Contributed by Katy Morris
Pomegranates are kind of like the queens of fall.
Not only are they robed in ruby red, filled with jewel-like arils, beautified with a crown-like head and reputed to be high-maintenance to handle, they have been highly prized for centuries by royals, religious icons and spiritual leaders. They often grace the Rosh HaShanah table as symbols of righteousness and virtue. For this month’s Seasonal Snippet, and in anticipation of the Jewish New Year, we’re focusing on the sweet, succulent and extremely healthy secrets of the pomegranate.
Why is it so highly revered?
Featured in historic heraldry, religious scriptures, mythology and even momentous works of art, pomegranates are amongst the world’s most ancient foods. It was widely believed that each pomegranate contains 613 seeds, one for each mitzvah, which is one reason we ritually eat pomegranates as the “new fruits” on Rosh Hashanah.
Nowadays, nutritionists and healthy eaters seek out their powerful antioxidant content, but this is actually pretty old news. Ancient natural healers utilized their impressive health benefits for medicinal purposes and that practice continues today. Their healing strengths include protection from the sun, cell regeneration, free radical elimination, inflammation reduction and much more.
Where do they grow?
Even though New England is not their preferred climate, we locavores don’t need to worry too much because pomegranates’ tough, leathery skin makes them worthy travelers. Much like figs and olives, pomegranates thrive in dry, hot environments like the Mediterranean but are now grown throughout the world; in fact, they originated in Persia (modern day Iran) . I actually have some growing in my front yard in Guatemala!
What should I look for when buying?
You always want fresh, ripe pomegranates that will taste juicy and sweet. Look for fruit with smooth, glossy surfaces free of blemishes (fit for a queen, if you will) that exude that famously red blush. They should feel heavy for their weight, which indicates the inner juiciness.
How can I seed them without wearing them?
Great question. Now, we are all guilty of creating a bit of a mess when trying to extract the delicious, nutritionally potent seeds of a pomegranate, but it really isn’t as hard as it may seem (do be careful though – pomegranates can stain!). There are several techniques out there, but here is what we recommend.
First, grab a wide bowl (optional: fill it with water as some prefer to deseed while the fruit is submerged) and a sharp pairing knife. Cut off the very end so it can easily stabilize on a flat surface. With your sharp knife, slit the pomegranate’s thick skin into sixths or fourths and then at an angle, cut out the tail or crown looking top. From there simply break it apart and peel off the skin to expose the milky white membrane enclosing the arils. Try to turn the pieces inside out and nudge the seed-enclosed arils into the bowl. A medium-sized pomegranate should yield about a cup.
Note that the seeds are carried in arils – those are the red coverings around the seeds. Many people think the arils are the seeds, but this is a misconception. Both are completely edible and healthy, but some prefer just the juicy aril taste and not the crunch of the white seed – it’s purely a matter of preference. If you want to make juice, all you have to do is strike the arils in a bowl with a flat wooden spoon and the juice should come out easily.
What’s the best way to store them?
Left whole, pomegranates are fine to leave on the counter at room temperature where they will be fine for up to two to three weeks. If you want to refrigerate them, that will extend their freshness for at least a month. If they give off a moldy smell or appear bruised and weakened, they have probably gone bad. Seeds can be stored in a tightly zipped bag for up to five or six months.
Pomegranates are super versatile and can be used in everything from smoothies, wine and beer to salads, desserts and savory chicken dishes. Einat Admony (Balaboosta, Taim and Bar Bolonat, all in NYC, provided this recipe for Chicken with Walnuts and Pomegranates- perfect for Rosh HaShanah).
Keep scrolling to check out more great pomegranate recipes.