When Harry Connick Jr. sang “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” he probably wasn’t referring to pomegranates, but he could have been.
Wonderful just happens to be the name of California’s most popular pomegranate variety, in season from October to January.
Bins of shiny red fruit have held centre stage in supermarkets for more than a month, ready to be cracked open. The jewel-like seed sacs (arils) inside, sheathed in a thin white membrane, make a sweet-tart garnish for just about anything.
“Ontario is a huge market for pomegranates,” says Chris Cockle, Canadian sales and merchandising manager for Wonderful Brands, California’s largest producer of this ancient fruit, native to Iran.
Cockle says Canadians munched about 15 million POM Wonderful pomegranates last season, nearly one for every two Canadians, and annual sales grew by 10 per cent.
While pomegranate lovers from Armenia to India have been drinking the fruit’s deep red juice for centuries and using the seeds, juice, even rind as medicine, Cockle says most Canadians buy fresh pomegranates to top smoothies, yogurt and salads.
“A lot of people eat the arils as a treat,” he says, noting that cups of ready-to-eat arils are available for the next two months, and pomegranate juice is sold year-round.
Areas famous for particular varieties include the Iranian cities of Yazd and Saveh, Kandahar, Afghanistan and Spain’s Alicante region. The Chinese regard pomegranates as a symbol of fertility.
Head to the supermarket and discover for yourself just how wonderful these red jewels can be.
Buy & Store
- Ignore the skin colour — a ripe pomegranate can vary from light pink to deep ruby red.
- The heavier the fruit, the more juice it contains.
- The arils inside should be red and glistening. Discard if brown.
- After admiring your pomegranate for a few days on the counter, use it or refrigerate up to two months.
- Fibre-rich arils last up to two weeks in a sealed plastic container in the refrigerator.
- To savour their flavour beyond January, freeze arils on a cookie sheet in a single layer then pack in resealable bags and store in the freezer for several months.
There are many different methods and tools to open a pomegranate. Here’s the winner:
- With a sharp paring knife, cut a slice off the top and bottom to expose the arils.
- Score the skin into four to six sections.
- Fill a bowl with water and submerge the pom as you separate the sections using both hands.
- Loosen arils under water; they’ll sink to the bottom.
- Scoop out the pieces of white membrane that float to the surface and discard.
- Strain water, reserving arils.
- Cut a fresh pomegranate in half horizontally, like a grapefruit.
- Juice using a hand-held citrus press or electric juicer.
- Enjoy crunchy arils as a snack.
- Sprinkle arils over yogurt, cereal or ice cream.
- Add colour and texture to green salads.
- Garnish festive cocktails, sprinkle in sparkling wine or add to your water pitcher
- Make a pomegranate glaze for poultry.
- Turkish cooks are known for pomegranate salad dressing.
- Iranians make a thick sauce of pomegranate molasses and ground walnuts, fesenjan, to spoon over chicken and rice.
- Add to desserts instead of cranberries.
- Give a jumbo pomegranate as a holiday hostess gift.
- Decorate your holiday table with whole pomegranates.
POM Banana Pistachio Loaf
1 pomegranate or 1 cup store-bought arils
2 cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup sugar
2 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 cup mashed ripe banana (2 to 3)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup (125 mL) shelled pistachios or slivered almonds, chopped
Preheat oven to 350F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch (22.5 by 12.5 cm) loaf pan.
To collect arils: With a paring knife, score a whole pomegranate in four to six sections and place in a bowl of water. Break apart sections under water to free arils, which sink to the bottom. Skim and discard white membrane and drain arils in a colander. Reserve 1 cup for recipe. Refrigerate or freeze remaining arils for another use.
To make loaf, in large bowl stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In small bowl stir together bananas, oil, milk and egg. Stir into flour mixture with arils and the chopped pistachios just until moistened; do not overmix. Spoon batter into prepared pan. If desired, sprinkle a few whole shelled pistachios and additional arils over the batter for garnish.
Bake 50 to 60 minutes until wooden pick or cake tester inserted in the centre comes out clean. Cool in pan 10 minutes; remove loaf from pan and finish cooling on wire rack. Store bread tightly covered, or wrap tightly in foil and freeze up to one month.
Makes 1 loaf.