Mystery surrounds both the name
and origins of the grapefruit which,
with its high Vitamin C content
and low calorie count, is a perfect
breakfast staple for those wishing
to shed post-holiday pounds

By Connie Phillipson
Athens News

THE NAME “grapefruit” has always intrigued me. For what has the fruit to do with grapes? If it were “gripefruit,” I could make an effort to see the humor, but grapefruit simply puzzled me. Then one of my favorite food writers (Waverley Root) reported the first intimation the world had of grapefruit was in John Lunan’s opus Hortus Jamaicensis, about a fruit in Jamaica that “tasted like grapes”.

Considering how little this is the case now, I can only think of two alternatives. Either the Jamaican fruit was a lot sweeter then, hence later named Citrus paradisi, but it seems difficult to believe since its cultivation would tend to enhance its sweetness not banish it, or John Lunan had only tasted sour grapes. For certainly no sane person can make the mistake the tart taste of grapefruit for the sweet flavor of grapes.

Seeing this first etymological attempt ended in a conundrum, knowledgeable scholars opted for a more probable derivation. The name was due to the fruit’s habit of growing in clusters, “except in the minds of persons endowed with flexible imaginations or obsessed by a need to introduce human logic into nature,” writes Root with justified sarcasm, perfectly describing a prevalent scholarly mentality. So the name remains a puzzle for me, and I am sorry I cannot enlighten you further.

But if that were the only puzzle about grapefruit, I am not sure I would devote a column to it. I could mention it in passing when discussing the other citrus fruits to which grapefruit belongs together with their Chinese or Southeast Asia origin-except that this would be a serious blunder. For grapefruit never grew in China like the other citrus fruits. Its origin is in the Americas, which we were devoid of any other citrus fruits before the arrival of the conquistadors. It first appeared on the scene as new species, not a new variety or hybrid, but a full-fledged new species late, long after the European colonization, but not brought over by the Europeans as the other citrus fruits-its birth an utter mystery.

Here the plot thickens. Was Leif Eriksson and his Vikings responsible for this act, or the Basque fishermen who flocked at the gulf of the St. Laurence River long before Jacques Cartier was born? I suppose Norsemen and fishermen are not exactly the world’s most reliable citizens, and I could be coerced to believe in their infamy. But where would they have found the grapefruit tree in the first place, since it was totally unknown in the Old World, before it was brought over from the new? There is no known answer to this question, and I feel obliged by the circumstances of the case to withdraw my previous nasty remarks, about both Basque fishermen and Norsemen.

Of course, such men or later invaders might have brought over to the Americas seeds of the pummelo or pomelo (C grandis or maxima) and a convenient mutation produced the grapefruit from it. But why did this happen in such a short time in the New World, and not for the untold millennia in the Old? Perhaps it was the result of a late graft or interbreeding of pummelo and orange in Jamaica, reducing the size of the new fruit and moderating its sour taste. Perhaps, but no one really knows. One fact that we do know is that grapefruit was accepted as a new species only as late as 1830.

There is an older alternative, of course. Some eighty million years ago, Africa, Europe and the Americas were still locked in equable embrace in a super continent called Pangaea, when the Atlantic Ocean was no more than a large river or a narrow seaway. The precursors of the citrus fruits might well have grown on both sides of the narrow strip of water, but over millions of years only the grapefruit survived in the Americas, and the other citrus fruits in China or Southeast Asia. But then why didn’t the first Europeans find it in the New World, as they did with many other foods, and the new fruit appeared there so late?

Puzzles galore about this fruit, rich in Vitamin C and with only 25 calories per 100g. We know it as a par excellence breakfast for people watching their weight. But it was made popular during the hungry days of the Great Depression in the U.S, when it and other citrus fruits could be had for nothing on orange-colored food stamps. This is the depressing story of some foods.


Baked grapefruit

Serves 4

2 medium grapefruit
4 tsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp butter or margarine
4 maraschino cherries

Cut each grapefruit in half crosswise. Remove any pits and cut around each section with a sharp knife. Sprinkle each grapefruit with 1 teaspoon of sugar. Dot each half with ½ teaspoon of butter. Place grapefruit halves on a paper plate. Heat, uncovered, in a 180c oven for about 30 minutes. Garnish each half with a maraschino cherry. Serve hot.

Grapefruit crunch

Serves 4

2 grapefruit, halved
1 cup whole wheat flakes cereal, crushed
1/3 cup brown sugar, packed firmly
¼ cup butter, melted

Remove seed from grapefruit halves. Cut around edges and sections to loosen; remove centers. Mix cereal, sugar and butter; spread on grapefruit.

Set oven control at broil. Broil grapefruit 10cm from heat for about 3-4 minutes, or until golden brown.

Chicken and fresh grapefruit stir-fry

Serves 2-4

1 grapefruit, peeled
250g pineapple chunks
1 tbs cornstarch
1 tsp soy sauce
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1 medium clove garlic, minced
100g snow peas, trimmed
2 green onions, sliced diagonally

Peel and section grapefruit over bowl; reserve juice. Drain pineapple well, reserving juice.
Combine juices and add enough water to equal 1 cup liquid. Combine with cornstarch and soy sauce. Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry; remove any excess fat. Cut into thin strips. In a large non-stick skillet, sprayed with non-stick cooking spray, stir-fry chicken with garlic in oil over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until lightly brown. Add the snow peas and cornstarch mixture and cook, stirring until thickened. Add grapefruit, pineapple and green onions and cook until evenly heated.

HCS readers can view other excellent articles by Connie Phillipson in the Food, Recipes and Garden section of our archives at
. She is a regular writer for the English-language Athens News. Readers enjoying her articles may wish to view other fine selections or to subscribe to this publica- tion by visiting the website

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