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Winter Wonders | EatSmarter! Exclusives

Pomegranates

By EAT SMARTER
Updated on 27. Dec. 2018
Just the thing to chase away the winter doldrums!
Just the thing to chase away the winter doldrums!

Ruby-red pomegranate seeds may be small in stature but they pack a big punch. The tiny seeds are truly workhorses when it comes to supplying essential nutrients and are considered antioxidant superstars. They also provide pops of color and bursts of bright flavor to a wide range of food, both savory and sweet.

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Pick of the Season: All About Pomegranates

It's a happy accident that pomegranates jewel tone feeds right into the festive mood of the holiday season. As a red fruit, pomegranates share a similar nutritional profile to raspberries and strawberries (thanks to anthocyanins, plant compounds that are responsible for their rich hue) as well as having other positive health benefits. But pomegranates are more than just good for you, they are exceptionally good to eat. Their vibrant color, tart-sweet taste and pleasing bite make everything they are sprinkled on (or blended into) somehow more exciting. Chalk that up to the fruit's exotic pedigree: Pomegranate is native to Iran and India and eventually became a staple throughout the Middle East and southeast Asia. The fruit is a relative new-comer to the U.S. but it has a devoted fan base among home cooks and chefs as well as those looking to boost their health and well-being. Here's why.   

Pomegranates are Superfood Superstars

Pomegranates first captured the U.S. attention as a promising new fruit superfood, thanks to its high antioxidant content. Not that people were flocking to grocery stores and buying up the fresh fruit; instead, they were stocking up on pomegranate juice (specifically the POM brand), which was touted as being a concentrated (and convenient) source of the fruit's many healthful compounds. There's much to love about the seeds themselves, and you'll get a healthy dose of dietary fiber to help offset the natural sugars. Pomegranates are an excellent source of certain antioxidants (namely punicalagins) that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties and thereby reduce the risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases.

Nutritional Profile

The following is the breakdown for a medium pomegranate that weighs about 280 grams (approximately 10 ounces), which would yeild about 1 cup of seeds. (Source: http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/2038/2)  

Calories  234/12%  
Calories from fat  9g  
Total Fat  3g/5%
     Saturated Fat  0.1g/ 2%
     Polyunsaturated Fat 0g  
     Trans Fat  0g  
Cholesterol  0mg/ 0%
Sodium  8mg/ 0%
Total Carbs  53g/18%
     Dietary Fiber  11g/45%
     Sugar  39g  
Protein  5g

Vitamins
Vitamin C  29mg/48%
Vitamin K  46mcg/58%
Folate 107mg/27%
Thiamine  0.2mg/13%
Vitamin B6  02.mg/11%
Riboflavin  0.1mg/9%
Vitamin E  1/7mg/8%

Minerals
Iron  0.8mg/5%
Calcium  28mg/3%
Copper  0.4mg/22%
Magnesium  34mg/8%
Potassium  666mg/19%
Manganese  0.3mg/17%
Zinc  1.0mg/7%
Selenium  1.4mg/2%


Top 7 Health Benefits

  1. Drinking pomegranate juice has been linked to lower blood pressure levels for improved cardiovascular health.
  2. Pomegranate has been shown to have antitumor effects against certain types of cancer cells, specifically prostate cancer and breast cancer.
  3. Pomegranate juice is rich in two compounds, granatin B and punicalagin, both powerful agents that fight harmful free radicals and thereby reduce the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.
  4. The juice has proven to help in weight loss as well as reduce the risk of diabetes.
  5. Thanks to being an exceptional source of flavonoids, plant compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, pomegranate may help to alleviate the symptoms of arthritis and joint pain.
  6. Research suggests that pomegranates may help improve memory and prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.
  7. Pomegranate has been shown to reduce plaque in the carotid artery and also to lower bad cholesterol.

Pomegranates are Workhorses in the Kitchen

Besides being exceptionally beneficial to your health and well-being, pomegranates are a boon to the home cook. The juice is a good shortcut to pomegranate flavor, but the seeds are even more versatile and offer a pleasing crunch in addition to their lovely hue. The taste is very versatile, too, pairing well with a wide range of flavor profiles, from Middle Eastern to Southeast Asian and the Mediterranean, among others. You can also find pomegranate molasses, long a staple in Middle Eastern cooking.  

