Pomegranates have wonderful history and lore, predating the Bible. Some Jewish scholars believe it was not the apple that tempted Eve in the garden, but pomegranate. Just as the serpent lured Eve with a pomegranate in the Bible, so too did Hades trick Persephone into a bite—as such, she had to spend every winter in the underworld.
Despite pomegranate’s rocky start as the fruit responsible for man’s fall from grace, it has since gained a solid reputation in many religious texts. In Hinduism, the fruit symbolizes fertility and prosperity, and the Qur’an states that pomegranate trees grow in the kingdom of heaven. As for the Jews, the book of Exodus explains that the image of a pomegranate should be worn on the robes of the High Priests.
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Origin of Pomegranate
Pomegranate’s origin is debatable, in part because of its antiquity dating back thousands of years. The book, “The Materia Medica of the Hindus” states pomegranate’s origin is North Western India, while other sources claim Persia. The truth might be that its origin is an amalgam of the regions stretching from the Himalayas to the Middle East.
Availability of Pomegranate in India
India grows most of the world’s pomegranates, and exports much of its supply to the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and the UK. India even ships pomegranates as far as the US and Canada. The country’s main export competitors are Spain and Iran.
Maharashtra’s Solapur district grows 60 to 70 percent of India’s pomegranates, thus making Maharashtra the country’s main pomegranate commercial district. Cultivation takes place on a smaller scale in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Haryana. To grow, pomegranates require semi-arid conditions and hot, dry summers.
India grows approximately 20 different commercial varieties of the fruit, each varying in their size, shape and color. The most prominent varieties are Ganesh, a pinkish yellow variety; Mridula and Ruby, two bright red varieties; Arakta, a dark red pomegranate variety. Kabul pomegranates are especially delicious, given their large size and sugary sweet blood-red seeds.
It’s also worth mentioning another pomegranate cultivar in India called “daru,” also known as the “wild sour pomegranate.” This pale green skinned variant has white seeds that are seldom consumed fresh, and instead, the dried rind of the fruit has become a million-rupee industry. Daru’s seeds are also dried and sold as “ardana,” a delicate, rustic souring agent used in Indian and Persian dishes. The main daru growing regions are Himachal Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir.
Pomegranate season in India is year-round in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Karnataka, fruiting season is January through April; and in Andhra Pradesh, March through June.
Where to find Pomegranate in India
Pomegranates are everywhere in India. From tiny juice stalls to mega stores, finding the fruit is effortless. Compared to India’s other metro cities, pomegranates are cheapest in Bangalore. The most expensive month for buying the fruit is October, with April and May being the least expensive.
Checking for Ripeness in Pomegranate
Pomegranate is ripe when its skin is vibrant, glossy and smooth: some variants will be light pink; others golden; and some deep red. When unripe, pomegranates are green and have white lackluster seeds. If unsure, gauge the weight of the fruit: it should feel heavy for its size and. When tapped, it should offer a thudding, dense sound that indicates its juiciness.
As a pomegranate ages, its skin becomes granular and withered, and its sheen gives way to a dull brown hue. However, arils within the pomegranate often retain their integrity and delicious flavor for quite some time after the skin loses its luster. Thus, open a pomegranate before discarding: if the membrane has blackened and the arils have turned brown and mushy, the fruit has gone bad. Use the color and shape of the arils as the best determinant of a pomegranate’s ripeness.
Taste of Pomegranate
Pomegranate has a sweet, tangy, tart and bold flavor. It’s as if cranberry had a better-behaved sister who wasn’t contentious like her bitter, astringent relative. Indeed, pomegranates have no astringency, but they do have a bit of a bite similar to a raspberry’s. Pomegranates possess hints of earthiness found in some grape variants as well. This taste is amplified when sold as pasteurized juice.
One mouthful of the red arils offers a burst of sweet watery juice, followed by crunchiness from the small seed embedded in each aril. Some people do not eat the seeds, choosing instead to spit them out.
The white membrane surrounding the arils is mildly bitter, but edible. Some choose to eat sections of a pomegranate with the membrane as if it were an apple. The external leathery skin is bitter, but highly medicinal.
In some variants, whitish pink pomegranate arils may be just as sweet and delicious as their red counterparts, so don’t judge a pomegranate by the color of its fruit.
Note: pomegranate juice does not taste like fresh pomegranates. The juice is still sweet, but it tastes much muskier, darker, and has significantly less zest than the fresh fruit.
Nutritional Value of Pomegranate
The USDA nutrient database states that 100g of pomegranate contains the following nutritional information:
18.7g Carb (6% RDI)
4g Fiber (16% RDI)
1.7g Protein (3% RDI)
10.2mg Vitamin C (17% RDI)
.6mg Vitamin E (3% RDI)
16.4mcg Vitamin K (21% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (4% RDI)
.1mg Riboflavin (3% RDI)
.1mg Vitamin B6 (4% RDI)
38mcg Folate (10% RDI)
.4mg Pantothenic Acid (4% RDI)
.3mg Iron (2% RDI)
12mg Magnesium (3% RDI)
36mg Phosphorous (4% RDI)
236mg Potassium (7% RDI)
.4mg Zinc (2% RDI)
.2mg Copper (8% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (6% RDI)
Health Benefits of Pomegranate
Pomegranates have been used in Ayurveda for centuries. According to the book, “Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine,” pomegranates treat dysentery, diarrhea, heartburn, vomiting and dyspepsia. It also purifies the mouth, stomach, heart, throat, as well as increase semen, boost virility alleviate restlessness and reduces thirst.
