Pomegranates 101 – The Basics
Pomegranates grow on small trees belonging to the Lythraceae family of plants. The scientific name for pomegranates is Punica granatum. The tree is believed to be native to Persia and the sub-Himalayan foothills of Northern India. Today, pomegranates are grown throughout the Mediterranean region, the Indian subcontinent, Central and Southeast Asia, tropical Africa, and parts of the United States, with California and Arizona being the top producers in the country. Pomegranates are usually available between October and January.
Pomegranates are used in both sweet and savory dishes. They are very popular in Israeli, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Indian, and African cuisines. Since the seeds can be somewhat challenging to extract, many people turn to using pomegranate juice, which is easy to use and readily available year-round.
Pomegranates have become a very popular, nutritionally rich fruit known for their unique flavor and health-promoting characteristics. The fruits are spherical and bright red to orange-yellow in color, depending on the variety. They are usually 3 to 4 inches in diameter and are covered by a thick, leathery rind. Inside, pomegranates have thin, bitter, spongy membranes that divide the seed sacs (called arils) into separate compartments. The arils are small juice-filled sacs that contain tiny edible seeds. The juice is sweet and deep pink in color. The arils are what make pomegranates such a delicious, sought-after fruit. The inner pith and rind of pomegranates are not edible.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Besides being delicious, pomegranates have a variety of nutrients to boast about. They are high in fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, potassium, copper, folate, Vitamin B6, and thiamin (Vitamin B1). They even contain a little protein. One-half cup of pomegranate arils has about 72 calories.
Very importantly, pomegranates are high in antioxidants and other phytonutrients that have strong health-promoting properties. They have often been classified as a “super food.” This tag is due to the abundant antioxidants in pomegranates. In fact, pomegranate juice has three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea.
Antioxidants. Pomegranates are high in antioxidants and polyphenolic compounds that protect us from free radical damage. Free radicals are always found in the body. Having too many of them can be harmful and contributes to many chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and macular degeneration.
Also, chronic inflammation has been shown to increase our risk for such debilitating diseases, as mentioned above. Antioxidants, such as those found in pomegranates, have been shown to help regulate inflammation and reduce chronic inflammation. Including a lot of vegetables and fruits, such as pomegranates, in the diet as much as possible is the best way to boost our antioxidant intake and thereby guard our health.
Anticancer Benefits. Some test-tube studies have found the compounds in pomegranate fruit can help to kill cancer cells, or slow their spread in the body. Also, human studies have found that pomegranates may help to slow cancer cell growth. The fruit has shown anti-tumor effects in cancers of the lung, breast, prostate, skin, and colon. Older human studies found that men who drank pomegranate juice had reduced risk of death from prostate cancer. Animal studies have shown that pomegranate helps to slow tumor growth in early stages of liver cancer.
Heart Protection. There is scientific evidence that fruits, such as pomegranates, that are high in polyphenolic compounds may benefit heart health. Test-tube studies found that pomegranate extract may reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the arteries. This helps to lower blood pressure and fight atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup in the arteries that leads to heart attacks and strokes.
In a human trial, subjects with heart disease drank 1 cup of pomegranate juice daily for 5 days. Their frequency and severity of chest pain was significantly reduced, and biomarkers in the blood suggested there was a protective effect on heart health.
Studies have suggested that drinking pomegranate juice every day can help to lower blood pressure by reducing LDL (low-density-lipoprotein) cholesterol and improving blood flow through the arteries. In summary, all of the antioxidants found in pomegranate work together to promote heart health.
Urinary Tract Health. Research studies have found that pomegranate extract may help to reduce the formation of kidney stones. They believe the benefit was largely attributed to the antioxidants in pomegranates. Researchers believe the benefit was due to antioxidants inhibiting the mechanism by which stones are formed in the body.
Furthermore, animal studies found that pomegranate extract helps regulate the concentration of oxalates, calcium, and phosphates in the blood. These are common components of kidney stones.
Antimicrobial Benefits. Pomegranates may also help to fight harmful microorganisms such as some types of bacteria, fungi, and yeast. Researchers found that oral health may be protected by pomegranate, by reducing unwanted oral microbes that can cause bad breath and tooth decay when overgrown.
A test-tube study found that pomegranate had antibacterial effects against Listeria monocytogenes, a bacteria found in moist environments that can cause severe illness when ingested.
Brain Health. Ellagitannins, a type of antioxidant found in pomegranates, has been found to offer protective benefits against brain conditions that are brought on by inflammation and oxidative stress. Some studies found that ellagitannins help to protect us from developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease by reducing oxidative damage, and prolonging the survival of brain cells.
