by Anastassia Skarlinska
Pomegranates were first domesticated so long ago that their origins are debated. Romans believed that pomegranates originally came from Africa. More recently it has been suspected that it began around the areas near modern Turkey, Iran, or Afghanistan, beginning around 8,000 years ago. Eventually the crops were cultivated across the Mediterranean, the Arabian Peninsula, and into India. Today the domesticated fruit is commonly grown throughout the warmer parts of the Americas.
Pomegranates have been found in art and myth for millennia. Depictions of pomegranates have been found in ancient Sumerian and Assyrian art as well as Babylonian cuneiform tablets. Herodotus reports that Xerxes’ Persian warriors carried spears with gold or silver pomegranates on their spear shafts to illustrate their immortality. Later, in Middle Age and Renaissance paintings pomegranates were often depicted as a symbol of fertility and marriage.
One of the best-known stories of pomegranates in mythology is the Ancient Greek story of Persephone and Hades, a creation story for winter. The main premise of the story is that Hades tricks Persephone into eating the seeds of the pomegranate, for each seed she consumed she would have to spend one month in the underworld with him. Persephone ate 6 seeds, and as such spends half of the year with Hades. During this time Persephone’s mother, Demeter, is so sad that nothing will grow and the land lies dormant.
Pomegranates are not just culturally important; they are also nutritional powerhouses. They are most researched for the health benefits of two unique components; Punicalagins and Punicic Acid. Punicalagins are a kind of polyphenol. Polyphenols are a plant compound that act as an antioxidant and are actively being researched for their health benefits. Punicalagins may help your body reduce inflammation, helping to protect you from heart disease and some cancers. Pomegranates are rich in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, Folate, and Potassium, they make an excellent addition to your meals.
Whole pomegranates can be a little intimidating. They are typically around the size of a baseball, with a thick brownish-red leathery skin. Inside they are filled with hundreds of jewel like seeds, called arils, all surrounded by inedible pith. There are a number of ways to get to the bright delicious arils inside, one I find best is to pull the seeds out under the water in a bowl. This cuts down on the juice splashing about staining things and the pith floats out of your way while the arils sink. Alternatively, one can simply buy the arils pre separated either fresh, or sometimes frozen.
So, what to do with these seeds once you have them? You can sprinkle some on your yogurt or on a smoothie. They make a delightful accent to a bowl of butternut squash soup, or a salad. Pomegranate molasses is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern recipe, it is made by reducing the juice to a thick syrup. You can also use the juice to make this marinade:
- ½ cup pomegranate juice
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced Grill, broil, or roast meat as desired.
- 2 tsp salt and black pepper
- 2 tsp paprika
- ¾ cup chopped mint leaves
Whisk all ingredients together. Use to marinate chicken, lamb, or beef in a non-reactive container 20min to overnight.