A Purdue horticulture article explains that pomegranates have been used by various cultures to treat several illnesses: Pulverized flowers alleviate bronchitis; the bark, leaves and rind treat hemorrhages; in Mexico, a concoction of flowers alleviates inflammation when gargled. The leaves, seeds and roots also have hypotensive and anthelmintic activities. One of the oldest medical documents discovered in Egypt lists pomegranate as a treatment for tapeworm and parasites.
Since the health boom of the 90s, pomegranates have gained attention as a superfood on account of their polyphenol-rich juice. Indeed, the juice has many health benefits:
--A 2009 article in “Molecules” explains how the polyphenols and anthocyanins in pomegranate exhibit antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial properties, protecting the body from an assortment of infections including staph and even herpes. Further studies mentioned in the article shows that pomegranates protect the body from influenza, E. coli, cholera, salmonella, bacteria responsible for yeast infections, and fungi strains.
--The “Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine” cites a study of researchers in India that found pomegranate rind has significant antidiabetic properties.
--A 2010 study published in “Mutation Research” discovered antimutagenic qualities in pomegranate rind.
--A study in “Nutrition Research” mentions that pomegranate rind may help regulate thyroid functions and protect the body against atherosclerosis
--A study published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” finds that pomegranate has potential to treat inflammation and cancer.
How to Open, Cut and Prepare Pomegranates:
Pomegranate can be one of the messiest fruits to open, and most novices will get at least a few crimson stains on their clothes upon the attempt. There are a few different methods to extricate the bright, juicy arils that hold steadfast to the white membrane. One of the least messy methods of opening the fruit entails cutting an incision only a quarter of the way down from the top of the pomegranate. Circle and score around the fruit, until the skin can be pried away from it. Once a layer of the peel has been lifted from the top, cut the pomegranate into wedges based on the fruit’s natural indentations. Remove the seeds from each slice.
Here’s a second simple method that eliminates the risk of getting the red juice everywhere:
To extract the juice from pomegranate seeds, one can use a juicer but this method yields tragically little juice. The same is true with cutting the pomegranate in half and using a citrus juicer as one would with orange halves. Another option that yields more juice is to blend the pomegranate seeds with a bit of water. Once blended, the juice may be strained into glasses. The tradeoff with blending is that the bitter taste of the seeds mixes with the red sweetness, whereas using a juicer yields a sweeter flavor but less juice.
Pomegranates will not continue to ripen once picked. Thus, it is not necessary to wait for them to grow sweeter or redder: Any pomegranate bought from the store will be ready for immediate consumption. This is especially important to keep in mind, considering that others have purchased a golden skin variant with the expectation that it would turn red.
Whole pomegranates keep for one month on the counter and up to two months in the refrigerator.
Store pomegranate arils in a container and place in the refrigerator, where they’ll keep for approximately two weeks.
Pomegranate seeds can also be frozen and used throughout the year. Spread the arils on wax paper on a baking tray: Once frozen, place in a baggie.
Pomegranate Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Pomegranates are exceptionally versatile. They can make several dishes brighter, sweeter, or earthier, depending. The crunchiness of the seeds also enhances the texture of dishes.
--Top sparkling beverages or teas with a few pomegranate seeds
--Layer hummus or baba ghanouj with pomegranate seeds to add a hint of sweetness and enhance the color. They also make an exceptional addition to guacamole and salsas.
--Add to salads, particularly those with ingredients such as vegan cheese, berries, persimmons and apples. Perhaps surprisingly, pomegranates work well as a strawberry substitute in most salad recipes.
--Sprinkle atop cakes, cupcakes and cheesecakes. Also, pomegranate seeds can be folded into batters of muffins, cookies and other sweet breads.
--Use the juice to make sorbet or gelato
--Add to oatmeal or mueslis
--Use the juice to make alcoholic drinks like a pom martini or a margarita
--Add to quinoa, barley, rice or cous cous salads
--Sprinkle on glazed or roasted vegetables; particularly fall favorites like squash, pumpkin and cauliflower.
--Dip pomegranate seeds in chocolate, stirring in an assortment of nuts
--Stir whole seeds into cocktails like mojitos, champagne, and martinis
--Add to morning cups of yogurt
--Bake with roasted eggplant and squash
Note: Whole pomegranate seeds do not work well in smoothies. Extract the juice before adding; otherwise, the taste is unpleasantly granular.
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Apple, apricot, pear, avocado, banana, bell pepper, bignay, cacao, calamondin, cape gooseberry, cherry, cucumber, date plum, dragon fruit, fig, goji berry, grape, persimmon, harendong, jamberry, jamun, jujube, kiwi, karonda, kumquat, lemon, mango, mangosteen, Mysore raspberry, orange, papaya, pear, pineapple, strawberry, watermelon
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Most people say pomegranate “seeds” in reference to the delicious red orbs encased in the fruit. The proper term is actually “aril,” as the seed is technically encased within the red fruit. Many other fruits have edible arils, including mangosteen, salak, longan, Burmese grape, and ackee.
The tombs of ancient Egyptians were filled with many interesting artifacts: Gold, pets, and furniture, to name a few. Also included in the mix? Pomegranates.
A single pomegranates has anywhere between 300 to 700 seeds.