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The Passion of Pomegranates

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Why are we so passionate about Pomegranates? They’re weird looking, expensive, hard to spell, difficult to eat, and messy; the juice will stain everything around you; especially your mouth, your hands and your clothes. Yet, much of the population seems to be drinking in, decorating with, smearing on, and salivating over this unusual fruit in one way or another. If ever there were such a thing as a designer fruit, the Pomegranate would be it. No fruit has done more to change the world of produce than the Pomegranate and even more impressive is its far-reaching acceptance.

A native of Persia, the Pomegranate is one of the oldest fruits known to man and its origins can be traced back to nearly 4000 B.C. Since its humble beginnings, this ancient fruit has been shrouded in controversy, intrigue, and symbolism. Historians believe the Pomegranate, not the apple, was the forbidden fruit that tempted Eve on that fateful day in the Garden of Eden. Throughout its history, the Pomegranate has had a significant influence on religion, mythology, art and literature and it has inspired many poets, writers, painters and sculptors to create great works. The name “Pomegranate” is derived from the Middle French words, pomme and grenate, which translates to seeded apple, and because of its’ overabundance of seeds and rounded shape, the Pomegranate has long been a symbol of fertility and new life.

Today the Pomegranate is symbolic of good taste and good health. While it is currently enjoying a super-food celebrity status, when it initially resurfaced and was nominated as “fruit of the year” in The Best American Recipes 1999, most assumed it was nothing more than a passing fad but Pomegranates are still a hot food trend. “There is no denying that the pomegranate has developed a reputation for being trendy,” said Pam Holmgren, Manager of Corporate Communications at Pom Wonderful in Los Angeles. “The Pomegranate is revered not only for its taste but for its many health benefits, which makes it not only trendy, but a rediscovery that’s here to stay.”

Prior to Pom Wonderful’s launching of its intensive marketing campaign in 2002, most Americans had little frame of reference with the elusive Pomegranate. It had been greatly underutilized and was most often seen as a garnish, centerpiece or table accent. But thanks to POM’s extensive publicity on the sweet-tart essence and nutritional value of Pomegranates, Americans have embraced this now famous fruit and they are integrating it into their lives. The Pomegranate has become the most versatile produce on the planet lending its distinct taste, beautiful color, and luscious smell to everything from burritos to body butter. Its uniqueness and flexibility makes it fun to experiment with, and because of its brilliant shade of red, crunchy texture and intense flavor, anything made with Pomegranate makes a statement which is why arbiters of taste like Starbucks, Oprah, chefs and home cooks have added this colorful and curious fruit to their culinary repertoires.

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Barbara Hulick CEC, Director of Operations for Fresh Cuts at Get Fresh Sales in Las Vegas, grew up on Pomegranates. “I was thrilled when Pomegranates made a comeback, not only as a produce vendor but because they taste so good and they’re so good for you. Pomegranates are the new ‘cranberry.’ Years ago, cranberries and cranberry juice were all the rage because of the taste and healthful properties, and now, with all the hype about antioxidants, the Pomegranate is the ‘prince among produce’. During season, we have a huge call for them from the Hotels for their restaurants and banquet facilities, and also from a lot of local places around town, and because you can freeze them fresh, you can enjoy the seeds and the juice year round”.

With the increased popularity of the Pomegranate, it is unfortunate that they have such a short shelf life. Depending on where you live, this “Jewel of Winter” is cultivated in warmer climates around the world and is only available fresh about six months out of the year; from August to November or October to January and during that time you can find them in appetizers to desserts and everything in between. “I love cooking with fresh Pomegranates,” said Chef Mark Hopper, Chef de Cuisine, from Bouchon; Chef Thomas Keller’s award-winning Bistro inside the Venetian Hotel. “They are extremely healthy and versatile, and they provide added dimension to any dish. Fresh Pomegranates are a labor of love but well worth the effort. When they’re in season, I use them in varied dishes, especially in our house made Duck Prosciutto made with Marshall Farms Honey Roasted Quince. Fortunately, the juice can be enjoyed year round in such savory liquids as marinades, dressings, glazes and sauces. The Pomegranate has done much to change the world of cooking, it has an excellent flavor combination and it allows chefs like me to create new dishes with great tastes and beautiful presentations.”

In addition to its taste, vibrant color, and health-protecting effects, people are passionate about the Pomegranate for its aphrodisiac properties. Food and sex often go hand-in-hand and eating a succulent Pomegranate in the raw or adding it to foods and beverages can be a recipe for romance. Depending on the size, this apple look-alike, with its leathery skin and distinctive crown, can hold up to 800 seeds.  The heavier it is, the more juice it contains and as this juice oozes out, the sweet and tangy flavor combination will explode in your mouth and wake up your taste buds. “The pomegranate is one of the sexiest foods on earth,” said Amy Reiley, Master of Gastronomy from Le Cordon Bleu and the creator of Life of Reiley. “Its crimson shade is the color of desire. They’re messy and sticky, and because there’s no other way to eat a pomegranate than with your fingers, the act of consuming the juicy little seeds becomes a sensuous act of play.”

In order to appeal to the demands of the more refined, urbane and health-conscious consumer, food manufacturers must consistently develop new and innovative products. Today’s sophisticated clientele are looking to whet their appetites with a little of the exotic, erotic, and obscure and they are demanding liquid libations that are aesthetically delicious, refreshing, and “healthy.”  The Pomegranate is all of these things combined and that heightens its appeal. As this “hot food trend” continues to impact the beverage industry, bartenders across the country are blending, shaking and stirring up an assortment of creative cocktails with the highly mixable and extremely versatile Pomegranate juice.

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Its sweet taste with a tangy kick infuses well with a variety of spirits, soft drinks and other juices. “There are a couple of reasons why the use of Pomegranates have become so popular in drinks,” said Chef Matthew Silverman of Agave; the beautifully contemporary and authentic Mexican Restaurant in Summerlin. “The first is the fact that they are perceived as being healthy, even though most are mixed with sugar and alcohol. The perception of drinking something that is good for you while still getting to drink your alcoholic beverage is the main reason that it has become popular. The second reason is that there has been a boom in products that have been released in the past few years in which a tremendous amount of marketing dollars have been put behind them. They have marketed these drinks effectively with that message and now they are all the rage primarily with the younger/hip crowds.”

Julia Child said, “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” It’s exciting to find people who are interested in Pomegranates, it inspires great cooks and creates fabulous dining experiences, and it also gives people like me an opportunity to write about them because people who are passionate about things always have a story tell.

There is beauty in passion and people are passionate about the Pomegranate. Perhaps this timeless and powerfully healthy fruit should not be judged by its cover since it is what’s inside that counts. In spite of the fact that it’s messy and a little weird looking, because of its diversity, recipe possibilities and unsurpassed taste, the Pomegranate has a bright and delicious future.