Fall Harvest: Pomegranates

October 12, 2013 at 8:15 AM | Posted in fruits, vegetables | 2 Comments
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Pomegranates only ripen in warmer climates. They are in season starting in October and are usually available fresh through December.

 

A pomegranate fruit

A pomegranate fruit

The pomegranate /ˈpɒmɨɡrænɨt/, botanical name Punica granatum, is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing between 5–8 meters (16–26 ft) tall.
The pomegranate is widely considered to have originated in the vicinity of Iran and has been cultivated since ancient times. Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, the Middle East and Caucasus region, northern Africa and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the drier parts of southeast Asia. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is also cultivated in parts of California and Arizona.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the fruit is typically in season from September to February. In the Southern Hemisphere, the pomegranate is in season from March to May.
The pomegranate has been mentioned in many ancient texts, notably in Babylonian texts, the Book of Exodus, the Homeric Hymns and the Quran. In recent years, it has become more common in the commercial markets of North America and the Western Hemisphere.
Pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, juices, smoothies and alcoholic beverages, such as martinis and wine.

 

 

The Punica granatum leaves are opposite or sub-opposite, glossy, narrow oblong, entire, 3–7 cm long and 2 cm broad. The flowers are bright red, 3 cm in diameter, with four to five petals (often more on cultivated plants). Some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone. The edible fruit is a berry and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size, 5–12 cm in diameter with a rounded hexagonal shape, and has thick reddish skin. The exact number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400 seeds, contrary to some beliefs that all pomegranates have exactly the same number of seeds. Each seed has a surrounding water-laden pulp—the edible aril—ranging in color from white to deep red or purple. The seeds are embedded in a white, spongy, astringent membrane.

 

 

Pomegranate in cross section

Pomegranate in cross section

After the pomegranate is opened by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open, the arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membranes. Separating the red arils is easier in a bowl of water because the arils sink and the inedible pulp floats. Freezing the entire fruit also makes it easier to separate. Another very effective way of quickly harvesting the arils is to cut the pomegranate in half, score each half of the exterior rind four to six times, hold the pomegranate half over a bowl and smack the rind with a large spoon. The arils should eject from the pomegranate directly into the bowl, leaving only a dozen or more deeply embedded arils to remove.
The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty aril is the desired part. The taste differs depending on the subspecies of pomegranate and its ripeness.

The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty aril is the desired part. The taste differs depending on the subspecies of pomegranate and its ripeness. The pomegranate juice can be very sweet or sour, but most fruits are moderate in taste, with sour notes from the acidic tannins contained in the aril juice. Pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Armenian, Persian and Indian cuisine, and began to be widely distributed in the United States and Canada in 2002.
Grenadine syrup is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice and is used in cocktail mixing. Before tomatoes (a New World fruit) arrived in the Middle East, grenadine was widely used in many Iranian foods, and is still found in traditional recipes such as fesenjān, a thick sauce made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts, usually spooned over duck or other poultry and rice, and in ash-e anar (pomegranate soup).

Wild pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana (from Persian: anar + dana, pomegranate + seed), most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but also as a substitute for pomegranate syrup in Persian cuisine. Dried whole arils can often be obtained in ethnic Indian subcontinent markets. These seeds are separated from the flesh, dried for 10–15 days and used as an acidic agent for chutney and curry preparation. Ground anardana is also used, which results in a deeper flavoring in dishes and prevents the seeds from getting stuck in teeth. Seeds of the wild pomegranate variety known as daru from the Himalayas are regarded as quality sources for this spice.
Dried pomegranate arils, found in some natural specialty food markets, still contain the seed and residual aril water, maintaining a natural sweet and tart flavor. Dried arils can be used in several culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream. Chocolate covered arils may be added to desserts and baked items.
In the Caucasus, pomegranate is used mainly as juice. In Azerbaijan, a sauce from pomegranate juice (narsharab) is usually served with fish or tika kabab. In Turkey, pomegranate sauce (Turkish: nar ekşisi) is used as a salad dressing, to marinate meat, or simply to drink straight. Pomegranate seeds are also used in salads and sometimes as garnish for desserts such as güllaç. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is used in muhammara, a roasted red pepper, walnut, and garlic spread popular in Syria and Turkey.
In Greece, pomegranate (Greek: ρόδι, rodi) is used in many recipes, including kollivozoumi, a creamy broth made from boiled wheat, pomegranates and raisins, legume salad with wheat and pomegranate, traditional Middle Eastern lamb kebabs with pomegranate glaze, pomegranate eggplant relish, and avocado-pomegranate dip. Pomegranate is also made into a liqueur, and as a popular fruit confectionery used as ice cream topping, mixed with yogurt, or spread as jam on toast. In Cyprus and Greece, and among the Greek Orthodox Diaspora, ρόδι (Greek for pomegranate) is used to make koliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugar, almonds and other seeds served at memorial services.
In Mexico, they are commonly used to adorn the traditional dish chiles en nogada, representing the red of the Mexican flag in the dish which evokes the green (poblano pepper), white (nogada sauce) and red (pomegranate arils) tricolor.

 

Green salad with roast beef, pomegranate vinaigrette, and lemon juice

Green salad with roast beef, pomegranate vinaigrette, and lemon juice

 
In preliminary laboratory research and clinical trials, juice of the pomegranate may be effective in reducing heart disease risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation. In mice, “oxidation of LDL by peritoneal macrophages was reduced by up to 90% after pomegranate juice consumption…”.
In a limited study of hypertensive patients, consumption of pomegranate juice for two weeks was shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting serum angiotensin-converting enzyme. Juice consumption may also inhibit viral infections while pomegranate extracts have antibacterial effects against dental plaque.
Despite limited research data, manufacturers and marketers of pomegranate juice have liberally used evolving research results for product promotion, especially for putative antioxidant health benefits. In February 2010, the FDA issued a Warning Letter to one such manufacturer, POM Wonderful, for using published literature to make illegal claims of unproven antioxidant and anti-disease benefits.

 

 

 

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