exciting, and it’s heightened if you keep the vesicles intact by simply avoiding using a knife. To that end, I dismantle the fruit and separate the segments from the membrane with my fingers, as though I’m eating an orange. The segments look and remain relatively dry (or just moist) to the touch rather than wet or juicy. But, don’t let them fool you: They explode with juice the moment you bite into them. I love this drama and surprise as much as I love the flavor.

Even (especially!) when I want to add pomelo pieces to a green salad, I segment the fruit with fingers instead of the knife a chef might normally grab. This means the juices remain within the fruit rather than on the surface where they can dilute my well-seasoned dressing or make tender lettuces limp. And, then, every bite of salad offers a pops of flavor, like clusters of pomegranate arils minus the pesky seeds. If pomelo segments are too large for the salad, pull them apart. They naturally break between their vesicles into irregular pieces. Or, you can (finally!) cut the segments crosswise into neat pieces with a thin sharp knife, since crosscuts don’t release much juice.

Did I convince you to try a pomelo yet?

There's a lot of juiciness hiding in here.
There’s a lot of juiciness hiding in here.
Photo by James Ransom

Here’s how to dismantle one, for eating or using in a salad:

Use a sharp knife to make 6 to 8 scores (just through skin and some of the pith—the thickness of the skin varies from 1/4- to 3/4-inch thick) around the fruit from the stem end to the bottom. Then, put the knife aside. Use your fingers to peel the skin from the fruit along the scores. If necessary, peel away any remaining pith. Break the fruit open with your hands and pull membrane covered segments apart, as though it was an orange. Peel the papery membrane (it’s tougher than that of an orange or grapefruit) away from the flesh of each segment and pry the naked segment away from the next layer of membrane. Do this segment-by-segment, trying to avoid breaking into the flesh. If you want smaller pieces for a salad, break the naked segments into pieces, or cut them crosswise (lengthwise cuts release more juice) into pieces with the sharp knife you set aside.

Tell us: How do you feel about pomelos?

Alice Medrich is a Berkeley, California-based pastry chef, chocolatier, and cookbook author. You can read more about what she’s up to here.

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