How to Buy

The season for pomegranates runs from September through December. In general, the larger the fruit, the juicier it will be. It should also feel heavy for its size, an indication of more seeds inside that leathery skin, and should feel hard on the outside, without any soft spots or cracks. The color of the ripe fruit can vary from pale pink to deep red, depending on the variety. You can also buy the seeds already extracted, but you'll pay a premium for those, and they are easy enough to remove on your own (see below). When buying the juice (a relative bargain given how many seeds are needed to make a cup of juice), read the label to be sure there's not added sugar.

How to Store

Pomegranates can be kept at room temperature for a week or in the refrigerator for about two weeks--or longer, just check for signs of spoilage like soft spots. You can also separate the seeds, store them in a resealable plastic bag or airtight container and refrigerate for a few days or freeze for up to three months (they thaw quickly).

How to Prep

First, you'll need a way to extract the seeds, and there are several options to choose from. Martha Stewart prefers to halve the fruit and, holding the fruit cut side down over a bowl, whack the back of the fruit with a wooden spoon to release the seeds. If that doesn't work for you, here's a handy guide that shows step-by-step instructions for three different methods, courtesy of Tori Avey's blog, which also shows you how to juice the seeds in case you prefer to do that yourself, rather than buying the juice in a bottle. 

How to Use

Pomegranate seeds contribute a welcome tartness and textural contrast to all sorts of food; the little seeds literally pop in your mouth. A staple of the Middle East and Southeast Asia (notably India), pomegranates are also commonly used in Mediterranean and North African cooking. With a flavor that's similar to dried cranberries, pomegranates have been used in desserts, and are the starting point for healthy snacks, too.

Pomegranate Juice

Drink it on its own as a health tonic and delicious refresher, or use it to flavor other drinks and sauces. If you don't make the juice yourself, be sure to only buy unsweetened juice, which is widely available these days. You can also find concentrates, helpful if using the juice in cooking.

Ways to use it:
In vinaigrettes and other salad dressings
As an addition to smoothies and juices
To flavor iced or hot tea and other beverages 
In sweet and savory sauces (either with or without the seeds)

Recipes to try:
Pink Pomegranate Cocktail
Raspberry-Pomegranate Smoothies
Vegetable Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette
Veal Cutlets in Pomegranate Sauce
Fried Mackerel with Pomegranate Sauce

Pomegranate Seeds

Eat them out of hand for a wholesome snack, or sprinkle to your heart's content (and health!). 

Ways to use them:
-Stirred into yogurt or layered into parfaits
-Baked into muffins or cupcakes
-Whizzed into smoothies or shakes
-As a colorful, crunchy addition to salads
-Sprinkled into dips and spreads
-Mixed into rice and other grain dishes
-As an accompaniment to lamb, poultry or fish
-To top off desserts, such as this cheesecake (with a muesli crust!) or pavlova
-Added to cocktails
-Infused to make flavored vinegar
-In homemade jelly

More recipes to try:
Pomegranate Juice
Lebanese Beet Salad
Grilled Eggplant Salad with Pomegranate Seeds
Turkish Pizza
Grilled Lamb Kebabs with Couscous Salad 
Lamb Tagine
Fig Cream Tart
Dairy-free Persian iced parfait
Grape Popsicles with Pomegranate Seeds
Rosé with Pomegranate
 

Pomegranate Molasses (or Syrup)

Even if you don't like the taste of regular molasses, you may find the taste of pomegranate molasses to be more pleasant. It's sweet but not too sweet and bitter but not too bitter (but this can vary widely depending on the brand), with the unmistakable hint of tartness that's the hallmark of the fruit. Pomegranate molasses is becoming easier to find in the U.S., but you can also make your own (and thereby dial back the sweetness as desired). Click here for a recipe.  Note that pomegranate molasses (aka pomegranate syrup) is not the same as grenadine, the cocktail mixer that's also made with pomegranate juice, though you could certainly swap in pomegranate molasses in any recipes calling for grenadine (but not vice versa).

Ways to use it:
-In salad dressings, dips and spreads
-To make marinades and glazes for meat and poultry
-Drizzled over vegetables before roasting
-In place of maple syrup for pancakes and waffles
-As a topping for ice cream or frozen yogurt
-To sweeten (and add flavor to) tea and other drinks

Recipes to try:
Beetroot Pomegranate Cream with Goat Cheese
Sliced poultry with endive
Garbanzo patty sandwiches
Pomegranate Martinis
Pomegranate Cocktail


 

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