Florida Grapefruit Production Down, but Not Out
by TERESA SCHIFFER
Sponsored by Farm Credit of Central Florida
Grapefruit, the black sheep of the citrus family, is Florida’s lovable oddball. What other fruit is so deliciously sour and cheerfully bitter while simultaneously presenting remarkable nutritional benefits? Only the plump and hearty grapefruit!
A Mysterious History
Grapefruit is thought to have originated on the island of Barbados. It probably came into existence by 1750, when Welsh naturalist Griffith Hughes wrote The Natural History of Barbados, which contains descriptions of the myriad citrus fruits that grew on the island. Among those are described the “shaddock,” “golden orange,” and “Forbidden Fruit,” three entries suspected of referring to grapefruits.
The word “grapefruit” wasn’t recorded until the 1830s, so it’s uncertain whether Hughes was truly referring to grapefruit with his descriptive terms. Experts are also not sure exactly how the term “grapefruit” even came to be. There were no grape vines on Barbados at that point in time, but there was a plant called “sea grape,” which, while not a grape at all, does produce clusters of grape-like fruit known to have a tart, somewhat bitter flavor, similar to the taste of a grapefruit.
The grapefruit is a cross between a pomelo and a mandarin, and once it was discovered it immediately gained great popularity. It quickly spread to the American mainland, most likely brought to Florida by a French settler named Odet Philippe in the 1820s. Over the next century, it drew numerous entrepreneurs to Florida to establish groves from which to supply the world with this novel treat.
Grapefruit remained popular throughout the 20th century and was often incorporated into low-calorie diet plans. Then, in the late 1980s trouble started brewing for the favored fruit of the health-conscious when a researcher studying the effects of alcohol on a certain medication being developed inadvertently stumbled upon a major drawback of the fruit.
The Florida climate, complete with sandy soil, ample rainfall, and copious sunshine, is perfectly suited for grapefruit. A majority of the state’s grapefruit come from the Indian River region along the east coast.
In the 1970s, Americans consumed an average of 8 pounds of grapefruit each year. These days, that number is down to just 1.5 pounds per year. Households with incomes over $100,000 annually tend to purchase grapefruit more frequently than those with lower incomes.
Florida still leads the U.S. in grapefruit production despite the decline due to greening. In 1976 Florida produced 75 percent of U.S. grapefruit. In 2021, that number was down to 41 percent. The USDA has predicted a 40 percent drop in grapefruit production for this season, at 2 million boxes, down from 3.33 million boxes last season.