The Long Journey of the Red Grapefruit
The grapefruit is a relative babe in the citrus family of fruit. Relatives like the orange and the pomelo can trace their history back thousands of years, but the grapefruit is only around three hundred years old. First documented on the island of Barbados in 1750, botanists believe that the exotic fruit actually originated in Jamaica in the late 17th century. Like most of the fruits we find on our supermarket shelves, the grapefruit eventually came to America. Unfortunately, it landed in the wrong state.
The year was 1823 and Florida was awash in oranges. The sweet citrus fruit had been a popular snack for centuries. The deck was certainly stacked against the grapefruit from the start. Local fruit lovers abhorred its sour taste and the fact that they needed utensils to eat it. Fruit farmers agreed and dismissed the island fruit as too sour for public consumption. They continued to grow small crops of grapefruit along with lemons and limes for people who had acquired a taste for it.
When the first crops of Texas grapefruit were harvested in 1893, the island fruit had been in America for seventy years with nothing to show for it. Most Americans had never even seen a grapefruit, let alone tried one. And perhaps that was for the best. The grapefruit once again failed to make a positive impression on fruit lovers in the Lone Star State. It was simply too sour for most people's palates. Fortunately for the grapefruit, fruit farmers in South Texas were desperate. They needed a new crop and the grapefruit would have to do.
Because it was a relatively young fruit, the grapefruit had not experienced mutation. When it came to Texas, there was only one variety of grapefruit, the white one. Farmers soon discovered that the new fruit, like most citrus fruits, was prone to mutation. A new pink variety of the grapefruit appeared in 1906. Much to the dismay of local farmers, the pink version tasted exactly like its predecessor. The grapefruit trade struggled on until a tasty new variety was discovered in 1929.
The Ruby Red was the first grapefruit to receive a U.S. patent. What made it so special? It all came down to taste. Unlike its ancestors, the Ruby Red was sweet, not sour. Orchard owners across Texas rejoiced when they tasted the new variety, for they finally had a fruit that was fit for mass consumption. In less than a decade, the grapefruit became one of the most popular breakfast foods in the nation. America is now the world leader in grapefruit production with over
1.5 million tons per year. Grapefruit from Texas is still considered the gold standard. In fact, the Ruby Red became so popular that fruit farmers outlawed the pink and white varieties in 1962 to focus solely on red grapefruit.