Pondering the Pleasures of Pomegranates

The world seems to be gearing up for more angst and stress as 2021 draws to a close, so it’s time to write about something that makes me feel jolly. The bursting red bounty that is a pomegranate. ‘Tis the season after all, for making merry, and it’s a fruit that’s currently in season.

Protagonist Rowan Layne of my Other Worldly loves pomegranates as much as I do. In Feeling Alienated, she even gets a message in bright red pomegranate “ink” inside an alien version of a cannoli from her missing Red Orbiter lover.

Then there’s the fabulous Mars diamond, the very color of jewel-like pomegranate seeds. Not to mention how red orbs are prominent (flying) objects to be seen in the sky following the revelation that aliens are among us, making pomegranates an apropos subject of discussion herein.

In my novels, the pomegranate, like so many other fruits and vegetables, is otherworldly, meaning they originally derive from distant planets or stars.

In reality, pomegranates are native to ancient Persia, now known as Iran. They are primarily cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region, pretty much since the beginning of recorded history.

But here and now in that place on Earth called the US, this subtropical drought-tolerant fruit with an exotic interior grows best in areas with cool, mild winters and hot, arid summers. Think warm inland areas of California and Arizona. But there were pomegranate trees growing on my UT Austin campus back in the day.

Given their unusual internal structure and rich color reminiscent of garnet crystals clustered inside rock, I’ve spent years pondering the pomegranate as I enjoy their juicy gift. This fruit may take some effort to peel and eat, but for me it’s well worth it.

Let’s pull apart crevices and delve deeper into the gastronomic delight known as a pomegranate, or punica granatum. Grown on a small tree or shrub that produces a red fruit categorized as a berry, its thick skin—red on the outside, ivory on the inside—is decidedly inedible. Yet the hundreds of seed embedded within are delish.

Each seed has a juicy rounded red covering known as an aril. Just one cup of these marvelous arils provides an array of nutrients: 7 grams of fiber; 3 grams of protein, 30% or more of daily recommended amounts of vitamins C and K; plus, folate and potassium.

Arils are sweet to the taste, so of course some sugar and calories are involved. But there’s also bioactive plant compounds providing potent antioxidants. In fact, pomegranates have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine or green tea.

Additional health benefits derived from drinking pomegranate juice include reduction of inflammatory activity in the digestive tract, as well as reduction of breast and colon cancer cells. Regular intake of the juice has been shown to lower blood pressure levels and improve your cholesterol profile. And let’s face it, eating one improves my mood.

The benefits of this fruit have been used in cooking and for medicinal purposes for thousands of years by many cultures. Pomegranates can even be found on royal and medical coats of arms.

What’s known as pomegranate molasses is an important culinary ingredient in the Middle East. It’s made by cooking the aril juice to a thick consistency, rendering a substance no longer red but instead a dark brown, almost black. Unlike molasses made from sugar cane, however, it’s not used as a sweetener, but instead as a condiment.

So, what about this grenadine bar syrup used in cocktails, is it the same thing as pomegranate molasses? Actually, no. Grenadine comes from the French grenade, meaning pomegranate, and at one time it was made using pomegranate syrup, not molasses. But somewhere along the way makers replaced the juice-derived syrup of this wondrous fruit with corn syrup and red dye #40. Nothing positive or pleasing about that.

The cordial syrup known as grenadine was at one time made using pomegranate juice, sugar, a dash of the aforementioned pomegranate molasses and orange blossom water. Now that might make a cocktail worth sipping.

Overall, the pomegranate tree is resistant to disease and pests, making them a low-maintenance option for gardens. Which is why I’m considering obtaining one in the new year. The bounty might make for a happier and healthier 2022, don’t you think? Positively pleasing.





Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *