Significance of pomelo for Chinese people

  • 1885 chromolithograph of pomelo
  • A lovely-looking fruit
  • Juicy on the inside
  • Malaysian pomeloes
  • Pomelo plant
  • Right off the plant
  • Ripe pomelos on the plant
  • Similarities to grapefruit
1885 chromolithograph of pomelo

1885 chromolithograph of pomelo

Pomelo, Pummelo or Pommelo, originally called ‘shaddock’ in English (after a captain of the East India Company), som-o in Thailand and ‘limau barli’ in Malaysia, is a common fruit that can be found in most Asian countries, and especially in China, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand. Pomelo is usually a pale yellow or green colour: green if not yet fully ripe and yellow when ripe. Its scientific name is ‘citrus maxima’.

Pomelo can usually grow up to 30 cm in diameter and 10 kilogram in weight. Its size makes it the largest member of the citrus family. This fruit can be found in Asian markets with a price range of between 1 and 5 euros each, depending on size and country.

Juicy on the inside

Juicy on the inside

Pomelo is quite juicy, with a pink or orange-yellow flesh. Its taste is sour if unripe and sweet if ripe. It can be eaten fresh or squeezed into a juice. The pomelo’s peel can be used to make marmalade; it can also be candied and dipped in chocolate. In some Asian cuisines, like the Malaysian and the Thai, pomelo is enjoyed dipped in shrimp paste, as in the Malaysian special recipe of Sambal Belacan.

But facts apart, let me share with you a unique story behind this amazing fruit. Apparently, pomelo has a significant value for certain ethnicities, one of these being the Chinese. You should know that for Chinese people every flower and fruit has its own significant value. For them, fruits are much more than temple offerings. They love fruits, especially pomelo, mandarins, limes, bananas and winter melons. In Chinese culture, eating fresh fruit symbolises a new life beginning, and eating sweet fruit is a wish for a sweet year ahead. Fruit is also a common gift during the harvest festival, the Lunar New Year, the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year and wedding events.

Malaysian pomeloes

Malaysian pomelos

But let’s focus on pomelo. Jacqueline M. Newman in her article on Chinese Food Symbolism states that “pomelo is a prayer and a hope to have a good fate”. The Chinese people in fact hold pomelos in high esteem as they believe this fruit is a symbol of prosperity and good luck, hence usually presented as a gift in temples during Chinese New Year. Pomelo and other citrus will be eaten during the second day of the Chinese New Year, a practice observed in accordance with a Chinese emperor tradition, where during this special day the king would present this type of fruit to his officers.

Nowadays, Chinese ethnic people often use pomelo in cooking when it is in season, right before new year, since pomelo is also believed to bring good luck to the household. Besides that, Chinese homes are commonly decorated with a pair of pomelos: it is believed pairs of pomelos are synonym of family unity and also mean “all good things come in twos”.

I am a very inquisitive person, and apart from all I have read about pomelo, I have had to ask some of my Chinese ethnic friends and acquaintances for confirmation.

Right off the plant

Right off the plant

My ex boss Fiona Kho said: “We believe a good thing will happen if we eat this fruit and due to this, every year, during Chinese New Year we buy pomelos, which are important to mark a new start with a positive aura”.

Meanwhile, Aderine Lo told me that pomelo in Chinese is called ‘da ji’ which means ‘to have’. She said that the real meaning of ‘da ji’ is like a wish to achieve prosperity. This is why she gives out pomelos when visiting relatives and friends during Chinese New Year.

My university friend Enix Goh said that pomelo leaves are very important for the Chinese people in religious ritual baths, as they are believed to clean up individual bad lucks and push away bad omens.

A lovely-looking fruit

A lovely-looking fruit

For Lee Jun Sing, my ex high-school classmate who is Buddhist, pomelo is usually placed in the house area where he prays and makes offerings.

My uncle Joseph Tomeng, who sells all kind of fruits in Taman Malihah, in Matang, confirmed that pomelo demand increases consideerably during Chinese New Year.

Pomelo is not only popular amongst the Chinese but also for communities in the whole world. In India, for instance, pomelo is very important for children, but not as food: they use it as a ball in football games! I am glad I was born in a multi-cultural and multi-racial country, to have had the chance to find out about the uniqueness of pomelo, and to have shared it with you.

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About the author

Cato is a young woman from Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Cato gained a Bachelor Degree with honours in Social Science majoring in Communication Studies at the University Malaysia Sarawak - UNIMAS. After a long spell as a full-time reporter writing for TV and Radio news in Borneo and beyond, she is currently a Special Officer in the public relations field. She is also a regular and passionate contributor at Asian Itinerary. Cato is a dynamic woman with several interests and hobbies like travelling, listening to music, playing guitar, reading, kayaking and surfing the Internet. She is a young promise in the travel-writing world, and one of the main exponents of Asian Itinerary.

View all articles by Catohrinner Joyce Guri