Pomegranate

Other names: Chinese Apple

Availability: August through January.

Source: California

Handling Tips: 35° F. Good shelf life.

General Information: This fruit usually ranges in size from an orange to a large grapefruit. It has a leathery skin that must be peeled to reveal the hundreds of tiny red seeds. The seeds are entirely edible, crunchy, sweet and berry-like in flavor. Makes wonderful syrups, sauces and juice, or may be combined with other fresh fruits for exciting compotes. Rich in potassium.

Every pomegranate is composed of exactly 840 seeds, each surrounded by a sac of sweet-tart juice contained by a thin skin. The seeds are compacted in a layer resembling honeycomb around the core. The layers of seeds are separated by paper-thin white membranes which are bitter to the tongue. The inner membranes and rind are not generally eaten due to high tannic acid content, but they are useful as a skin wash.

Many people eat the fresh fruit by chewing on the seeds to release the juice from the sacs and then swallow seeds and all. The seeds are considered good roughage to help cleanse the body. In India, the seeds are dried and ground into a powder to be used in meat dishes.

Ethnic: The pomegranate is a focal symbol in the legend and lore of many different cultures. Some hold that it was the pomegranate which was the fruit of temptation (remember the Punic apple?) leading to the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden in the Bible. With its abundance of seeds, the fruit has long been a symbol of fertility, bounty and eternal life, particularly to those of the Jewish faith. Many paintings of the Madonna Virgin and Child prominently display a pomegranate. Ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates in hope of rebirth.

The Hittite god of agriculture is said to have blessed followers with grapes, wheat and pomegranates. The seeds were sugared and served to guests at Chinese weddings. When it was time to consumate the marriage, pomegranates were thrown on the floor of the bedchamber to encourage a happy and fruitful union.

Berber women used pomegranates to predict the amount of their offspring by drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a ripe pomegranate in the center. The amount of seeds expelled outside the ring allegedly prophesied the number of her future children.

Mohammed believed pomegranates purged the spirits of envy and hatred from the body and urged all his followers to eat goodly amounts. When Persephone was held captive in Hades, the Greek goddess of spring and fruit swore she would not partake of food until her release. However, she could not resist the tempting pomegranate, consuming nearly the entire fruit before halting herself and leaving only six seeds uneaten. It is from this story that believers think our yearly cycle of six months of growth and harvest followed by six months of winter is derived.

History: The pomegranate, a Persian native, is one of the oldest fruits known to man. Originally thought to be native to China, pomegranates were actually brought to China about 100 B.C. by Han dynasty representative, Jang Qian, who also introduced coriander, walnuts, peas, cucumbers, alfalfa, grapes and caraway seeds to the Far East. The Romans called it the Punic apple. The pomegranate made its way to Italy via Carthage (Punic), and therein lies the root of its Latin name, Punicum malum (apple). Its current botanical name is Punicum granatum with Punicum recognizing Carthage as a focal point for pomegranate cultivation and granatum referring to the many seeds or grains in the fruit. Many Italian Renaissance fabrics boasted the pattern of cut pomegranates. Ancient Romans not only enjoyed the succulent flesh of this fruit, they also tanned and used the rinds as a form of leather. Perhaps due to the fruit's princely blossom crown, it has gained distinction as a royal fruit. Chaucer, Shakespeare and Homer have all extolled the virtues of the pomegranate in literature.

It was the Moors who brought the seedy fruit to Spain round 800 A.D. Granada was named for the pomegranate, which became their national emblem. The first pomegranate planted in Britain was by none other than King Henry VIII. The French named their hand-tossed explosive a grenade after the seed-scattering properties of the pomegranate fruit. And in 1791, the special troops formed by the French military to wield these grenades were called grenadiers. Although not documented, the deep red color of the pomegranate pips may have also given rise to the naming of the garnet gemstone.

The pomegranate reached American shores by way of the Spanish conquistadors.

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