Pomegranates: The fruit of legend and lore

Pomegranates: The Fruit of Legend and Lore

By Robbie Sigona

Pomegranates are another one of the fruits that come into season as fall settles in around the Bay Area. The arils (or seeds) are incredibly versatile – they add a sweet-tart juicy burst to salads, dips and even soups, and their juice can be used for anything from martinis to infusing our very own Sigona’s Pomegranate balsamic.

Breaking into a pomegranate to simply extricate the juicy arils is usually a job for those blessed with the virtue of patience. The delicate arils are tightly packed together in chambers of white pith covered by a thin, reddish-pink leathery skin that helps keep the arils from bursting. There are many tips for removing arils from a pomegranate, and we’ve created a video to show you one of the easier processes my family uses – you can view it here.

Of course, when you have time, it’s always fun to sit around the table with your family and work on rescuing the arils from the rubbery white pith chambers – just remember to wear your grubbies – pomegranate juice can permanently stain your favorite white T-shirt.

The pomegranate, according to research on the POM Wonderful website, is believed to have been first cultivated in Persia in the Early Bronze Age, which dates back to 3500–2000 B.C. In its long history, the fruit came to be a prominent figure of legend and lore, having been treasured across cultures and centuries for its importance in tradition, health art, meals, beauty and symbolism.

For example, the pomegranate played a leading role in Greek mythology where it’s believed to have been the fruit that proved too tempting for Persephone…once she ate, it she was condemned to live a third of every year in the underworld as Hades’ partner.

The pomegranate is also mentioned several times in the Bible. Amongst its numerous citations, the pomegranate is referenced as an example used to describe the fruitfulness of the good land in Deuteronomy chapter 8, and its importance also earned it the privilege of being a decoration on priestly garments alongside gold bells, as detailed in Exodus chapter 28.

With its many arils, the pomegranate is also used to symbolize fertility in many cultures and, according to the California Pomegranate Council, is a traditional Jewish symbol of prosperity.

In the grand scheme of things, the pomegranate has only recently gained popularity in the Americas. Spanish missionaries brought the pomegranate to the Americas after Cortez conquered Mexico in 1521 and the plants made their way to the California area as the missions spread north in the 1700s.

When pomegranates ripen, they actually “square” up slightly, as shown here.

Pomegranates grow best in hot, dry climate, like that of inland California, but the bush itself stands up well to milder and coastal climates. There are many different varieties of pomegranates, with the Wonderful or Red Wonderful being the market leader in the United States. We have some beautiful pomegranates in now from Butler Ranch, located in the Fresno area. The local crop this year, which will be in season through December, is producing some huge pomegranates – some are about the size of a softball!

Though the high amounts of polyphenols (antioxidants that can help prevent cancer and heart disease) in pomegranates is the most touted beneficial aspect, you may also be surprised to learn they are high in fiber and have great amounts of potassium, which helps manage blood pressure.  Pomegranates are also fat free, contain vitamin C and are low in calories (about 100 per medium pomegranate).

As always, I’ve also put together a few produce tips on pomegranates, and Uncle Carmelo has helped develop a few outstanding pomegranate recipes, ranging from using the juice to incorporating the arils into an appetizer or entrée. Follow the links to learn more!

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