I never thought I’d be intimidated by a fruit, but the first time I bought a pomegranate — without knowing anything about them — I admit to feeling a bit daunted. Do I cut this or peel it? Which part do I eat, and how do I prepare it? It was lovely to look at, in a quirky sort of way (I still use pomegranates for fall and winter décor), but surely it wasn’t as complicated to prepare as it seemed?
Well, it’s not complicated at all, once you know what to eat and how to get to it! Here’s everything you need to know to greet a pomegranate with confidence — and fully enjoy it!
What part of the pomegranate do I eat?
The part of the pomegranate to eat is the arils. Arils are those crimson gems nestled in the white membrane inside the fruit. They are juice-filled sacs that surround the pomegranate’s small white seeds.
When snacking on pomegranate seeds, some people like to chew on the arils, until all of the juice is released, and then spit out the center seeds. But the seeds are completely edible, too.
The outer peel is thick, and you won’t want to eat that. And the white membrane, or rind, is bitter, so you’ll want to skip that, too.
Benefits of eating pomegranate
Pomegranate arils are sweet and healthful. They’re a good source of vitamin C and potassium. They also contain three types of polyphenols (a type of antioxidant): tannins, anthocyanins, and ellagic acid. Pomegranate also contains some B-complex vitamins, calcium, and manganese.
The seeds are high in dietary fiber and fatty acids and also contain antioxidants, though not as many as the arils.
While there isn’t much conclusive evidence yet, researchers are studying the potential of pomegranate to aid digestion, prevent or treat heart disease and arthritis, improve memory and learning, and lower the risk of a host of ills — high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, and diabetes, for example. We do know for sure that the pomegranate fruit contains substances with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, according to the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Canine health note: Don’t let your dog eat pomegranate; it can cause extreme digestive problems in dogs!
Choosing the best pomegranate
Fresh pomegranates are usually most available in late summer through early November. Here are some things to keep in mind when choosing one:
• Choose a ripe one. Once harvested, the pomegranate doesn’t continue to develop sugars, so it won’t continue ripening. That means you’ll want to choose one that’s ripe. A ripe pomegranate will be less round than an unripe pomegranate. That’s because, as it ripens, the sides become a little flattened; it squares off a bit. This happens because the arils press against the outer wall as they fill with the maximum amount of juice.
• Examine the skin. The skin of a ripe pomegranate can range from a dark red to a reddish brown. A darker red fruit is riper than a lighter one.
The skin should be tight and shiny. Small scratches on the surface are fine. Small, darkened areas are okay, too, but avoid large dark or large sunken or mushy spots, which indicate the fruit is too old. If the skin is breaking, it’s still fine to eat. In fact, it means it’s ripe and literally bursting with flavor! A pomegranate that’s breaking, though, can’t be stored for very long. You’ll need to eat it up within a few days.
• Choose a big, heavy one. The pomegranate should feel heavy for its size. If it’s light it might mean that the inside is dried out. And you may as well buy a big pomegranate, because it will have the most seeds — large pomegranates can contain as many as 1,400 seeds!
You may also be able to buy pomegranate arils in containers in the produce section of the grocery store. Some grocers and specialty stores also sell dried arils, which you can use much the same as dried cranberries.
If you have a pomegranate at home that you’re not sure about, go ahead and open it. If it’s still good, the seeds will be red, not brown or black. The fruit shouldn’t have an off smell, and there should be no mold.
How to store pomegranate
Store whole pomegranate in a cool, dry, well-ventilated space, out of the sunlight.
You can leave a whole pomegranate on the counter (out of the sunlight) if you’re going to use it in the next several days. Otherwise, find a place for it in the refrigerator. Uncut, whole fruit can be refrigerated for up to 2 months. Experts recommend placing the fruit in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Fresh pomegranate juice or seeds need to be refrigerated. Make sure they’re in an airtight container so they don’t pick up odors from other foods. A glass or ceramic container is best, because the arils can pick up chemicals from plastic containers. Pomegranate juice or arils will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days, though they’re best if consumed within three days.
Can I freeze pomegranate?
Yes, you can freeze pomegranate juice or pomegranate arils. When freezing the juice, remember to leave about half an inch of headspace in your jar for expansion. Use the frozen juice or arils within a year.
