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The Pomp Around Pomegranates

Pomegranates are rising the ladder to fame with their healthful benefits and great taste

Pomegranates are a centuries old fruit that did not see popularity in the U.S. until about 20 years ago. They are the rising stars on the health scene and are finding their way into common foods served in restaurants and at home.

 

Pomegranates begin showing up as fresh fruits in groceries in September and they are readily available through December and January. They are harvested when ripe and if kept at 32º F. and around 85% humidity will remain tasty for about seven months. The majority of U.S. production lies in California's San Joaquin Valley, near the origination point where the Spanish padres introduced the plants as they established missions.

There appears to be a mini-glossary of pomegranate terms. The most important is recognizing the "arils," those abundant juice-filled globules that are surrounded by the tougher and stringy membrane. The "albedo" surrounds the membrane and buffers the insides from bouncing around. It is generally white and somewhat spongy. The skin is simply the outer layer.

Every time someone new discovers the pomegranate, an excellent question arises: to spit or not to spit. There is a seed inside each aril and the pom experts on etiquette say it's a personal choice. Growers, however, adamantly defend ingesting the little seeds, as they're loaded with fiber.

When shopping for pomegranates, select heavy fruits - that means they're bursting with juicy seeds. The skin should be intact with no breaks or bruises. The skin is tough and when overripe will exhibit cracks. Treat them like apples when storing. In the fridge, they can last a couple of months or more. If you're not going to eat the pomegranate in that time, then remove the seeds and freeze them. They'll be good for several months and even as long as one year.

The tiny seed pouches can be enjoyed straight up or added to any number of dishes. When the juice is cooked into a syrup, it is used to flavor dishes common to many Middle Eastern cuisines.

Preparing the pomegranate is fairly simple, and you can go about it in a number of ways. Try slicing a portion of the top off and then halving. Gently roll out the arils by hand under water in a large bowl. The juice does stain and may leave a tinge even after laundering. Wear old clothes or an apron when handling the fruit. Children are especially tempted to use these as finger foods as they tend to stand out in salads or other dishes. Keep these taste-tempting treats away from your good furniture.

The arils can also be run through a juicer; you may wish to sweeten the liquid for drinking, however.

The Health Benefits of Pomegranate

Historically many parts of the pomegranate were used for healing purposes. However, only the seeds are considered edible. The good part is that the arils are packed with fiber, potassium, Vitamin C, E, and niacin.

Recent studies, conducted in 2002, also indicate a high level of antioxidants, even more in abundance than green tea or any other fruit. It is these properties that protect our arteries from those "bad" free radicals that cause hardening and blockage.

Another hit for pomegranate comes with a connection to reduction of prostate specific antigens (PSA) in males. These indicators of the potential for - or existence of - prostate cancer have been shown to stabilize or be lowered with the addition of a daily 8 oz. serving of pomegranate juice. Those who have already undergone surgery or radiation treatments have also seen benefits. In some post-cancer cases, there is a higher indicative risk of return that, in some studies, shows slowing with pomegranates.

Some Israeli studies also have shown a reduction in breast cancer cells. There is much to be learned about this "magic" fruit. While much more testing is needed, it certainly won't hurt to add a glass of pomegranate juice to the daily regime.

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