Sat, Oct 03, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Mid-Autumn Fruit

Taiwan is justly proud of the quality of its pomelos, which are a popular food during the Mid-Autumn Festival, and can be put to many uses in the weeks following the holiday

By Ian Bartholomew  /  Contributing reporter

The pomelo, often referred to as “wendan” in Taiwan, is an integral part of the traditions associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Photo: Ian Bartholomew

The pomelo is traditionally associated with the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), which took place earlier this week. Although the festival has passed, the pomelo season is still in full swing, and it is a happy fact that if you have an excess of pomelos stacked around the house — they are one of the gifts of choice for the festival, along with various styles of moon cake— they will actually be improving in flavor for the next week or so, as freshly picked pomelos are not regarded as at their peak for eating.

Pomelos are currently stacked in great heaps in traditional markets, roadside stalls and even supermarkets, and some are selling at cheap prices. A degree of wariness is advised as wholesalers try and offload inferior fruit on the unsuspecting. Quality can vary, and poor quality fruit can be so dry and flavorless as to be virtually inedible. The best, on the other hand, have enormous subtlety of flavor: they are less intensely sour than the grapefruit, which is more familiar in western markets, and have a delicate citrus aroma.

The pomelo’s scientific name is Citrus maxima, a reference to its very substantial size, and in my childhood was often referred to as shaddock, though this appellation is now rarely heard. It has many similarities to the grapefruit, which is in fact a hybrid of the pomelo and the mandarin. It is indigenous to Southeast Asia, and Taiwan prides itself on the outstanding quality of its pomelos, which are recognized throughout the region. The most highly prized fruit come from Madou (麻豆) in Tainan, Hegang (鶴崗) in Hualien County and Douliou (斗六) in Yunlin. Crops of top quality pomelo from these locations are often sold out weeks before the Mid-Autumn Festival, as connoisseurs around the country take to the Internet to order directly from established producers.

Pomelos range in color from pale yellow to green and are shaped a little like a pear, with a rounded base and pointy top. They are not as tart as grapefruit, and are easily segmented, making them much easier to prepare and eat than the Peiyu (Citrus grandis Osbeck, 大白柚), a rounder more juicy version of the pomelo, which is just about to come into season.

The association of the pomelo with the Mid-Autumn Festival seems to be based on one of those auspicious homophones so much beloved of Taiwanese. The common name for the pomelo is youzi (柚子), which has echoes of the word youzi (佑子), with connotations of some talismanic protection, very much in keeping with the aspirations of family unity that are integral to the festival. They are also popularly called wendan (文旦) in Taiwan, purportedly in commemoration of the Chinese boat captain who introduced the fruit into Japan.

The pomelo certainly can protect health, and is notable for packing lots of nutrition and fiber into a particularly low calorie package, making it a favorite with people on a diet. If you believe all that is written about the pomelo, then it clearly has almost magical properties, with claims that it has the ability to boost the immune system, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, reduce cramping, prevent anemia, boost bone strength, reduce signs of premature aging, prevent cancer, protect heart health and boost oral and dental health. That is pretty impressive, but suffice to say, eating pomelos clearly does your body good.

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