Here’s how to freeze the arils so that they don’t all stick together in one mass once frozen:
- Spread the arils in a single layer on a baking sheet. (You can line the sheet with waxed or parchment paper if you like.)
- Place the sheet in the freezer for a couple of hours, so that each aril freezes individually.
- Put them in a freezer container or bag and place back in the freezer.
How to peel a pomegranate easily
Pomegranate juice stains, so wear an apron — and cover your cutting and work surfaces, if you don’t want them pink. Note that only cut seeds will stain, so if you follow the directions and avoid cutting many arils, you shouldn’t make too much of a colorful mess.
Here are two methods for getting those arils out of your pomegranate:
- Wash the pomegranate well under running water. (No, you’re not eating the skin, but bacteria can be transferred from the skin to the inside as you cut and prepare it.)
- Cut about ¼ inch off the bottom end of the fruit. The bottom end is the one opposite the blossom end.
- Cut the crown end (the blossom end) out of the pomegranate by slicing around it in a circle and then popping it out.
- Score the fruit from blossom end to bottom end. Make about five or six of these scores. (You can make eight if your fruit is large.) Don’t cut very deep; you don’t want to cut into the seeds. Just cut enough to see that you’ve broken through the red skin to the white membrane.
- Put your fingers in the hole where you took out the crown and pull the sections of the pomegranate apart. (If you made five slices, then you’ll have five sections.) The seeds will be exposed.
- Pull the seeds away from the membrane, into a bowl.
- Fill the bowl with water. Any remaining pieces of membrane will float to the top, so you can separate it from the seeds.
- Strain the arils.
- Wash the pomegranate well under running water.
- Score the pomegranate in half horizontally (like an equator line), all the way around the fruit, with the crown on one half and the bottom on the other. As in method one, don’t cut beyond the red layer or you’ll slice up the arils.
- Put your fingers into the score and pull the fruit apart so that you now have two halves.
- Hold one half in your hand over a large bowl, cut side down.
- Using a wooden spoon or wooden spatula or other sturdy utensil, whack the pomegranate until the seeds fall into the bowl. It takes a hard whack, so don’t be timid! Get out your frustrations and reward yourself with some crimson arils.
- Repeat with the other half.
- Fill the bowl with water and remove any white membrane (it will float to the top).
- Strain the arils.
Can I dry a whole pomegranate to use for decoration?
Yes, and it’s a great, frugal idea for those of us who like to include them in centerpieces! A dried pomegranate can last for years. Here’s how to dry one:
- Wash and dry the pomegranate thoroughly.
- Place the whole pomegranate on a rack (a kitchen drying rack works well).
- Keep the pomegranate in a cool, dry place out of sunlight.
- Rotate the fruit occasionally, so it doesn’t get flattened in one area.
- In a few weeks, gently shake the fruit. If the center is dry, it will feel light.
How to eat pomegranate
There are lots of options for eating pomegranate. Some ideas:
- Snack on the fresh arils. (The flavor is stronger raw than cooked.) The juice surrounding the little white seed is where the flavor lies. The little white seed in the center is perfectly edible, though, and it provides fiber (and swallowing it is less messy than spitting it out).
- Use the arils as a garnish for most any dessert. They’re especially beautiful atop puddings, where they add interesting color and texture.
- Mix the arils into oatmeal or yogurt.
- Add the arils to salads — fruit and green — and compotes. I especially love the look of pomegranate in a carrot salad, with the glistening red arils against the orange carrots!
- Make pomegranate juice (see below), to serve alone or mixed with other beverages, such as sparkling water or other fruit juices. Pomegranate juice is also used in jellies and desserts.
- Make grenadine to use as a dessert topping or in beverages. To make grenadine, simply simmer the juice with sugar for a few minutes.
To make pomegranate juice, simply blend the arils in a blender — just until the arils are broken down. Don’t over-blend — you don’t want to include the core seeds in the juice, because they can be bitter. Then strain. Add sugar or another sweetener. A large pomegranate will yield about a half cup of juice.
Here’s a whole page of links to pomegranate recipes —from appetizers and beverages to main courses, preserves, dips, sauces, soups, salads, and desserts. I usually top my cheesecakes with cherries, but I think next time I’ll substitute this pomegranate topping!
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