The pomegranate is a leathery-skinned, red fruit about the size of an orange, famous for its abundance of seeds. Its rind is bitterly acidic, and it is popular primarily for its seeds and juice, the tastes of which vary from tangy-sweet to sour.
The pomegranate, which most likely originated in Persia, is one of the oldest fruits known and is widely popular in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Though its overwhelming abundance of seeds may have prevented it from acquiring equal popularity in the United States, the seeds have also secured the fruit a place in the folklore of many cultures.
Its plentiful seeds made it a symbol of fertility and eternal life to early followers of Judaism and to Ancient Egyptians, who buried their dead with pomegranates to encourage rebirth. Babylonians chewed pomegranate seeds before going off to battle, believing that the seeds could strengthen soldiers or even make them invincible. The pomegranate and its seeds also appear in the Greek myth of Persephone, who cannot resist the temptation to consume food, which she has been forbidden by Hades.
The pomegranate also has a claim to fame as the namesake of the hand grenade, and is also the namesake of the Caribbean island Grenada and of Grenada, Spain.
There are an assortment of pomegranate varieties throughout the world, known in the agricultural world by their seed color (light red to deep scarlet), harvesting time, and sweetness.
Sweet pomegranates with lower acid contents are the only fruits of widespread commercial interest, and varieties include Piñon Tierno, Albar, Mollar and Valencias.
In the U.S., pomegranates are available primarily in autumn.
Look for the prettiest pomegranates, those with a rich-colored skin that is as close to perfection as possible: unblemished, unwrinkled, unscarred and crack-free.
The larger fruits are likely to be juicier and tastier. Seek plump, heavy pomegranates with an even, round shape.
While they will only last for a few days at room temperature, refrigerated pomegranates can last for 2-4 months and will even acquire a richer taste over the course of their storage life.
Pomegranate juice keeps only three days in the refrigerator, but pomegranate seeds can last in the freezer for up to a year, sealed in a plastic baggie.
- To break into the pomegranate, use a knife to cut through the outer skin. Because they are high in tannic acid, the whitish membrane and fleshy rind of the pomegranate are rarely eaten, so try to separate the seeds from the membrane as you cut.
- Because they can make the fruit’s juice bitter, don’t use carbon steel or aluminum materials to cut pomegranates.
- Pomegranates are often used as a natural dye, which means that their juice will stain your clothes, so be careful during preparation.
An average sized pomegranate yields approximately ½ cup of sweet, tart juice that can be used in pomegranate desserts, mixed drinks and sauces.