Citrus Taste Profiles (Sweet, Sour and Bitter): the Grapefruit and other Citrus – Plus a Recipe for the Brown Derby Blossom


I recently heard a a drinks writer specializing in tiki drinks briefly interviewed on National Public Radio.  He opined that one of the things that made Don the Beachcomber great was that he was the first to make drinks with not only one, but multiple sour elements.  While it is not true that Don the Beachcomber was the first to do this, it does seem to have been a common practice for him.  But the truly glaring misinformation this otherwise well-informed drinks writer propagated was that the grapefruit was a sour ingredient.  He described a certain drink by the Beachcomber as containing two sour elements, lime and grapefruit.  I suppose the error was due to the simplistic interpretation of tastes that ‘not-sweet’ must be sour (or salt).  Children often make this mistake of over-simplifying the tastes into opposite pairs. For the record, traditional varieties of the grapefruit bear the sweet and bitter tastes simultaneously.  They bear no noticeable sourness to the educated palate.  Taste it for yourself.  If you want sources, read “Citrus” by Allen Susser.  Even Wikipedia calls grapefruit bitter and mentions no sourness in the fruit.  Here is a brief excerpt from my own book: “Note: the citrus fruits are split between the sour element and the succulent element, some also being bitter.  The lemon (Citrus limon) is sour and slightly sweet.  The limes (Citrus aurantiifolia, Citrus latifolia, etc.) tend to be only sour, but their zest is bitter enough that its use should be avoided.  The sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) is sweet.  The bitter orange (Citrus aurantium) is bitter and sweet.  The tangerine (Citrus reticulata, a.k.a. mandarine, Mandarin orange, clementine, etc.) is sweet.  The Meyer lemon (Citrus meyeri) is sweet and sour.  The grapefruit (Citrus paradisi) has traditionally been sweet and bitter, but many varieties have had most of their bitterness bred out.” Many supermarkets today only stock relatively bitter-less varieties of grapefruit.  But, most producers of citrus juice continue to market their grapefruit juice made of more traditional varieties of grapefruit that bear appropriate bitterness in addition to sweetness.  They purchase grapefruits in enough volume that they can contract with growers for large numbers of the fruit with traditional bitterness.  Sadly, when it comes to making the great drinks of the past that depend on the bitter aspect of the grapefruit for their success (such as the Brown Derby Blossom, see the recipe below), using the now-common, non-bitter, grapefruit yields unsatisfying results.  This is one case where it may be better to buy grapefruit juice (not-from-concentrate, of course) than to freshly squeeze the juice from the fruit — unless you can be sure to find fresh grapefruits that bear the traditional amount of bitterness.  Vendors at farmers’ markets tend to be willing to let you sample the fruit. The Brown Derby Blossom was a specialty of the Brown Derby Restaurant in Los Angeles, circa 1934.  It is a great drink (with the right grapefruit) and I think it is far superior to better-known blossoms, such as the Orange Blossom or the Blood & Sand Blossom.

5 thoughts on “Citrus Taste Profiles (Sweet, Sour and Bitter): the Grapefruit and other Citrus – Plus a Recipe for the Brown Derby Blossom

    1. Hello Greg! Any blood orange is a variety of the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis).

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