Tropical Fruit Facts and Legends: Pomelo – The Fruit of Reunion

Pomelo fruits can vary in color from light green to golden yellow

Fruit with Many Names

A regular pomelo can weigh between 1 to 2 kilograms

The largest of all citrus fruits and native to South-East Asia , the pomelo (Citrus maxima or Citrus grandis) comes with many other names in English including pummelo, pommelo, Chinese grapefruit, lusho fruit, and pompelmous. It is also called shaddock after an English sea captain, Captain Shaddock, who first brought home its seed to the West Indies after a trip to the Malay Archipelago.

In South-East Asia, the pomelo [pronounced pom-EH-loh] has a wide variety of names, including: limau/jeruk bali (“Balinese lime/orange”) in Malay and Indonesian; bưởi Năm Roi and bưởi da xanh  in Vietnam; sai-seh’ (elephant grapefruit) in Myanmar; som-oh in Thailand; jambura or batabi lebu in Bangladesh and West Bengal; and sujâ, or lukban in the Philippines.


Cross section of golden pomelo with sweet red flesh

Legend has it that the town of Lucban in Quezon Province in the Philippines derived its name from lukban or pomelo tree.  The legend tells of three hunters who, while resting under a large shady lukban tree, got fascinated by the beautiful color and lovely rhythmic chirps of kingfishers (birds). The superstitious hunters took the incident as a sign of good fortune and decided to settle in the place and named it “Lucban”.

The honey pomelo is juicy-sweet and almost seedless

Sweet as Honey

The pomelo has a lot of healthy benefits

The Japanese refer to the pomelo as buntan or zabon after the name of Cantonese captain Sha Buntan, who is said to have introduced the fruit in Japan in the late 1700s while, on the other hand, the fruit is known as yòuzi  in Chinese.  A variety referred to as the “honey pomelo” is called pinghe pao which is said to have originated from the Ming Dynasty around 1528.  The story tells of a Mr Xipu who owned an orchard and was fond of cultivating fruit trees but his orchard was destroyed by a flash flood and only a pomelo tree was left standing after the flood. He cultivated this pomelo tree which eventually bore fruits which were “very big with golden skin”.  When the fruits were finally harvested, Mr Xipu opened one and found a shiny, transparent flesh which tasted as sweet as honey and had very few seeds. Thus, this variety was named “honey pomelo” thereafter.

The thick rind is soft and easy to peel


The Chinese consider pomelo as the “fruit of reunion”. It is among the traditional food being served during the mid-autumn festival or mooncake festival because it has a round shape and the sweet fruit is believed to scare off evil.  In ritual baths, the Chinese boil the skins and the leaves of the pomelo to “ritually cleanse a person and repel evil”.

A row of pomelo stalls in Davao City, Philippines

Varied Colors and Taste

Almost ripe pomelos in a tree (Davao City, Philippines)

Most of the best pomelo varieties today have been bred and grown and more or less fit the description of Mr Xipu’s honey pomelo although different varieties remain popular in South-East Asia and vary in terms of physical appearance and taste.  The fruit can be almost seedless to very seedy  and the color can vary from soft green to golden yellow while the flesh can vary from light yellow to coral-pink  in color and from juicy to slightly dry, from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart in taste.  It is generally compared to a sweet, mild grapefruit, although the typical pomelo is much larger in size than the grapefruit.  A pomelo can be 15–25 cm in diameter and usually weigh between 1 to 2 kg.




A basket of newly-harvested pomelos (Davao City, Philippines)

The pomelo is usually eaten raw as a dessert or snack. The flesh is cut into wedges, is often dipped in salt, sugar or chili pepper mixture before it is eaten. Pomelo juices and pomelo-flavored juice drink mixes are also common.  The peel is sometimes used to make marmalade, is candied and sometimes dipped in chocolate, or used to enhance the aroma and flavoring of some Chinese dishes.  The pomelo can also be used as a substitute for grapefruit in cooking and are likewise good for jams, jellies, and syrups.

These fruits in a tree are almost ready for harvesting (Davao City, Philippines)

A pomelo vendor shows-off her best fruit (Davao City, Philippines)

Good for Health

Both the flesh and the rind have healthy properties

A quarter of a pomelo has 60 calories and provides 130% of the Vitamin C recommended for the day. It is sodium, fat and cholesterol free and is a source of potassium.  The rind contains a high amount of bioflavonoid which was found to stop cancer cells from spreading in breast cancer patients by ridding the body of excess estrogen.  Pomelo juice, though acidic in taste, has an alkaline reaction after digestion which makes it beneficial to the digestive system. Pectin which is present in pomelo is effective in reducing the accumulation of arterial deposits.  The high content of vitamin C helps to strengthen and maintain the elasticity of arteries.  The fat burning enzyme in pomelo can help to absorb and reduce the starch and sugar in the body thus aid in the weight loss process.  It is widely believed that pomelo can help relieve fatigue, diabetes, fever, insomnia, sore throat, stomach and pancreatic cancer.




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