A pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to between five and eight meters tall. Native to the drier regions of the Mediterranean Basin, pomegranate is widely cultivated throughout India and parts of southeast Asia, Malaya, the East Indies and tropical Africa. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is now cultivated in parts of California and Arizona for juice production.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the fruit is typically in season from September to February. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is in season from March to May.
An ancient fruit, pomegranate is mentioned in Europe as early as the Iron-Age Greek Mythology in the Homeric hymns. Yet, it has still to reach mainstream prominence as a consumer fruit in commercial markets of North America and the Western Hemisphere.
The name “pomegranate” derives from Latin pomum (“apple”) and granatus (“seeded”). This has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (e.g., German Granatapfel, “Granat” meaning “garnet” and “Apfel” meaning “apple”, thus “garnet apple”). Perhaps stemming from the French word for the fruit, “pomme-grenade”, the pomegranate was known in early English as “apple of Grenada” — a term which today survives only in heraldic blazons. This was probably a folk etymology, confusing Latin granatus with the Spanish city of Granada. The genus name Punica is named for the Phoenicians, who were active in broadening its cultivation, partly for religious reasons. In classical Latin, where “malum” was broadly applied to many apple-like fruits, the pomegranate’s name was malum punicum or malum granatum, the latter giving rise to the Italian name melograno, or less commonly melagrana.
After opening the pomegranate by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open, the arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membranes. Separating the red arils is easier in a bowl of water, because the arils sink and the inedible pulp floats. Freezing the entire fruit also makes it easier to separate. Another very effective way of quickly harvesting the arils is to cut the pomegranate in half, score each half of the exterior rind four to six times, hold the pomegranate half over a bowl and smack the rind with a large spoon. The arils should eject from the pomegranate directly into the bowl, leaving only a dozen or more deeply embedded arils to remove.
The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty aril is the desired part. The taste differs depending on the subspecies of pomegranate and its ripeness. The pomegranate juice can be very sweet or sour, but most fruits are moderate in taste, with sour notes from the acidic tannins contained in the aril juice.
Pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Persian and Indian cuisine, and began to be widely distributed in the United States and Canada in 2002.
Grenadine syrup is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice used in cocktail mixing. Before tomatoes arrived in the Middle East, grenadine was widely used in many Iranian foods, and is still found in traditional recipes such as fesenjan, a thick sauce made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts, usually spooned over duck or other poultry and rice, and in ash-e anar (pomegranate soup).
Wild pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana (from Persian: anar+dana, pomegranate+seed), most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but also as a substitute for pomegranate syrup in Persian cuisine. Dried whole arils can often be obtained in ethnic Indian subcontinent markets. These seeds are separated from the flesh, dried for 10–15 days and used as an acidic agent for chutney and curry preparation. Ground anardana is also used, which results in a deeper flavoring in dishes and prevents the seeds from getting stuck in teeth. Seeds of the wild pomegranate variety known as daru from the Himalayas are regarded as quality sources for this spice.
Dried pomegranate arils, found in some natural specialty food markets, still contain the seed and residual aril water, maintaining a natural sweet and tart flavor. Dried arils can be used in several culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream. Chocolate covered arils, also available in gourmet food stores, may be added to desserts and baked items.