Pomegranates were probably native to the area around present-day Iran and Northern India and then spread to the Mediterranean where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Many of the world’s oldest religions revered the pomegranate and it became part of the art, architecture, folktales, literature and cuisine of many cultures. The cultivation and use of pomegranates moved on to China, Indonesia, Africa and Europe. By the 16th century, Spanish sailors brought the fruit to the new world. As a nutrient dense fruit with many health benefits, it was also used medicinally for thousands of years. A fall-winter fruit, pomegranates begin to ripen in September, just in time for the holidays.
Peak Time: October to January
Average Price: One whole for $1.98 or 8 ounces of seeds for $5.98
Tips for Selection and Storage: Choose pomegranates that have a deep vibrant color, are smooth to the touch, and are round and heavy for their size. Avoid fruit that has split skin, soft spot or bruises, or appear dry. Whole pomegranates should be stored out of direct sunlight in a cool place. Here, they will last a few weeks. If placed in the refrigerator, the fruit will last two months or more. The seeds will stay fresh a week or more if refrigerated and can be frozen in an airtight bag up to one year.
Tips for Preparation: Firstly, pomegranate juice stains! You’ll want to open the fruit carefully. Get a large bowl and hold the pomegranate over it while you cut and deseed. Carefully cut the fruit in half through the middle. Over the bowl, put one half, cut side down, in your palm. Whack the top with a flat wooden spoon until all the seeds come out. Repeat with the other half. Use seeds in salads, relishes, appetizers, guacamole, oatmeal and other cereals, yogurt, grains like rice or quinoa, fall soups with winter squashes, with cooked fruits, with chocolate recipes. The options are unlimited.
To juice, mince the seeds in a blender or food processor and then strain the juice out in a fine mesh strainer pressing down on the seeds. One pomegranate will yield about 1/3 cup of juice. The juice is delicious as is and a wonderful addition to many other beverages.
You can make pomegranate molasses by boiling 4 cups of pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup of sugar, and 1/4 cup of lemon juice in a saucepan over medium high heat. When the juice boils, reduce the heat to medium low. Let it simmer for an hour uncovered to reduce. Stir occasionally to make sure sugars don’t stick to the bottom. After 45 minutes reduce the heat again and let simmer for 15 more minutes. When the syrup coats a spoon, it is done. Let it cool before pouring into a jar. It should yield 1 cup and last in the refrigerator for 6 months. Use as a syrup on everything!
Nutritional Highlights: The pomegranate is an amazing fruit. It is high in vitamins C and K as well as B vitamins, copper, magnesium, potassium and zinc. Pomegranates are high in phytonutrients that have antioxidant, antibacterial and antifungal properties. Research has shown that pomegranate compounds can potentially protect against several kinds of cancers. Pomegranate seeds are also an excellent source of dietary fiber and a good source of protein. However, if taking blood thinners or statins, pomegranates could interfere with these medications.