Pomegranates The Fruit of Aphrodite

My daughter’s school holds “Taste Test Tuesday,” in which students sample a piece of exotic or an unknown food. The idea is to encourage the students to try something new on occasion; to let them out of the rut of eating the same food every day. The real object, of course, is to encourage healthy alternatives in their normal diet.

One Tuesday they tried pomegranate. The reaction was interesting. Some students told my daughter the taste was somewhere between grapes and oranges. Another asked if a person should eat the seeds as well.

The fruit has an ancient history. Cultivation of pomegranates has been traced to prehistoric times, probably originating in ancient Persia. They are mentioned several times in the Old Testament under the name of “rimmon,” which is of Arabic origin – Arabic word for pomegranate is “rimmon.”

The ancient Phoenicians used pomegranates for their religious rituals. They also were mentioned twice in Homer’s “Odyssey.” The French word “pomme” means apple, and the word pomegranate translates to “apple with many seeds.” It thus is associated with procreation. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, supposedly planted the first pomegranate tree so it could spread throughout the world.

My father, a farmer in Syria, has planted pomegranate trees as a fence around his property. He thought of selling the fruit until he learned field mice had chewed out a small hole in the skin and had eaten all the fruit inside, leaving only the beautiful shell – with a small hole in it. He became crabby trying, unsuccessfully, to outsmart the mice. My mother then secretly sent my younger brother to the market to buy pomegranate fruit that she then would give to my father, telling him it came from his trees. 

In the past, people would create pomegranate molasses out of the fruit because that was the only way to preserve it. In more recent times, manufacturers has pressed the fruit into juice, which is an expensive but tasty item in supermarkets. Pomegranate molasses is used to make sauces, cure meat and flavor marinades.

Pomegranates are finally getting the respect they deserve aroud the world. They are tastey and healthy.  Research has shown they have a compound that prevents blood clots. The fruit can help lower the bad cholesterol, LDL, and blood pressure, and a 2004 study suggests pomegranate juice discourages the growth of prostate cancer.

By the way, you could eat the seeds, unless you have diverticulitis.

Here is a recipe for a sauce for grilled vegetables or fish made from pomegranate molasses:

Pomegranates and tahini sauce

makes 2 cups

1/2 cup pomegranate molasses

1/4 cup tahini*

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, mashed

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Zest of 1 lemon

Salt to taste

Whisk all ingredients together into a smooth paste. If the sauce is too thick, add a couple tablespoons of water. Makes about two cups.

*Tahini is pureed sesame seed paste, available at most grocery and health food stores.

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