Of all the citrus fruits there are, most people are probably the most familiar with oranges, lemons and limes. But what about those big, softball-shaped, yellow-orange fruits that are always sitting next to them at the grocery store? We’re here to share all the information you need to know about the awesome grapefruit.
What do they look like?
Grapefruits are in the citrus family, which means they’re a cousin to oranges, tangerines and clementines. Grapefruits are about the size of a softball or larger, with a pale yellow rind that resembles an orange. Inside, you’ll usually find a bright reddish-pink flesh separated in orange-like segments. The three most common types of grapefruit are the pink, red, and white grapefruit. Most grapefruit you’ll find in the store is of the red or pink variety, as the deeper the color of a grapefruit’s flesh, the sweeter the flavor. White grapefruit is known as the least sweet of the three, but some people like its sweet-tart balance. If you’re just starting out with grapefruit, we’d recommend trying red or pink to start, so that you aren’t turned away by its bitterness.
What do they taste like?
A ripe, fresh grapefruit is decidedly citrus-y—tart, tangy and acidic—but with a strong undertone of sweetness that some folks liken to berries or cherries. If you’ve ever had an unripe grapefruit, you might think they are too sour for your tastes, but we promise that a fresh grapefruit in season has a much different, and much better, taste. Good grapefruits are sweet enough not to need any sweetener. Grapefruits are also juicier than almost any of the other citrus fruits on the market. That’s why you see a lot of grapefruit-flavored juices and drinks when you’re in the grocery store — there’s plenty of juice to go around!
How can I tell when they’re ripe?
There’s no perfect science to deciding when it’s time to peel a fresh grapefruit, but we have a few tips. Grapefruits have a flat-ish bottom and top, so if you’re holding one that’s perfectly round, it might have been picked too early. If you can still see green patches on the grapefruit, it’s probably not ripe just yet. Once your grapefruit’s skin is nice and yellow (or blush pink, or deep orange, depending on the variety), pick it up and make sure it feels firm. A ripe grapefruit will feel plump and heavy, but if there are any soft spots, it might have gone bad on you. If you’ve ever tested an orange for ripeness, the same principles apply.
Why are they good for me?
Like all citrus fruits, grapefruit is an excellent source of vitamin C—which is a vital nutrient to help boost your immune system. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, you can get your daily recommended dose of vitamin C by eating just one cup of it, at only 74 calories. Vitamin C also helps protect your cells from free radical damage that triggers inflammation in the body—meaning a diet rich in grapefruit can help you fight asthma, osteoarthritis, heart disease, and rheumatoid arthritis.
If you stick to pink and red grapefruit, you’re getting a hefty dose of the cancer-fighting antioxidant lycopene. And while a lot of nutrition experts recommend staying away from fruit juices for their sugar content, grapefruit juice is one of the healthiest fruit juices you can drink. Some studies have shown that long-term consumption of red or pink grapefruit juice can help increase protection against Alzheimer’s. So if you’re a fruit juice person who’s looking to make a healthier swap, we’d definitely send some grapefruit juice your way. Even if you’re just eating the whole fruit, you’ll still feel hydrated due to their high water content.
Not convinced of the health benefits of grapefruit yet? Well, grapefruits have also been shown to help fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach, and colon. And a diet consistent in grapefruit has been shown to reduce LDL cholesterol levels (the “bad” cholesterol) by nearly 30% in a study over a diet without grapefruit. That significant reduction in LDL means grapefruit is great for your heart health and can even lead to a lower stroke risk.
Have issues with kidney stones? Well, a study suggests that the method of drinking grapefruit juice regularly may reduce your risk of developing them. And if you’re looking to lose weight or manage diabetes, research has shown the grapefruit may help regulate insulin levels in the body—naturally.
One study found that drinking grapefruit juice improved insulin resistance in mice. Another human study found that eating grapefruit improved insulin resistance in participants who were obese. Having good insulin resistance is a reduced risk of Type 2 diabetes, so we’d definitely recommend adding grapefruit to your diet.
Are there any other health benefits of grapefruit?
Good news for those who don’t like grapefruit — you can still get their health benefits without eating them. How? The answer might surprise you — grapefruit essential oils. Grapefruit essential oil has particularly positive benefits if you have high blood pressure. In one study, participants who wore a necklace containing citrus-scented essential oils for 24 hours experienced a decrease in systolic blood pressure. In another study, the method of dispensing the scent of grapefruit essential oil helped lower blood pressure in rats. So if you struggle with high blood pressure and love the scent, but not the taste, of grapefruit, essential oils might be for you!
