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Posted by portugalpress on March 19, 2015

This is the most beautiful tree that you can grow in southern Portugal. It is a big tree with large leaves like avocado leaves. In spring, the big blossoms grow in fragrant bouquets. They produce huge beautiful fruit from September to March and some varieties are absolutely excellent. It is an evergreen that’s child-friendly without thorns: the pomelo tree (Citrus maxima grandis ex c.).

Paradox and ignorance

Pomelos (pummelo or shaddock) are fruit commonly eaten in Asia, where they are more widely grown than oranges. Although they originated in the tropics (Malaysia/Indonesia), they grow well in the south of Portugal with the same hardiness as lemon trees. However, except for some curious collectors, they have never been cultivated in the West.

Since the origin of my sources, it is believed and repeated that it is a bitter and sour fruit, which is a caricature. It depends, as always, on the variety.

Ibn al-Awwam (Seville, 12th century) quotes Abu’l Khayr (early 12th century): “Eat the inside and the outside, it is of great acidity.”

Pomelos were then called zanbū zamboa, a term close to the Malay jambua which leads to Cimboa, the name it is known by in Brazil today and the correct word to use in Portuguese.

In Japan, the zabon, “zamboa”, is a big pomelo with bitter fruit that is reserved for the ancestral altar.

The Dutch, when they encountered this fruit in Asia in the mid 17th century, had never heard of the zamboa, even though it was still being grown in Spain. They named it “pompelmoes”: pompel = big + limões (lemons), which gives “pamplemousse” in French, pummelo or pomelo in English, “pampaleone” in Italy and pampa limāsu in India.

The Portuguese term “toranja” refers to grapefruits (Citrus x paradisi), hybrids of bitter orange (Citrus x aurantium), a hybrid born in the Caribbean that was successful in Florida; a smaller, juicy fruit with a tendency to be sour, while pomelos are big, with a crunchy texture, little juice and tendency towards bitterness.

Pomelo trees are easy to grow. They need to be pruned to increase air circulation. The adult tree grows to at least eight metres. The most beautiful thing you can do in your garden is an alignment of pomelo trees. I have identified 35 varieties of pomelos only in Europe counting close hybrids and Japanese Buntans.

It is prohibited to import citrus plants or seeds to Europe. Don’t do it. Pomelo trees grow in areas infected by citrus greening. I have 31 varieties in my garden in Alentejo, some grown from seed from when it was still possible. It is the only European collection of pomelos and it is worth it!

The best nursery to buy pomelos is Oscar Tintori. They can be imported to Portugal by ( They have 14 varieties, all interesting.

Recommended varieties

The more decorative (very large fruit but not very good) are pear-shaped and pink pear-shaped – spectacular. For large flat fruit (really pretty), choose “a frutto rosa”.

The best tasting are “Kao Pan”, “Chandler” and, the best of all, “Hirado Buntan”. A must: a well balanced fruit – sweet, sour and bitter (an ideal mix), a crisp and juicy texture. It is the best citrus fruit, with a harvest in late January.

Note that “Hirado” is not the favourite in Japan where “Crystal” is the object of general admiration while the most common is the “Tosa Buntan”. “Kawachi Bankan” provides fruit late in the season and “Sunka” is a variety eaten after staying one-and-a-half years on the tree – over-ripe almost jelly-like inside.

The Portuguese chef Leonardo Pereira (Restaurante Areias do Seixo near Torres Vedras) is incredibly creative in serving the “Sarawak” with cabbage and cod eggs. The “Sarawak” or “Tahiti Green” is very productive. Only the pulp remains green in our climate – harvest in February. The “Sarawak” (“flavour of melon or lime”) is the king of the Polynesian crab and avocado salad.

“Honey” is the Chinese pomelo that has been imported to Europe via Holland for the last 10 years. It is the one you find in supermarkets at the beginning of the season. It has little taste and does nothing for the pomelos’ reputation.

All these beautiful trees covered with their enormous fruit grow here, in my garden. We protect them from the mediteranean fruit fly by covering the fruit in August in black panty hose cut into six (three sleeves per leg). Harvesting begins in December. The fruit is left to stand at least 10 days before eating.

And last but not least the incredible show … peeling a Pomelo

It is done by an equatorial incision. You then slide your thumb between the albedo and the segments and turn. You end up with two hollow half spheres, which cut into strips and soaked overnight in cold water can be candied and make delicious cakes.

Here is a video of Mr. Shiraki – a friend and an outstanding producer of Buntan in Kochi – who shows how to peel a pomelo without getting your fingers dirty (don’t forget to say “Kuru Kuru” when rotating the fruit) –

Recommended Book: Citrus fruit: How to grow and use citrus fruit flower and foliage. B.B. Mackay Books

By Jean-Paul Brigand and Ann Kenn

Jean-Paul Brigand and Ann Kenny are members of the Mediterranean Gardening Association – Portugal