What Is Grapefruit?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Grapfruit, ruby red grapefruit and yellow grapefruit cut in half

The Spruce Eats / Julia Hartbeck

Larger than an orange and smaller than a pomelo, the grapefruit is a popular citrus fruit with a thick rind and an assertive sweet, tart, and bitter flavor profile. The stigma of grapefruit as a low-calorie dieting staple has largely faded, as chefs (both traditional and pastry), home cooks, and cocktail specialists now highlight this ingredient on menus, at the dining table, and at the bar.

What Is Grapefruit?

Grapefruit is a hybrid of large yellow pomelo and small Jamaican oranges that grow in cluster-like bunches, hence the name grapefruit. The fruit was first cataloged in 1750 by Griffith Hughes, a Welsh reverend who wrote about its unique flavor in his book, "The Natural History of Barbados." Grapefruit now grows all over the world, with China taking the lead by harvesting seven times more grapefruit than the next-largest produce (the United States).

The popular Ruby Red grapefruit was patented in 1929 after a deep crimson fruit was found growing where the pink variety should have been. Today, a lot of the red grapefruits exist thanks to atomic gardening, which utilizes radiation to cause favorable mutations in plants. In general, darker red varieties of grapefruit are sweeter, with less sharp, bitter bite.

What to Do With Grapefruit

Peel grapefruit and eat it raw as you would an orange, clementine, pomelo, or any other citrus fruit. Remove the membrane before adding to a salad or other sweet or savory dish. Grapefruit pairs well with fish and pork and can be macerated to make a tart dressing or acidic marinade for ceviche.

Even though grapefruit lacks the sweetness of many of its citrus cousins, it works very well in desserts. Use freshly squeezed juice to make ice cream or sorbet, or candy the peel, chop it up, and sprinkle on top of a glazed cake.

Bartenders have taken grapefruit as well. Unlike lemon or lime, pure grapefruit flavor is pleasant and palatable all on its own. Grapefruit juice can be mixed with tequila for a refreshing Paloma cocktail, paired with sparkling wine for a new twist on a mimosa, or used to add a refreshing note to summertime beers.

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grapefruit cake
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grapefruit cocktail
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What Does Grapefruit Taste Like?

Grapefruit's sweetness varies based on how dark its interior is, but all varieties share the same mellow bitter aftertaste. Most grapefruit juices have been sweetened and don't fully showcase the flavor of the fruit itself. Peel away the white pith from around the segments for a sweeter, juicier experience.

Grapefruit Recipes

Because grapefruit has a distinct flavor, it can't be used as a substitute for other citrus fruits like lemon or lime, but it does work the same way. Squeeze fresh juice for cocktails, cut up slices of the whole fruit for a salad, or mash it up to make a flavorful marinade.

Where to Buy Grapefruit

Find grapefruit in any grocery store just about any time of year. More varieties are available in the winter when it's in season. Grapefruit trees grow well in home gardens in citrus-growing regions and can be very prolific.


Grapefruit can be stored on the counter, in a fruit basket, or in the crisper drawers in the refrigerator. Peeled fresh sections of grapefruit can be kept in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the refrigerator.


There are more than a dozen varieties of grapefruit in varying shades and levels of sweetness. White grapefruit is pale yellow citrus that's a bit more tart than pink or red-hued varieties. Pink type is the kind most commonly available in U.S. supermarkets. Ruby Red grapefruit has a darker hue, more of a pink-red, and tastes sweeter than the other two.

Some grapefruit varieties are the same hybrid of a sweet orange mixed with a pomelo, and others, such as the Lavender Gem (a grapefruit crossbred with a tangelo) are specially bred to display certain characteristics.


While grapefruit was the "diet darling: of the 1980s and 1990s, eating it will not cause you to lose weight. Grapefruit's fiber content, as well as its nutrient boost, is a healthy way to start the day, however.

Grapefruit does interfere with how the liver metabolizes some drugs, such as allergy and cholesterol-lowering medications. Any medications that react with grapefruit will be labeled as such.