One animal study even found that grapefruit essential oil can suppress appetite. In rats, the scent of grapefruit essential oils stimulated the breakdown of fat tissue and led to a reduction in food intake. So the rats burned more fat, and consumed less calories. It’s hard to say for sure if this benefit carries over to humans, but if you’re looking to reduce your calorie intake, this grapefruit essential oil method might be worth a shot.
One important disclaimer: According to the American Heart Association, grapefruit juice can interfere with medications like calcium channel blockers. Interfering with your blood pressure medication will definitely reverse grapefruit’s health benefits, so talk to your healthcare provider if you’re taking one of those medications.
When and where do I get them?
Grapefruits are available nearly year-round in most grocery stores, but the sweetest, freshest fruits are at their peak during late winter and early spring in the Northern Hemisphere. If you’re trying to shop more sustainably, it’s best to buy fruits and veggies when they’re in-season near you anyways, so by selecting your grapefruit then, you’ll get the best flavor and the smallest impact. And while most of us living in the U.S. don’t live in a grapefruit-growing climate, we can get the freshest options by looking at the source of the fruit.
To get the most health benefits of grapefruit, skip fruits imported from overseas and look for grapefruit coming from the closest location to you possible. For example, if you’re on the East Coast, look for grapefruits that were grown in Florida. If you’re in the middle of the country, try to find Texas grapefruits, and if you’re in the Western half of the country, check the shelves for California grapefruits. Like most fresh produce, the farther it travels for, the more that the health benefits of grapefruit start to decrease.
How do I prepare grapefruit?
It’s hard to beat straight up, raw grapefruit! Unlike oranges, the white pith and membranes of grapefruit are very tart and not very pleasant to eat, so most folks choose to eat grapefruit by slicing the fruit in half and using a sharp knife to separate segments and spoon to get them out. If you become a grapefruit frequenter, some kitchen stores even carry special grapefruit knives and spoons that make this process much easier.
Grapefruit knives are small with a curved, serrated blade. You can use a grapefruit knife to slice a grapefruit, and to separate the fruit sections from the bitter white pith. Start by placing the grapefruit on a cutting board, then pierce the skin. Everyone has their own method, but we recommend starting by cutting down the middle of the fruit. If you’d like, you can keep the fruit on the cutting board and use the knife to cut out the sections. You can also put the cutting board to the side and eat the fruit out of the peel with a grapefruit spoon. Grapefruit spoons look just like regular spoons, but they have a serrated edge that’s perfect for slicing into grapefruit sections. Just be careful when you’re putting the spoon into your mouth!
One thing to note before you start slicing is that grapefruits contain a lot of dietary fiber — but most of it is within the white, pithy walls between the flesh sections of the fruit. This makes grapefruits, if eaten in whole, a great source of fiber, but if you can’t stand the taste of pith, feel free to get your fiber somewhere else
What are some good recipes?
- Grapefruit and Fennel Salad: Made with spinach, fennel and other veggies, this salad is a delicious way to eat your grapefruit – and your greens!
- Simple Grapefruit Soda: This simple grapefruit soda is a delicious, refreshing way to drink up all the benefits of grapefruit. If you haven’t found a variety of store-bought grapefruit juice that you like, you can just make your own!
- Broiled Ruby Red Grapefruit: This broiled grapefruit is so delicious, it’s almost like eating fruit cobbler. Broiling brings out all the natural sugars and gives grapefruit a tasty, jammy texture that’s so good, you could eat it for dessert.
- Citrus Mint Salad: Made with grapefruit, oranges and Mandarin oranges, you’re getting a super source of Vitamin C with this salad. Mint adds refreshing taste.
- Grapefruit and Pistachio Crusted Salmon: This dish is a great way to make grapefruit fancy, and salmon and pistachios even healthier! You cover the salmon with pistachio, grapefruit and spices for a savory and sweet topping.
- Rosemary Grapefruit Tart: This rosemary grapefruit tart tastes even better than it looks! With grapefruit slices gorgeously arranged, it’s almost too pretty to eat, but you’ll change your mind once you’ve tasted it.
- Fish Tacos with Grapefruit Salsa: Grapefruit adds sweet-bitter flavor to these fish tacos, and great texture, too. Thanks to grapefruit, you certainly don’t need to worry about your fish drying out.