Don’t let unfamiliarity with pomegranate prevent you from experiencing the many ways this fruit has been traditionally enjoyed in Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean regions for centuries. Easily introduced into your diet, pomegranate is the “new” ancient fruit, lauded for its compelling flavor and proven for its nutritional content.
Eating fresh pomegranate for the first time is a remarkable experience. The pods of glistening red, juice-filled sacs-or arils-captures the memory indefinitely, but the simultaneous crunch of hard seed and explosion of juice as you chew the tiny arils can present confusion on the original assessment; such a combination is so unlike any other typical fruit. Initially, chewing the seeds may feel uncomfortable to some, but one gradually adapts to the pomegranate’s complex yet powerful character and chewing the seed begins to feel natural. Eventually, removing the fruit’s arils becomes second nature and less time-consuming than initial encounters with the pomegranate.
Origin of the Pomegranate
With origins in the tropical climate of Asia, pomegranate has been cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Historical record credits the Spanish with introducing the pomegranate to California missions more than 200 years ago, whose growing regions compare similarly with the warm, sun-drenched Mediterranean climate. Indeed, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures value the pomegranate, which is commonly found in appetizers, desserts and main dishes across their cuisines. Today the San Joaquin Valley in the heart of California is the only concentration of commercially grown pomegranates in America.
The Pomegranate’s Nutritional Power
Pomegranates are high in fiber and are excellent sources of potassium, vitamin C and cancer-resistant antioxidants. A pomegranate’s juice is high in three different types of polyphenol, a potent form of antioxidant. The three types – tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid – are present in many fruits; however, pomegranate juice contains particularly high amounts of all three types of antioxidants. Research proves antioxidants function to prevent cancer and heart disease, and acts to deter the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
According to research conducted by the USDA, pomegranate fruit contains greater levels of protein, fiber and fat than pomegranate juice. Eating pomegranate fresh remains the best way to obtain the full range of the fruit’s nutritional benefits.
Fresh pomegranate’s harvesting season starts in September and lasts through January in North America; they are generally reasonably priced when in season and ripe for eating. Find them in the produce section, taking care to select one that has a deep color and feels heavy for its size, which indicates high juice content.
How to Open and Eat Fresh Pomegranate
Pomegranates can be opened and prepared with just a little know-how. Pomegranates.org, an association of U.S. pomegranate growers, recommends this 3-step process:
1. Slice off the flared, spiky crown and cut the pomegranate into halves or quarters.
2. Submerge the sections in a bowl of water, allowing them to sit for a few moments, and pluck out the seeded arils with your fingers or a spoon after peeling away the membrane covering the arils. Discard any internal membrane along with the outer rind.
3. Drain the water from the bowl of arils, now ready to eat straight or added to salads, whole grain cereals or desserts.
As you familiarize yourself with the pomegranate, you may become comfortable peeling away the inner skins that hold the arils in their pods and eating straight from the pomegranate. Remember to eat the pomegranate over a plate, as the arils are exceptionally juicy and prone to spillage and messiness.
Ideas for Incorporating Pomegranate into Your Diet
Pomegranates introduce a color, a tart yet sweet flavor and texture to appetizers, salads, entrees and desserts. Top salads, whole grain cereals and pancakes, yogurt and desserts with pomegranate arils. Unsweetened pomegranate juice adds a tart flavor and color to beverages, glazes, sauces, dressings and desserts. Pomegranate parfait and muffins are among the dessert recipes available for an exotic, healthy twist on typical foods that Americans enjoy eating.
Whole pomegranates keep well at room temperature for several days, in a cool, dark location; store them refrigerated or in the cellar 32˚- 41˚ F for up to 3 months in plastic or sealed bags .
The next time you find yourself in the produce section of your local grocery or farmer’s market, look for the deep red, round rind-covered fruit that bears similarity to a mini-melon. Give your taste buds and overall health a boost: choose a fresh pomegranate to enjoy, straight from the fruit with all its intensity or as a topper for your health-wise cereal, salad or dessert!
Pomegranates: Pomegranate Council; http://pomegranates.org
Robin Thomas and Susan Gebhardt: “Nutritive Value of Pomegranate Fruit and Juice.” USDA Agricultural Research Service; April 11, 2008
Self Nutrition Data; Nutrition Facts; Pomegranates, raw http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/2038/2