The Pomegranate is a fruit with ancient origins that grows in the Middle East, Asia, the Mediterranean region, and the southwestern U.S. In Greek mythology, the pomegranate is called the fruit of the dead and leads to Persephone spending seven months a year in the underworld. Today, pomegranate is consumed in a wide variety of sweet and savory forms including fresh, dried, and juiced.
What Is Pomegranate?
Pomegranates are round, reddish-brown fruits with a hard, smooth exterior. They grow on shrub-like trees and are typically similar in size to a navel orange. The interior of a pomegranate consists of a white, pulpy mesocarp surrounding small seeds. The seeds, also known as arils, are about the size of corn kernels and contain bright red juice. They are the only edible part of the fruit, with each pomegranate containing hundreds of seeds. The arils can be a little tricky to extract whole if the fruit is not being used simply for juice.
Pomegranates are in season during the winter months and make an attractive addition to a holiday table. They tend to be expensive when compared by weight to other fruit like apples and bananas. The fruit and the juice are used for a long list of Iranian, Indian, Turkish, Greek, and Mexican dishes. The juice also makes an effective natural dye.
How to Use Pomegranate
Pomegranate seeds can be eaten fresh as a sweet-tart snack, used as a garnish or ingredient, or dried. To peel a pomegranate, cut off the very top at the crown. Scoop out some of the core, being careful not to disturb any seeds. Use a sharp knife to score just the thin outer peel, cutting from top to bottom and creating four segments. Carefully press into the middle where you hollowed out the core to separate the fruit into quarters. Peel away any loose white pulp. Dunk each segment into a bowl of cool water and bend the outer peel back to pop out loose seeds. Carefully pry the others loose underwater; they'll sink to the bottom, and the inedible pulp will float.
The seeds can be used as is or pressed to make pomegranate juice. Fresh juice is sometimes cooked until thick to create pomegranate molasses. The seeds can also be frozen or dried.
Be forewarned that pomegranate juice will stain not only your fingers but also your clothes, which is why it has been used as a natural dye by many cultures. Wear an apron when working with the fruit to guard against any splashes that might spot your clothing. The juice will also stain plastic containers, so use glass or disposable plastic bags when possible. Avoid using aluminum or carbon steel knives or cooking vessels as they can turn the juice bitter.
What Does Pomegranate Taste Like?
Pomegranate is a juicy fruit with a sweet and tart flavor. The juice is sometimes used in place of citrus juice to add brightness to a drink or dish. The seeds are crunchy and juicy, and add a nice counterpoint to rich dishes like stews and dips.
Pomegranate is frequently used raw, with whole seeds eaten out of hand, as an ingredient, or as a colorful garnish. The raw seeds are also used to make bright red juice. Pomegranate juice is enjoyed as a beverage, cocktail mixer, and an ingredient in sweet and savory sauces and dishes. The fruit can also be cooked down to make jellies and jams.
Where to Buy Pomegranate
Look for fresh pomegranates in your local grocery from late fall through early spring. They are typically sold individually and priced per fruit or per pound. Select large fruits that feel heavy for their size and are free from bruises or punctures. If you live in a region that grows pomegranates, you may be able to find fresh fruit at your local farmers' market seasonally. Dried and frozen seeds are available year-round, as are pomegranate juice and molasses.
Pomegranate trees can be grown in regions with a similar climate to the Mediterranean, like parts of California. Trees tend to bear fruit within two years of transplant and can even be grown in pots.
The pomegranate is picked ripe and does not continue to ripen off the tree. Therefore, there is no need to let it ripen at home before use. Whole, fresh pomegranates will keep on your counter for up to a week or in the fridge for up to two weeks. Seeds will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days or in the freezer for up to three months. Fresh juice should be consumed within a week.
Nutrition and Benefits
Pomegranate has been the cause of some dubious health claims by food manufacturers, and health studies continue to look at the potential benefits of the fruit and its juice. Regardless, pomegranate seeds are high in heart-healthy fiber, and both the seeds and juice are high in antioxidants. The seeds are a good source of vitamin C (12% of daily value) and vitamin K (10% of daily value), and are low in fat and free of cholesterol.