Some research also suggests that pomegranates can boost short-term memory in middle-aged and older adults who are experiencing mild memory issues. Scientists believe the antioxidants in the fruit help to reduce free radical damage, including damage to brain cells, which contributes to overall health and support of brain function.
Digestive Health. Compounds in pomegranates have been found to increase numbers of healthy gut microbes and reduce inflammation in the digestive tract. Also, the pomegranate arils are high in fiber which serves as a prebiotic, helping to feed our gut microbiome.
Furthermore, the high fiber content of pomegranate arils can help to ward off constipation. It may also help to reduce the inflammation associated with Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
How to Select Pomegranates
When shopping for a pomegranate, choose one with smooth skin, bright color, and that feels firm and heavy for its size. The heavier it is, the more juice it contains. Avoid any that are spotted, or with cracks, mold, bruises, or wrinkles, since they will be older and not the best quality. Overmature fruits may be bitter and undesirable.
How to Store Pomegranates
Pomegranates will last the longest when kept in the refrigerator. They can last up to a week at room temperature, whereas they can last 2 to 3 weeks (or longer, depending on how old they are) in the refrigerator. When storing them at room temperature, keep pomegranates in a cool, dry, dark place, away from sunlight.
How to Prepare a Pomegranate
There is more than one way to cut into a pomegranate. Once you try these methods, you’ll learn which one is right for you. Whichever method you choose, BE SURE to wear clothes that you don’t mind getting stains on. Pomegranate juice is known for causing stains on fabrics, cutting boards, countertops, etc. So, be aware of this possibility and prepare for it in advance so you don’t ruin some article of clothing that is important to you!
Method 1. Rinse your pomegranate before cutting into it. Dry it with a paper towel or soft cloth. Using a sharp knife, score it lightly into two halves around the middle, and pull it apart. Gently remove the clusters of aril sacs while removing the white membrane, pith, and rind. Some people will turn over the half, cut side down, while holding it in one hand, and beat the rind with a wooden spoon or utensil with the other hand. This tapping action releases the arils from the fruit, so be sure to hold it over a bowl as you do this. Continue tapping until all the arils are released.
Method 2. This is the preferred method of cutting pomegranates by many people because it helps to reduce the chances of getting stained by the juice. Since the arils often splash liquid as they are cut, the staining can happen very quickly and easily. This method helps to avoid that problem.
Cut a small section off the top and bottom of the pomegranate. With a sharp knife, lightly score the vertical ridges on the outside rind of the fruit. Then break open the pomegranate while holding it in a large bowl of water. Loosen the sections and free the seeds from their membranes with your fingers. Discard the membranes (which often float), then drain off the seeds (which usually sink to the bottom of the bowl). Drain the seeds well and gently pat them dry with a paper towel, if desired. Store your pomegranate arils in an air-tight container in the refrigerator. Use the arils within 5 days.
How to Freeze Pomegranates
Pomegranate arils can easily be frozen. First, remove the arils from the whole fruit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Then spread the arils in a single layer on the baking sheet. Put them in the freezer for up to 2 hours. Transfer the frozen arils to an air-tight freezer container or bag and return them to the freezer. Be sure to date the container and use them within one year for best quality.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Pomegranates
* Sprinkle pomegranate arils on a green salad. Additional ingredients that would blend well include toasted pecans, pear slices, orange segments, and/or avocado slices. Drizzle it with your favorite vinaigrette dressing.
* Add pomegranate arils to your morning oatmeal.
* Top your favorite yogurt with pomegranate arils.
* Make a parfait with yogurt, granola, pomegranate arils, and mixed berries.
* Make a fruit salad with orange and grapefruit sections, pomegranate arils, sliced banana, diced apple, and some chopped mint.
* Top your favorite ice cream or frozen yogurt with pomegranate arils.
* Top your favorite roasted poultry with pomegranate arils.
* Stir pomegranate arils into cooked a wild rice or rice mixture. For added flavor and richness, add in some chopped chives, parsley, and toasted chopped nuts.
* Make a cranberry-pomegranate relish or salad to serve during the holidays.
* Garnish sautéed baby greens with diced shallots, pecans, and pomegranate arils.
* Top butternut-apple soup with pomegranate arils.
* Get creative and include pomegranate juice into soups, jellies, sorbets, sauces, and even cake, muffin, and quick bread batters, baked apples, and other desserts.
* Top a quinoa tabouleh with pomegranate arils.
* Add pomegranate arils to your favorite smoothie.
