In a classic Aesop fable, the pomegranate argues with the apple about which is more beautiful. If the dispute were over which contained more cancer-fighting antioxidants, specifically polyphenols, the pomegranate would win hands down. Known for giving red wine and green tea their healthful reputations, polyphenols have recently given the pomegranate a career boost. Just one glass of pomegranate juice has the same polyphenol content as two glasses of red wine, four glasses of cranberry juice, or 10 cups of green tea. It’s also an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, and calcium.
As one of the oldest cultivated fruits, the pomegranate has a role in fable and folklore, and has been considered a symbol of immortality, fertility, and abundance. In Greek mythology, the love goddess Aphrodite was thought to have planted the first pomegranate tree, likely launching the fruit’s reputation as an aphrodisiac. Egypt’s King Tutankhamen was entombed with pomegranates to ensure his rebirth.
Today, the pomegranate continues to woo us―and not just for its bright sweet-tart taste. A study published earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that pomegranate juice may help prevent fatty deposits from forming on artery walls, while another study conducted at the University of California at Los Angeles suggests that it might help prevent prostate cancer. Scientists continue to investigate the fruit’s potential role in preventing cancer and dementia, reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, and lowering both ldl (unhealthful) cholesterol and blood pressure.
Potential health benefits aside, cooks are discovering the pomegranate’s wealth of culinary uses. When choosing a pomegranate, look for fruit that is round, plump, and blemish-free. The bigger the fruit, the better, too, as they tend to be the juiciest. While fresh pomegranates are available only from September to January, the delicious, nutrient-rich juice is obtainable year-round. Brands like Lakewood Organic, pom Wonderful, and R.W. Knudsen can be found in most major supermarkets and natural-foods stores. For a perfectly piquant treat, seek out pomegranate molasses. A traditional ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine, the thick syrup is a vibrantly flavorful addition to dressings, glazes, and marinades.
Whether fresh or as a juice or molasses, this vermillion fruit brightens flavors and boosts health. And for mortals, that’s surely good news.