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Rare white grapefruit hits Texas grocery stores during prime citrus season

Rare white grapefruit hits Texas stores during prime citrus season

white grapefruit
White grapefruit has a more complex flavor than red. Photo by Teresa Gubbins

If you're talking grapefruit in Texas, you're usually talking ruby red. But an uncommon grapefruit surfaced this week in supermarket produce departments with white flesh and more complex flavor.

This rare white grapefruit arrived from Florida on December 8 at Whole Foods Markets across Texas; a Central Market produce manager said he expects to have white grapefruit in stock within the next few weeks.

The skin is yellow and shiny, the peel not too thick. The fruit is sweet, but with contrasting tartness that makes for a more puckery, juicy experience. Put it next to a red grapefruit, and the red one seems sweet and dull.

 The skin is yellow and shiny, the peel not too thick. The fruit is sweet, but with contrasting tartness that makes for a more puckery, juicy experience.

White used to be the dominant grapefruit color until it was supplanted by pink and red varieties, beginning in the '80s. Texas grapefruit is all red, and so is grapefruit from California; whatever white grapefuit groves remain are primarily in Florida.

Pink and red are unfairly perceived as sweeter, says Dave Nicely, president of Sun Harvest Citrus in Fort Myers, Florida.

"The pink and red have become so much more popular over the years," he says. "White grapefruit has a bum rap. It's seen as more bitter, which isn't necessarily true. It depends on the time of the year."

You can get some sweet white grapefruit, says Michael Schadler, marketing director for the Florida Department of Citrus.

"There's often a misconception that white is not as sweet as ruby red or dark red, and that's not always the case," he says. "A lot of that has to do with color. White looks more like lemon, so they presume it's tart. People think that if it's red, it must have more flavor."

Schadler says that with most consumers stating a preference for red, the demand for white has declined.

"We don't ship as much white anymore, but there is one remaining market, and that's Japan," he says. "It's the only market in the world where we ship a sizable volume of white grapefruit. And then there are niche markets for white grapefruit, at high-end stores like Whole Foods."

White is also the preferred grapefruit for juice. "Canneries will pay a higher price for white than red," he says.

Florida grapefruit is on a comeback, with the citrus crop of 2014-2015 looking healthier than the last couple of seasons. The forecast from the U.S. Department of Agriculture includes a projection of 15 million boxes in Florida grapefruit: 4 million white and 11 million colored.

Sun Harvest's Nicely says that white grapefruit fans should treasure them while they still can. "I don’t even know that growers are maintaining the white grapefruit trees," he says. "When we push a white grapefruit tree under, I'm not sure they replant it."