A Brief History of the White Grapefruit

By: Pittman & Davis | On: | Category: Fruit Information
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Image by wester via Flickr

First documented by a Welsh explorer in 1750 on the island of Barbados, the modern grapefruit has a number of appealing varieties. The three basic grapefruit colors are white, pink and red. But for centuries the only grapefruits were white grapefruits. What happened?

Though we know quite a bit about the white grapefruit–where and when it first appeared and how it made its way to America–we know very little about the pink grapefruit. According to reliable reports, the white grapefruit was brought to America in 1823. It landed in the citrus fruit producing state of Florida, where small grapefruit crops were planted across the state.

Years later, the first grapefruit crops were planted in South Texas. These crops included a new variety of pink grapefruit. Again, what happened? Well, sometime between its arrival in the orange capital of the US, Florida and its visit to Texas, the white grapefruit gave birth to a simple mutation.

The new pink grapefruit looked exactly like the white grapefruit, from the outside at least. Not to mention the fact that they are virtually indistinguishable when it comes to taste. But for some strange reason, both crops were cultivated. The only explanation is that people like variety, even if they taste the same.

But then in 1929, a new mutation changed the fortunes of the grapefruit in America. This new variety of grapefruit had red flesh and it was said to be much sweeter than either the pink or white grapefruit. The discovery was a veritable windfall for Texas farmers who were in desperate need of new agricultural products in the region.

In less than a decade, the new “Ruby Red” variety gave birth to the Texas grapefruit industry. In later years, the ruby would become so popular that the state officially banned both the pink and white grapefruit in 1962.

Where did this leave the original white grapefruit? Well, at the time, the Lone Star State was the U.S. leader in grapefruit production. But by the late 1930's, Florida had overtaken Texas as the world's number one grapefruit producer. And unlike Texas, the citrus fruit loving state of Florida embraced variety with huge crops of red, pink and white grapefruits.

Eventually, the grapefruit would become the country's most popular breakfast fruit as well as a staple food in diet regimens. Which is the most popular grapefruit? Since both red and pink grapefruit are often grouped together, it is difficult to say which variety outsells the others. However, we do know that pink and red grapefruits do outsell white grapefruits by a slim margin. This probably means that of the three varieties, white grapefruit is remains the most popular.

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