They’ve been celebrated since the time of Aphrodite for their beauty, sublime taste, and superior health benefits.
Credit: Photo: Jennifer Causey

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.  

Red Alert

While pomegranates are known for their tendency to stain anything they touch, a bowl of water is the only tool you will need to keep you and your kitchen stain-free. This method keeps the pomegranate and its stain-causing seeds safely underwater. Still, we recommend that you wear an apron while you follow these steps for seeding a pomegranate:

1. Place the pomegranate in a bowl of water large enough to fit both the fruit and your hands without spilling over.

2. Under the water, use a medium-sized knife to carefully slice off the crown and opposite end of the pomegranate so the seeds are just visible (don’t slice too deeply), then score the pomegranate lengthwise into 11⁄2-inch-wide wedges.

3. With your thumbs, carefully pry the pomegranate apart beneath the water and turn each section inside out. Begin to separate the seeds from the inner white membrane, taking care not to burst the individual juice sacs. The membrane will float to the top while the seeds sink to the bottom.

4. With a large slotted spoon, skim off the floating membrane. Sort through the seeds beneath the water, discarding any stray pieces of membrane (it’s unpleasantly bitter).

5. Drain the pomegranate seeds in a fine mesh strainer. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to one week.