Pomegranate: The Ancient Jewel of the Desert

shutterstock 309093002 scaled
Pomegranates are a popular Mediterranean fruit known for their sweet and tart flavors and many health benefits. Whether scooped out with a spoon, tossed into a smoothie, or transformed into pomegranate molasses, the crunchy sweet seeds of the pomegranate are 100% delicious!

What is a Pomegranate?

Pomegranate (Punica granatum), pronounced PAA·muh·gra·nuht, is a reddish-brown hard fruit native to areas in the Mediterranean. It’s also called a pom pom, paradise apple, or lady pom. It grows on a pomegranate tree that can grow up to 33 feet tall and live up to 200 years.

The pomegranate fruit is peculiar because it has an alien-like consistency on the inside. While the reddish-brown rind is firm, the insides are filled with vibrant red edible seeds, known as pomegranate arils. The seeds have a tart flavor, like cranberries, with sharper sweetness.

The History of Pomegranate

The ancient pomegranate has a long, rich history. It’s mentioned in the Bible, depicted in Egyptian art, and prevalent in China during the Sung and Han dynasties. While its influence spans the globe, historians believe this ancient fruit’s roots date back to the Mediterranean. In Ancient Rome, the pomegranate was closely related to the goddess of love, Aphrodite.

It’s also known as the ‘fruit of death’ in Greek mythology. Its blood-red coloring was believed to have risen from the blood of Adonis. In addition to the Adonis myth, it appears in other Greek myths, including Hades and Persephone.

shutterstock 1182419728
Fully ripe pomegranate arils are a brilliant red color and should be very glossy.

What Does a Pomegranate Taste Like?

Pomegranate seeds look very similar to cranberries, and their flavors are similar! Pomegranate seeds have steep tartness but are a little sweeter than your average cranberry. It’s bright, sweet, and acidic, like tart cherries.

You can eat them raw with a spoon, but they also are excellent cooked. Cooked pomegranate seeds are often used in jellies and jams. The subtle bitterness and tartness fade, making for a sweeter treat when cooked in pomegranate recipes.

How to Tell When Pomegranate is Ripe

When selecting a pomegranate at the market, choosing one at the peak of ripeness is critical. Luckily, there are a few easy ways to tell if a pomegranate is ripe.

ColorAn unripe pomegranate is green and turns a deep red as it ripens. Opt for poms with deep red skin and very few traces of green.
FirmnessAs the skin on the pomegranate ripens, the skin shifts from smooth and firm to bumpy and soft. Scratch your fingernail along the skin; if it leaves a mark, it’s ripe and ready to go.
SmellWhen a pomegranate is ripe, the outside should smell floral and aromatic. If it doesn’t have a scent, it’s not ripe. When a pomegranate goes bad, you’ll know it! Rotten pomegranates release a strong, fermented smell that many compare to rubbing alcohol or nail polish.
BruisingBruising often happens when pomegranates ship, but it doesn’t indicate it’s gone bad. If the color, firmness, and smell check all the boxes, some bruising won’t affect the arils inside.

Cooking with Pomegranate

Before whipping up an amazing morning smoothie, you must know how to remove all those delicious seeds. You’ll need two simple tools, a sharp knife, and a bowl of water.

There are many clever pomegranate seed hacks, but the cool water method is one of the fastest and easiest ways to prepare pomegranate seeds.

  1. Score the pomegranate. Like an orange, the pomegranate is divided into six sections. Score the pomegranate along the ridges with your knife.
  2. Break open the pomegranate. Over a bowl of cool water, break open the score ridges to reveal the pomegranate seeds. Scoop out as many seeds as you can. If a bit of pulp gets into the bowl, that’s ok!
  3. Drain the water. The pomegranate seeds sink to the bottom, and the pulp rises to the top. Remove the pulp, drain the water, and your pomegranate seeds are ready.
shutterstock 1098616829
Pomegranates can be made into a simple syrup known as grenadine, a popular ingredient in cocktails.

Pomegranate seeds are used very similarly to cranberries. They can garnish a salad to add a tart sweetness to savory salads, like this pomegranate feta salad or this nutritional powerhouse ancient grain salad with halloumi. For a sweet treat, toss them into a smoothie for a health boost, or make homemade pomegranate fruit juice. You can also make a popular cocktail mixer, grenadine, using a mixture of pomegranate juice, sugar, and orange flower water.

How to Store Pomegranate

Since pomegranates are non-climacteric, they won’t continue to ripen once plucked from the tree. The best place to store fresh pomegranates is to place them in the refrigerator. They will stay fresh for three to four weeks when stored in a cool fridge. Once you break the skin and remove the seeds, pomegranate seeds and juice will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to five days.

One of the best techniques for storing pomegranate seeds is by freezing them. Remove them from the skin, and place them in a freezer-safe bag. They will stay fresh in the freezer for up to six months.

Nutritional Benefits of Pomegranate

The health benefits of pomegranates make them a nutritional powerhouse. In ancient Rome, fresh pomegranate juice was used for medicinal purposes. Today, we know that one serving of pomegranate seeds delivers many benefits, from preventing prostate cancer, lowering cholesterol, aiding in weight loss, and lowering high blood pressure- just to name a few.

One serving of pomegranate seeds delivers a high dosage of ellagitannins, or ellagic acid, that work like antioxidants. These enzymes help fight off free radicals and protect your cells. They reduce oxidative stress, boost brain function, reduce the risk of heart disease, and reduce overall inflammation.

But that’s not the only gem hidden inside pomegranate seeds. Pomegranate seeds also deliver a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin K, polyphenols, and folate. These beneficial vitamins help boost your immune system and boost energy. It’s important to note that you should ask your doctor or seek medical advice before amping up your pomegranate juice intake. The effects of pomegranate could interfere with some medications and cause side effects, similar to grapefruit juice.

Where to Purchase Pomegranate

Due to its overwhelming popularity, it’s relatively easy to get your hands on fresh pomegranates at your local grocery store. The best time of year to grab them is when they are in season, between September and November. If you can’t find them at your local supermarket, a farmer’s market or a specialty store is your next best option.

To make things even easier, brands like POM Wonderful sell pre-packaged pomegranate arils that are prepared and ready to go. They’re a little more expensive than buying fresh pomegranates, but they do all the hard work of preparing the delightfully crunchy seeds for you.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer with a deep love for food. She loves baking sweet treats and experimenting with different fruits and veggies for her morning smoothies. When she’s not writing, she loves powerlifting, baking, gardening, playing video games, and caring for her cats!

Recent Posts