New & NowCitrus

Are Pomelos Worth It?

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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.
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!
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).

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.
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.

Tags: Fruit, Tips & Techniques, Ephemera, Rants, Worth It?