Pomegranates, the Jewels of Winter

Ingredient Intelligence

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After the bounty of summer berries and stone fruits, it may seem that fall and winter are relegated to only apples, pears, and citrus, but don't forget pomegranates! The hidden little sweet-tart jewels inside pomegranates can brighten up any rainy or wintry day.

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The History of Pomegranates

Pomegranates are one of the world's oldest cultivated fruits. Native to Iran and India, archaeological findings show that they were grown and harvested by the Persians as far back as 2,000 BC. Today pomegranates continue to feature heavily in Middle Eastern cuisine and are grown in Asia, Mediterranean countries, and California.

Long used as a symbol of fertility, many scholars have often argued that Eve picked a pomegranate, not an apple, in the Garden of Eden.

Buying and Storing Pomegranates

The three most common pomegranate varieties in the US are the Wonderful, Red Wonderful, and Early Foothill. Their season runs from late September to January.

When buying pomegranates, select fruits that are heavy for their size and have slightly browned skins. Pomegranates are one of the few fresh fruits you want to buy that don't look good on the outside. If the leathery rind is clean, smooth, and bright red, chances are the arils (that's what the ruby-red pulp around the seeds are called) aren't sweet enough. The uglier the fruit looks on the outside, the better the chance that the inside is bursting with sweet arils.

Pomegranates can be kept at cool room temperature out of direct sunlight for up to two weeks. They can also be stored in the refrigerator for up to two months.

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Preparing Pomegranates

It's no surprise that pomegranates are sometimes called nature's most labor-intensive fruit, as the thick leathery skin and membrane protects its contents very well. Some would say almost too well!

Here's our favorite method to remove pomegranate seeds: To remove the arils, slice off the top to expose the arils, then cut the fruit in sections. Place the sections in a bowl of water and nudge out the arils — the bitter white membranes surrounding them will then float to the top. Discard the membranes, strain out the water, and voila! You now have a bowlful of juicy arils to eat or to blend and strain into juice. One pomegranate yields about 3/4 cup seeds or 1/2 cup of juice.

→ See a step-by-step guide: How To Seed a Pomegranate the Easy Way

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Using Pomegranate Seeds and Juice

Most people think they're supposed to suck on the arils and spit out the seeds, but the seeds are actually edible and make a refreshing snack. Pomegranate seeds are also used as garnishes to soups or salads to add sweet-tart fresh flavor. Pomegranates pair well with meats like duck because they provide a deep, sweet contrast with rich meat.

Pomegranate juice is highly valued since it contains a a lot of potassium and vitamin C. Pomegranate molasses, a popular condiment, is made by boiling pomegranate juice down into a thick, sticky syrup. And did you know that real grenadine, a popular cocktail syrup, is made from pomegranate juice?

Updated from a post originally published in October 2008.

(Image credits: Ekaterina Smirnova; Christine Gallary; Emma Christensen; Kostenko Olga; Faith Durand)