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The Tingly Fruit: Pomelo

Yesterday S and I got a little stir-crazy, what with the blizzard and all. We piled on our snow gear and trekked over to Bedford Avenue, the heart of hipster Williamsburg. First we ate a leisurely late lunch/early dinner at Fornino (pesto pizza with caciotta piccante—a spicy, nutty cheese—and roast cherry tomatoes), and then made a quick stop at one of our fancy natural foods markets to stock up on fresh fruit. While I was picking granny smith apples (for my daily bowl of oatmeal, mmmm), S plucked a large green citrus fruit—it looked like a lime with a thyroid problem—off a pile and asked me what it was. I had no idea, but the sign said “Pumello 99¢.” I’d just read something, somewhere, about a Pomelo, although I had no idea what it was or where I read it; we were feeling adventurous and hey, it was only a buck. Into the basket it went.

(with an apple and a tangelo, for scale—it’s as big as a grapefruit, but squatter)

When I got home I checked my Larousse Gastronomique, which had this to say:

POMELO The largest of the citrus fruits, sometimes known as shaddock. The pomelo is pear-shaped, 20-30 cm (8-12 in) long, with a thick skin and a bitter, coarse flesh similar in flavour to the grapefruit. It can be eaten on its own or used in the same recipes as grapefruit.

Oh. I don’t really like grapefruit. In fact, it’s just about the only fruit I won’t eat.

Slightly dejected, I googled “pomelo,” and found this on

This giant citrus (citrus grandus) fruit is native to Malaysia (where it still grows abundantly). It is also cultivated in California and Israel. Most of the varieties found today have been bred and grown. A large pomelo is the largest of all citrus. They can grow to be as large as a foot in diameter and up to 25 pounds. The rind is very thick but soft and easy to peel away. The resulting fruit is light yellow to coral-pink flesh and can vary from juicy to slightly dry and from seductively spicy-sweet to tangy and tart.

That sounded a little more promising. Into the fridge it went, and this morning we cut it open:

As you can see, there’s not all that much fruit in there, considering how frickin’ huge it is. Very thick peel, lots of pith, and a heavy membrane separating the sections. It smelled an awful lot like grapefruit. Still, I didn’t want to rush to judgment, so S and I sat down with the plate of pomelo sections between us, like the oranges that come with fortune cookies at Chinese restaurants. I nibbled cautiously, and—surprise—it tasted pretty good. Definitely reminiscent of grapefruit, but more delicate, with a touch more sweetness. The bitterness is an undertone here, rather than the star attraction. Lightly spicy. Those membranes are a pain in the butt, though—they’re really tough, and you definitely don’t want to get stuck chawin’ on a piece of it.

It took us under five minutes to finish the whole thing—like I said, not a lot of fruit in there. And just when I was about to say, “Hey that was pretty good. I’d buy that again,” the tingling started. My lips, and the tip of my tongue, like a mild case of pins and needles.

“S, do your lips tingle?”

S looked at me like he didn’t understand what I was asking. His lips did not tingle. I took a sip of water, and it intensified. It felt like my tongue was swelling. I ran to the mirror, expecting to see something out of The Mask, but all looked perfectly normal. Half an hour later, my mouth had resumed its usual sensations. Hmmph. Perhaps I’ll have to add pomelos to my list of weird recent allergies.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Noha

    I actually just tried dried pomelo for the first time while vacationing in turkey. After eating several pieces I began to notice the same tingling feeling you described above. Interestingly, the others I was with who ate it also felt the same thing. That made me believe that it was less likely an allergic reaction. I have yet to find the answer, but I still eat it!

  2. Julie

    I’m very glad to find your post today! I had the same reaction as you, tingling lips and tongue, ran to the bathroom to look for signs of swelling. Called my friend to see if she had the same experience… So I will not worry, things will return to normal 🙂

  3. Sara

    I tried a yellow pomelo for the first time the other day. I only had a few spoonfuls and even though I can’t bare the bitterness of grapefruit this was very yummy. Sweet and tart. But I had a reaction as well. -.- A little worse though because my lips are still a little swollen and itchy a couple days later. I also have this reaction to mangos which I also liked. And other fruits such as tomatoes and avocados, I can eat but they may cause a little itching and even soreness of the tongue (like I bit it).I did a little research. I found out that proteins in fruit can be mistaken by your body for pollen that you’re allergic to, and it sends histamines to your mouth and causes this.It’s called oral allergy syndrome. Doctors can desensitize you by giving you tablets of the allergen to put under your tongue.

  4. Koa

    I have this reaction to pomelo, but also to grapefruit! I noticed it first when I bought some Burt’s Bee’s chapstick with the pink cap — it’s grapefruit oil-infused. It smells great! But whenever I apply it, I notice my lips tingling. It’s never anything serious, but it does happen. I figured it was the oil. Today, however, I am tucking into a large grapefruit and the same thing is happening, and a little on my tongue. I doubt I’m allergic, since it’s so localized, but it’s interesting!

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