The Story of the Texas Grapefruit
America is the world leader in grapefruit production with over one-third of the annual output. But the exotic island fruit almost didn't make it in New World. In fact, it was a veritable flop when it first arrived. Brought to Florida in 1823 by a Spanish count, the grapefruit was roundly rejected by local populations.
These early Floridians were turned off by the sour taste of the oversized fruit. And that is not surprising. After all, they had been eating sweet oranges for centuries. By the time the first grapefruit crops were planted, orchard owners were already selling oranges commercially. Few were willing to waste space on an unpopular, untested fruit when they already had a proven winner. The grapefruit would remain a minor crop in the Sunshine State, along with the lemon and the lime, for more than a century.
Historians reliably inform us that the grapefruit (or its seeds) was brought to Texas in the late 19th century, most likely by Spanish missionaries. Texas had only recently achieved statehood (1845) and they were in desperate need of new agriculture products. But more than anything else, they wanted a crop that would put them on the map, as the orange had done for Florida.
When the new crop grew well in the subtropical climate of South Texas, many farmers were convinced that the grapefruit would be a hit. Then they tasted it. Once again, the grapefruit was deemed too sour for mass consumption. But orchard owners refused to give up on it. They continued to plant grapefruit crops and the local population eventually developed a tasted for the exotic fruit.
The original white grapefruit was joined by a new pink variety in 1906. The two fruits tasted the same, but the pink was seen as more exotic and was therefore more expensive. Farmers started splitting their crops, growing half white and half pink. Then in 1929 an orchard owner spotted a new mutation growing on a pink grapefruit tree.
This aberration had bright red flesh that was much sweeter than either the white or the pink varieties. Famers started giving the new fruit away to their most loyal customers and the reviews were nearly unanimous–the red grapefruit was a hit! The fruit was christened the Ruby Red soon after.
With Texas at the helm, the grapefruit became the most popular breakfast fruit in America. White and pink varieties continued to lose ground (literally) to the Ruby Red until they were finally outlawed in the Lone Star State in 1962. That's right…farmers actually agreed to stop growing any other color save red in their orchards. The red grapefruit also became the official state fruit of Texas in 1993.