Eating a pomegranate is like eating rubies mined from the sun. The Skittles ad man who ingeniously coined the tagline “taste the rainbow” probably had pomegranates on the mind. You’d think Willy Wonka dreamt pomegranates up, along with snozberries.
But this ancient vitamin storehouse, fertility symbol and subject of myth and legend is in a class of its own. The pomegranate originated in the Fertile Crescent, in modern day Iran, and made cameos in ancient Babylonian texts, the Homeric Hymns, the Book of Exodus and the Quran. It’s been found in royal Egyptian tombs and carved into Sumerian clay tablets. Baby Jesus appeared in an early 4th century mosaic holding a pomegranate. In Greek myth, when Hades kidnapped Persephone and took her to the underworld, Zeus ordered that Hades send her back to her mother, Demeter, who had ceased compelling green things to grow. However, Hades had tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds (always refuse offerings of food or drink in the Underworld), so the fates ruled that she had to return to Hades’ domain for six months each year.
Pomegranates were originally carried outward from the Fertile Crescent by ancient hands, into China and India along the Silk Road, across the Aegean Sea and into Greece and the Mediterranean, and through Egypt into North Africa. In each culture they became a revered symbol of fertility, abundance and wealth, each fruit a mysterious treasure trove of jewel-toned arils; and a food and medicine of equal import. Early Egyptian scrolls espoused its use for tapeworms; rind and bark were used in Auyrvedic Medicine to treat dysentery and intestinal parasites, and seeds and juice for tonifying the heart and building the blood. In the culinary arts, Grenadine (from the French word grenade, meaning pomegranate) was originally made from pomegranate juice, sugar and water, and has been an essential ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes for countless generations. Today there are over 500 cultivars worldwide.
Beyond it’s utterly unique and captivating appearance and out-of-this-world flavor, why has the pomegranate garnered such indelible fame? Well, its arils contain a virtual pantheon of vitamins and minerals, including a range of B vitamins, vitamins C, E, K, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc, along with flavonoids and tannins with antioxidant properties. Preliminary lab studies show effectiveness reducing heart disease and high blood pressure, and possible antiviral activity. Numerous clinical studies are underway to test effectiveness inhibiting a slew of other diseases.
Pomegranates enjoy the California climate, and are in season here from September through February. They make a striking (and somewhat voluptuous) fall centerpiece. You can purchase the arils alone at some grocery stores as a time-saver to toss into salads or eat by the handful, but eat them fast as their shelf life is short. Extracting arils from their casing can be a messy and time-consuming chore, unless you know the trick to quickly and effectively cut one open. Follow the directions below or search “how to open a pomegranate” on YouTube.com for video tutorials.
How to Open a Pomegranate
- With a small, serrated knife, cut inwards around the crown of the pomegranate in a cone shape, then pull the crown out.
- Turn the fruit over and cut the bottom quarter inch of rind off. The white membrane will be exposed on top and bottom.
- Now gently score the skin lengthwise along each ridge. There should be about six ridges.
- Wrapping both hands around the fruit, gently apply pressure to the core and pull each segment off.
- You will end up with several individual segments that you can easily pull the arils out of.
Once you perfect this method, you will be able to open a pomegranate without squishing a single aril. I haven’t mastered it yet, but licking red juice off your fingers is part of the fun!