A whole, freshly picked pomegranate is beautiful in a rustic sort of way. Some are a pale-hued, others are a deeper, earthy red; but all evoke a sense of living simply and eating seasonally from the land. Cut a pomegranate in half, and your senses are delighted by what’s inside – hundreds of juicy jewel-toned seeds, layered within the nooks and crannies of a white honey-combed membrane. Even if you didn’t know they were edible, the seeds are so bright and appealing that you’d be tempted to find out.
I recall trying pomegranates as a child, but it’s a fleeting memory, a moment that came and went as part of a holiday exposure to new foods. It wasn’t until I moved to Morocco, a land where the pomegranate season is much anticipated and the seeds are served by the bowlful, that I came to fully know and appreciate this sweet, Prophetic fruit.
Pomegranates (rumman in Arabic) are an ancient fruit, valued for thousands of years by various cultures and religious traditions. Indigenous to Iran, the cultivation of pomegranates spread throughout India, Afghanistan, the Middle East and the Mediterranean before being brought further west to Europe and beyond.
For Muslims, the importance of pomegranates is established by three verses in the Holy Qur’an, including one which names the pomegranate as a fruit of Paradise:
“Wherein is fruit, the date palm and pomegranate. Which is it, of the favours of your Lord, that you deny?” (Ar-Rahman:68)
Further mention of pomegranates is found in the hadiths extolling the blessing, health and medicinal value of the fruit and its rind.
The use of pomegranates in traditional medicine pre-dates the time of the Prophet Muhammad r. In more recent centuries, the fruit, skin, bark and membranes have been used to treat ailments such as sore throats, coughs, urinary infections, digestive disorders, skin disorders, arthritis, and to expel tapeworms.
It’s only in modern times, however, that science has determined to what extent pomegranates are beneficial for one’s health. Pomegranates are rich sources of potassium, folic acid, vitamins and antioxidants. They are so nutrient-dense and high in antioxidants, in fact, that they possess the ability to affect cell and molecular structure and have the potential to be beneficial for overall health. This earns pomegranates the label of “superfruit.” And, further research is suggesting that pomegranates might prove useful in treating such serious conditions as prostate cancer, skin cancer, osteoarthritis and diabetes.
You don’t, of course, need a medical condition to justify eating this delicious Sunnah food, but it’s nice to know there are health benefits in doing so. Pomegranates are typically in season from early fall until early winter. Enjoy the seeds plain, sprinkle them on salads and desserts, juice them to make a beverage or reduce to syrup. Try the delicious pomegranate recipe below.
How to Seed a Pomegranate
You can pick out pomegranate seeds one-by-one with a toothpick or needle, but it won’t allow you to enjoy the incredible burst of juice and flavour that only a spoonful of seeds can offer. So what’s the trick to seeding a pomegranate efficiently?
1. Work at the kitchen sink or outdoors, where juice splashes and stains might not matter so much. Wear an apron. Have a large bowl and heavy spoon ready.
2. Cut your pomegranates in half (or in quarters). Take a section and pry it inside-out, just a bit, to bend the seeds outward from the rind.
3. Hold the section, seed-side-down, over the bowl (keep your fingers slightly apart), and whack the rind firmly all around to loosen the seeds. Most of the seeds will fall through your fingers into the bowl.
4. Pick out any stubborn seeds that are entrapped in the flesh. Discard the rind and any pith that you can see in the bowl.
5. Repeat with the remaining pomegranate sections.
6. Fill the bowl with water to wash the seeds. Use a small strainer to remove any debris that floats to the top.
7. Drain the seeds in a colander, rinse, and enjoy as desired.
8. To freeze pomegranate seeds, spread well-drained seeds in a single layer on a tray, cover with plastic and freeze for two hours. Transfer the seeds to a freezer bag or storage container for later use.
Jewelled Couscous Salad
• 1 cup/200 g instant or regular couscous
• ½ cup pomegranate seeds (1 medium pomegranate)
• ½ cup orange juice
• 2 tbsp olive oil
• 2 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar
• 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
1. Steam or cook the couscous according to directions.
2. Allow the couscous to cool, before combining with the remaining ingredients. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Christine Amina Benlafquih is a an expert on Moroccan Food. Her culinary creations can be found on moroccanfood.about.com.