Are Pomelos Worth It?

January  8, 2016

When I met my girlfriend a little over a year ago, I hung on her descriptions of the California produce she grew up eating, the things she could find in the San Francisco's farmer's markets all year round. (This was in January, when my New England-born-and-raised self was working my way through cold-weather cabbages, potatoes, and beets.) She told me about how she loved pomelos, the massive, sometimes basketball-sized citrus fruits. I told her that I'd never had one.

To get anywhere good, you have to get through these guys' thick skins. Photo by James Ransom

The things we do for love are nutty: I decided to buy a pomelo, thinking I'd peel and gulp it down as a snack (and then be able to understand my girlfriend's love of the fruit). Alas: There is nothing snack-friendly about the pomelo. It took me a good 10 minutes to just get the thing peeled and into sections, and then I bit unknowingly into the bitter, tough membrane. The pomelo's flesh itself is very good, sweet and floral and not nearly as acidic as the flesh of its cousin, the grapefruit—but my own efforts ended in a total hack job; it was my first and last pomelo.

Still perplexed by the fruit, I recruited a couple of editors to test whether the pomelo is worth the effort it takes to get inside the fruit itself. Each armed with a dishtowel, a spoon, and a pomelo, Ali, Amanda S., and Leslie set to work—each with their own technique. The goal: Get the peel off and the fruit out of its bitter membrane as quickly as possible.

The prize for your efforts. Check out how thick the skin is! Photo by James Ransom

Ali managed to get the peel of her pomelo off in one piece, and then went about getting the fruit into tidy sections—"like a grapefruit"—before pulling the flesh neatly from each section. Amanda went about it fast and furious, ripping the peel and then the flesh into pieces. Leslie's approach? "Attack first, strategize later."

Their final times? Amanda took home first with 8 minutes and 13 seconds; she credits her win to "getting a division in the middle section—I had my hand in there, and could work around the fruit; it was the best leveraging space." Ali took second at 9 minutes and 32 seconds, and Leslie clocked in at 16 minutes and 14 seconds (hey, it was her first pomelo).

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A weigh of each of their "peel" and "fruit" piles showed that, though she came in second place, Ali was the most effective at getting the highest fruit-to-pith ratio—or maybe was lucky enough to get the pomelo with the least amount of skin: Of her 24.63-ounce pomelo, 10.25 ounces (or 42%) of it was skin and pith, while 14.38 ounces (58%) was flesh. (Amanda's 27.75-ounce pomelo was 51% skin and 49% fruit; Leslie's pomelo, at 22.25 ounces, was 53% skin and 47% fruit.)

For context, the clementine I ate as I was writing this piece weighed 2.63 ounces—of which only 19% of it was peel, and 81% was fruit. And it only took me about 7 seconds to peel.

A mountain of pomelo peels—worth $13.54.

Another figure: Pomelos are about $5.99 per pound in at your average New York grocery store (no small fee when you consider the size of these things!). At that rate, the skin of Ali's pomelo alone ran us $3.83—and the skins of all three pomelos cost us $13.54. $13.54!!!

One final number crunch shows us that it took Amanda, the speediest peeler, about 34.6 seconds per ounce of skin; Ali needed 55.8 seconds per ounce of skin, and Leslie, 82.9 seconds (1 minute, 22.9 seconds) per ounce of skin.

As a reward, everyone got to eat the fruits of their labors. Did they think it was worth it?

  • Ali: "Yep. But also, maybe there's a better way—like with a knife."
  • Amanda: "Totally. It's a special occasion fruit. I'd eat a grapefruit every day, but not a pomelo—fair reward, though, for the work. And such a special fragrance."
  • Leslie: "Medium worth it."

I'm still not convinced myself. And even as good as the fruit is, when I asked my girlfriend what her thoughts on pomelos are, she immediately told me they weren't worth the amount of work they take. (Her approach? "Cut an X into the top and grab onto whatever I can, with as much chaos as possible.")

What's your stance on the pomelo? Is it worth it? Are we off base? And what do you do with all of the peels? Tell us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • ABelaire
  • QueenSashy
  • Green Mimsy
    Green Mimsy
  • jody
  • Mary Ann
    Mary Ann
Writing and cooking in Brooklyn.