* Try a spinach pomegranate salad! Place spinach leaves in a large bowl. Top with sliced red onion, toasted walnut pieces, crumbled feta cheese, your favorite sprouts (i.e., broccoli or alfalfa), and pomegranate arils. Drizzle with your favorite balsamic vinaigrette dressing and enjoy!
* Try a ginger-orange pomegranate relish! Mix together 1-1/2 cups of pomegranate arils, 1 tablespoon orange zest, ½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger, and 1 tablespoon honey. Add a tablespoon or two of orange juice if more liquid is needed. Cover and refrigerate for an hour or two to allow flavors to blend, then enjoy!
* Make a pomegranate smoothie! Briefly blend 1 cup pomegranate arils (from 1 pomegranate) to break them up. Then add to the blender jar 1 cup frozen pineapple, 1 banana, 1 cup ice, 1/3 cup Greek yogurt, and ½ tablespoon maple syrup. Blend until smooth and enjoy!
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Pomegranates
Allspice, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic, ginger, mint, mustard powder and seeds, parsley, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Pomegranates
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (in general), beef, chicken, chickpeas, lamb, legumes (in general), lentils (esp. red), pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, pork, tahini, turkey, walnuts
Vegetables: Arugula, beets, bell peppers, cabbage, carrots, Chile peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, endive, greens (bitter and salad), jicama, onions, radicchio, root vegetables, spinach, squash (winter), sweet potatoes, tomatoes
Fruits: Apples, avocado, bananas, cherries (fresh and dried), coconut, cranberries (fresh and dried), figs, grapefruit, kiwi fruit, lemons, limes, melons, olives, oranges and orange juice, peaches, pears, quinces, strawberries, watermelon
Grains and Grain Products: Barley, bulgur, couscous, grains (in general), quinoa, rice, wheat berries
Dairy and Non-Dairy Products: Cheese (i.e., cream, goat), yogurt
Other Foods: Agave nectar, chocolate, honey, maple syrup, oil (i.e., olive), sugar, vinegar (i.e., balsamic, sherry, red/white wine)
Pomegranates have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Curries, desserts (i.e., fruit cobblers and crisps, ices, sorbets), dips, drinks, glazes, granita, marinades, Mediterranean cuisines, Middle Eastern cuisines, pilafs, salad dressings, salads (i.e., cucumber, fruit, green), sauces, smoothies, sorbets, soups (esp. autumn), stews (i.e., lentil), Turkish cuisine
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Pomegranates
Add pomegranates to any of the following combinations…
Apples + Butternut Squash + Walnuts
Arugula + Endive
Balsamic Vinegar + Pine Nuts + Spinach
Bell Peppers + Chiles + Cumin + Lemon + Walnuts
Cucumbers + Garlic + Mint
Goat Cheese + Orange + Walnuts
Grapefruit + Salad Greens + Red Onions
Lemon + Sugar
Orange + Grapefruit
Assorted Pomegranate Recipes Worth Checking Out https://crec.ifas.ufl.edu/extension/pomegranates/recipes.shtml
26 Fresh Pomegranate Recipes https://insanelygoodrecipes.com/pomegranate-recipes/
13 Tasty Pomegranate Recipes https://www.acouplecooks.com/pomegranate-recipes/
21 Pomegranate Recipes We Know You’ll Love https://minnetonkaorchards.com/pomegranate-recipes/
Easy Pomegranate Smoothie https://www.acouplecooks.com/pomegranate-smoothie/
Pomegranate Winter Salsa https://www.goodlifeeats.com/pomegranate-salsa-recipe-winter-salsa/
Pomegranate Molasses https://www.marthastewart.com/1165416/homemade-pomegranate-molasses
Pomegranate Dark Chocolate Bites https://thishealthytable.com/blog/pomegranate-dark-chocolate-bites/
Pomegranate Orange Muffins https://selfproclaimedfoodie.com/pomegranate-orange-muffins/
Cranberry-Pomegranate Relish https://www.marthastewart.com/331741/cranberry-pomegranate-relish
20 Pomegranate Recipes You Need ASAP https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/pomegranate-recipes/
21 Wonderful Pomegranate Recipes https://www.eatthis.com/pomegranate-recipes/
24 Pomegranate Recipes You’ll Be Making All Fall https://www.marthastewart.com/274743/pomegranate-recipes
Our 23 Best Pomegranate Recipes https://www.foodandwine.com/fruits/tropical-fruit/pomegranate/pomegranate
41 Yummy Pomegranate Recipes You Need to Try Today https://food.allwomenstalk.com/yummy-pomegranate-recipes-you-need-to-try-today/
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.