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Pomegranate From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

Pomegranate From A to Z: 26 Interesting Things to Know

From cocktails and Greek myths, to reductions, flavour oils and candies, what else do we need to know about the fruit that brings good luck in the new year?

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Antioxidants. The juice of 100 grams of pomegranate seeds contains twice as many antioxidants as blackberries, more than three times as many as blueberries, and four times as many as oranges. But more importantly, if you blend all these fruit together with or without ice cubes or yogurt, you’ll have breakfast.

Bright red. Most pomegranates have a thick, leathery outer skin with clusters of juicy, sweet, thin-skinned sacks of fruit inside. There are white, yellow, and pink varieties, but the seed-filled sacks are usually still red when ripe. In some black and purple varieties, however, the seeds are also dark.

Cocktails. Thanks to commercial pomegranate juices and pomegranate vodkas, the tangy fruit is replacing cranberry faster than Uncle Ben’s can bastardize risotto. You can even find pomegranate bitters (or make your own), or pair pomegranate juice with other exotic flavours including orange bitters for a variation on a Manhattan.

Dehydrated Seeds. In Indian cuisine, dried pomegranate seeds - anardana - flavour everything from spiced chickpeas to aloo gobi, pakoras, and chutneys.

Equal to Chocolate. Pomegranates are viewed as powerful aphrodisiacs, up there with chocolate.

Fruit of the Dead. In Greek mythology, anyone who ate the fruit in the underworld would be stuck there eternally, which would have been the fate of Persephone, if she’d had more of an appetite (see “Zeus” below).

Garden of Eden. The Pomegranate Council in California believes that the pomegranate may have been the actual forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden, rather than the apple (see “Not the Apple of Grenada”). At least, that’s what they state on their website. If representatives from the council do not actually believe this, they would not be fired, most likely. This could, after all, be deemed religious discrimination.

Health benefits. The fruit is high in Vitamin C, may lower cholesterol, may fight cancer, etc., but its most important role in gastronomy is probably as culinary flavour oils for carbonated candy. The second most important: freeze-dried pomegranate powder.

In Season. Pomegranates are in season from November to the end of January, appearing at markets along with persimmons and chestnuts.

Juices. You can find promegranate juice everywhere from large supermarkets to specialty juice bars. Juicing your own with anything but a large, splatter-free juicer is asking for trouble.

Khoresh. This traditional Persian dish of duck in pomegranate sauce with walnuts, sugar, saffron, and cinnamon or allspice was originally made with a domesticated duck fattened on a diet of hemp seeds and olives.

Lots of Dishes. Pomegranate is heavily used in Middle Eastern mezes or small dips, spreads, and pastes. In Mexico, it’s the red of the tri-colour chiles en nogada, representing the Mexican flag along with green poblano peppers, and a white, creamy nogada sauce with fresh cheese and walnuts.

Molasses. Pomegranate molasses is the new balsamic reduction, and is drizzled on everything from duck breast to salad, and even blended into cocktails. It’s essential in muhammara, a Middle Eastern dip made with ground walnuts, roasted peppers and pungent garlic. It adds much needed acid and sweetness to babaganoush, It also blends into a creamy broth with wheat and raisins, and it’s the main ingredient of ash-e anar—pomegranate soup. In Greece it glazes lamb kebabs, and combines with eggplants in a sweet and sour relish. You can buy it in specialty stores (and often in large grocery stores), or make your own by simmering pomegranate juice with or without added sugar until most of the water evaporates. Continue reducing and stirring until it becomes as thick as molasses.

Not the Apple of Grenada. The French name for pomegranate -pomme grenade- actually has nothing to do with being an apple from Granada. The second half of the name actually comes from the Latin word for “seeded”—grānātum.

Origin. The fruit hails from the Middle East, and is now found in the Mediterranean, Asia, India, and Eastern Europe, Africa, Latin America, Arizona, and California. Many new, sweeter, higher yielding varietals were created in California, where pomegranates are as esteemed as avocadoes, without which no Californian could seemingly live.

Paper Thin. Sections of the pomegranate’s juice sacks beneath the fruit’s outer skin are separated by thin, papery dividers, which can be gently peeled back to reveal bright red clusters of the sweet-and-tangy fruit.

Quince and chef David Boulud: With a nod to the popularity of the fruit in international cuisine, this very French chef uses it at his eponymous New York restaurant in his quince dessert with goat cheese mousse, brown sugar frangipane, and a pink peppercorn-apple cider sorbet.

Rind and bark. The rind of the fruit and bark of the shrub are used in some traditional medicines to treat parasites. But unless you find yourself infected with a parasite in an orchard of pomegranates with no access to modern anti-parasitic medicine, you’re better off calling your doctor and avoiding potential neurotoxic effects.

Starbucks. Ever on the food trend bandwagon, the international coffee chain sells a gluten-free, non-GMO snack bar made with pomegranate, blueberries, and pistachios (plus glucose and glycerol). What’s next? McDonalds blueberry-pomegranate smoothies? Actually, yes.

Toothpaste. In India the astringent white pith is used as toothpaste with salt, pepper, and ginger. The juice, however, is highly tannic (like wine), and will stain teeth rather than clean them.

Use a Mallet. One almost mess-free way of cutting the pomegranate is to cut it in half, hold it upside-down suspended over a large bowl, and use a mallet or other heavy, blunt object to gently beat the seeds out of the bottom of the fruit. Yes, juice will fly and your hand holding the fruit from underneath will turn red, but none of the juice is lost, as it is using the water method (see below).

Vedas. The astringent and tannic quality of the seeds make it a “drying” food in Ayurveda, which, according to Jeeva Lifestyle, makes it good for fiery Pittas and, at damp periods of the year, for everyone else.

Water Method. To open the pomegranate relatively mess-free, cut it in half in a large bowl of water and then tear the sections apart. The seeds will sink to the bottom and the white papery pith will float. Remove the pith and then strain the seeds from the water.

Xmas and Rosh Hashana. Pomegranates appear on many Greek and Jewish tables during the holidays. At weddings and at New Years, Greeks break a pomegranate on the ground for good luck, which seems unnecessarily messy.

Yotam Ottolenghi. In Ottolenghi’s first cookbook, “Plenty,” there are five recipes for pomegranate. In his second, “Jerusalem,” he and partner Sami Tamami restrain themselves to only three: lamb-stuffed quince; wheat berries and swiss chard with pomegranate molasses; and a sesame-free babaganoush with eggplant. The celebrity chef also has a new cookbook out featuring recipes from his eponymous market-fresh café in London. Once again, it’s pomegranate-heavy. Pity the prep cooks breaking open all those pomegranates, identifiable by their stained red or water-wrinkled fingers. Cuisinart has, alas, yet to market a hands-free pomegranate-seeder.

Zeus, and Blaming Winter on Greek Gods. According to Greek mythology, Hades, the god of the underworld, kidnapped the beautiful Persephone, daughter of Zeus, to make her his wife. Persephone’s harvest goddess mom, Demeter, was so sad that plants and crops stopped growing. Zeus couldn’t let the world end so he ordered Hades to return Persephone, but then she had to go and get tricked by Hades into eating some pomegranate seeds. Being the “fruit of the dead,” she has to spend the same amount of months in the underworld every year with Hades as the number of seeds she’d eaten. While she’s there, Demeter doesn’t let anything grow, thus creating winter. Fortunately, Persephone had an unusually small appetite, because no one since has stopped at three to seven pomegranate seeds (the exact amount of seeds she ate depends on the climate of the storyteller’s country of origin).

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