ABelaire January 11, 2016
I LOVE POMELOS! As far as I'm concerned they are well worth the effort! I'd love to find some tried and true recipes to use them! Usually we just peel and share it around the table......
QueenSashy January 10, 2016
I wish they made pomelo perfume, I would wear it all the time. I live close to Chinatown where they tend to be ubiquitous. My method of cleaning is the following: 1) peel off the skin, 2) separate the wedges, 3) with a sharp knife cut off the top membrane on each wedge, open up and take the flesh out. Works reasonably well. Everything for a pomelo sorbet, or a Thai salad with chiles and peanuts!
Green M. January 10, 2016
Pomelo's easy to obtain in Hawai'i: generally no need to buy, because people share their backyard bounty. We've got both white and pink-fleshed varieties. If you have a knife, you can prepare it easily. To extract the inside: cut off the top, as close to the edible inside as possible, score the skin in sections through the pith to the inside fruit, then peel off the skin in strips, to expose the whole nice edible sphere inside. Or to expedite things, cut off the top and cut the fruit into quarters, making it really easy to extract segments. You could also use your knife to cut off the outer pith, rather than peeling. Totally worth it, no matter how you process it.
Green M. January 10, 2016
The peels may be dried and used in shoyu chicken, a stew, or anywhere you might use a citrusy accent. I know people who also cut off the pitch and candy the zest portion of the peel. Imagine the zest could be really nice in baked goods, too.
Green M. January 10, 2016
Pith, not pitch: ugh, auto-correct!
jody January 10, 2016
I may have a hard time pronouncing it, but they are very worth it. Their aroma is great sitting in a fruit bowl. despite the mess they are fun, forces us to take our time and enjoy. Thanks for all the info on them!
Mary A. January 10, 2016
Pomelos are quite common here in the country (Philippines) so we are usually faster in peeling them I use a knife to cut into the skin, making straight, parallel cuts (not cutting into the meat) around the fruit, as if marking the arrangement of the slices and then I use my hands in peeling them. Aside from eating them as is, we also add them on salads.=) There are varieties that are sweeter and some are sour and bitter though.
Karissa T. January 9, 2016
I first had pomelos in Xinjiang, China, where I grew up as a missionary kid. The pomelos there were much drier than the ones I've found in the states, and the flesh was a pale yellow-white. There was so much flesh in the ones I remember, I would only peel a section or two to go with my breakfast (so I'd peel the whole thing over several days, or else different people were going at it at different points in a day), which made the time commitment much less noticeable. Verdict: SO worth it, especially if I could find the Chinese variety again. :)
Jazz January 8, 2016
I'm a little confused as to why you feel you need to peel it, when there is a picture in the article that shows how it's supposed to be cut? Seems a little pointless.
Kathryn B. January 8, 2016
I read today, Pommelo is one of four originals citrus varieties for which all other varieties were hybridized from. This makes Pommelo the master of all the grapefruits! For me, that's reason enough to make the effort worth it but also - makes a beautiful infusion with 1/2 cup candied ginger, 1/2 whole 4x4 square of honeycomb, 1 to 2 Pommelo peels and flesh, one 750 mL bottle of Hendricks gin. Add all things to a big ball jar. Forget about it for 1 month. Strain into a nice decanter. Shake 4 oz. hard with ice and serve up or over ice topped with sparkling water. Then you'll really enjoy that Pommelo even if it took you a month to reap the rewards.
LeBec F. January 10, 2016
I just began reading Citrus (by Pierre Laszlo) last night and you're close- pomelo is one of the original THREE citrus from which all others were born: citron, pummelo, tangerines. All others are spontaneous sports or hybrids. The history is fascinating! No.India is the origin and they first came west via Alexander the Great. They were cultivated widely in Italy but in 400AD the barbarian invaders obliterated them, EXCEPT on the islands! so Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica, were the source of citrus for a long time thereafter..........
KellyinToronto January 8, 2016
I love pomelo. It's what I consider to be a "long" fruit- something you do after dinner with your family, as with batches of perfectly ripe Alfonso mangos or pounds of lychees when in season. (I'm originally from Hong Kong, when it comes to beautiful fruit I was spilt rotten). Back home, Pomelos come into season right around mid to late September, and I consider it an indispensable part of Mid-Autum Festival Celebrations. Right then, they are sweet, but not too sweet, juicy with that perfect bitter edge that just keeps it from being coy.
If that still doesn't convince you - check out recipes for Thai Style Pomelo salads - when they mix the flesh with herbs, dried shrimp, chilis, fish sauce and friend shallots. I had one version in Bangkok that literally hunts my dreams, it was so good.
As for the peels- us crazy Cantonese people, after a little processing, makes it Into a stew that is weirdly citrusy- savoury that is a great vegetarian option when you want something hearty :)
ljabs January 8, 2016
Best (but long) peeling method: remove peel and pith and break the pomelo into pieces. Let the pomelo dry out overnight. The next day, the skin is hard and is easy to remove. Totally snack-worthy!
Sarah C. January 8, 2016
I'm pretty sure that "with as much chaos as possible" is going to be my new motto for everything food-related.
Caroline L. January 8, 2016
Lindsay-Jean H. January 8, 2016
Yes, SO worth it! I just slice them in half and scoop out chunks with a grapefruit spoon.
hardlikearmour January 8, 2016
The zest is definitely worth peeling off -- it makes lovely pomelocello.
Caroline L. January 8, 2016
WOW! i bet there's a whole world of possibility with that zest. that's a great idea.
David N. January 8, 2016
That is an amazing idea!
hardlikearmour January 8, 2016
Here's how I made my batch last year: 750 ml bottle grain alcohol (eg Everclear) mixed with the zest from 2 washed and dried pomelos (a serrated peeler works really well to get the zest w/o pith). Combine in large jar and set in a cool dark place. Shake jar daily, and when the zest is blanched (say 1-2 weeks) it is ready. Make a sugar syrup with 4 cups sugar and 5 cups water, dissolve on stove, but don't let it reach a boil then let it cool. Strain the infused everclear into a pitcher, then add about 3/4 of the sugar syrup. Stir to combine, and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar syrup if needed. Transfer to storage bottles, and freeze. Once it's ice cold it's ready to go, and it's great in cocktails (especially with tequila or mezcal IMO). NOTE: I got the base recipe for lemoncello from a class led by an Italian lady.
jen February 6, 2016
do you zest before you peel or do you zest after you've peeled the fruit? a serrated peeler is a knife? sorry, i just want to be clear. i want to do this.
hardlikearmour February 6, 2016
Zest before peeling. This is the serrated peeler I use:
You can use a regular vegetable peeler, but you need to be more careful to ensure no to include the white pith in your strips.
jen February 6, 2016
thanks for such a quick response. i have a peeler like that but it's not serrated. last year i made lemoncello and i actually zested the lemon peels with a small paring knife after i peeled because i decided to make it as an afterthought. it sounds crazy but it wasn't that difficult. i was just wondering if i should do it like that again since the peel is so thick but i'm going to try your method first though. thanks for the info
David N. February 6, 2016
You can zest after peeling, as you mentioned. In culinary school, a professor of mine gave the assignment of getting the zest from peels as a knife skill. You actually get more zest that way... Better for candying, since you can slice it.
hardlikearmour February 6, 2016
The main thing is to avoid pith. A serrated peeler makes quick work of the job, which is why I like it :-)
Panfusine January 8, 2016
Love it ever since I bought some to test a CP marmalade recipe, its a pain to peel etc, but i love taking apart the fruit and eating one little juice filled blob at a time.
Krista L. January 8, 2016
I had never had pomelo until about 3 years ago, and I have been hooked ever since. It's *well" worth the effort--in fact, I barely consider it effort at all. We typically quarter the pomelo with a knife (starting at the top/step of the fruit), remove the rind and pith, and then peel the fruit out of the tough/inedible membrane. It's not a task at all once you get the hang of it (and you lose less of the fruit than you would if you supreme it). Totally worth it!
HalfPint January 8, 2016
I can't imagine taking apart the pomelo skin without a knife to cut through the skin. I peel and supreme a couple at one time, put all the supremes into a covered container to enjoy whenever I want for the next couple of days. Truth be told, I haven't been satisfied with the flavor of a pomelo since I discovered the Oro Blanco variety of grapefruit. Total blows any pomelo and other grapefruit out of the water. Try Oro Blanco if you haven't already.
Lindsay-Jean H. January 8, 2016
+1 for oroblancos!
DicedTomato January 8, 2016
Definitely worth it. Trader joe's has been selling them here in NYC for only $1.50/pomelo. Hardly breaking the bank. Agreed on the supreme method, all the membrane must be removed. I toss pomelo chunks into a cold farro salad with sliced almonds, manchego, red onion, and parsley in a balsamic dressing -- so good.
Caroline L. January 8, 2016
such a deal! and that salad sounds amazing.
Amanda S. January 8, 2016
That salad! It sounds so good. Will you please upload the recipe?
DicedTomato January 8, 2016
Hah, I'll have to figure out all the proportions, everything is really "to taste".
DicedTomato January 8, 2016
@amandasims Everything should really say "to taste/as needed" but these quantities are pretty close.
David N. January 8, 2016
I love Pomelo! It is better with a knife. My personal feeling is that the Pomelo is what the Supreme technique was made for... but this technique works just as well:
Angely January 8, 2016
The first time I ate a pomelo, my friend's mom prepared it for us, then put the peel on her head afterwards like a hat to show us what she did when she was a child in Taiwan.
Caroline L. January 8, 2016
i LOVE this story! a pomelo hat would totally make a 15-minute peeling session worth it.