Pomegranates have long been symbols of prosperity and health dating back to the ancient civilizations, and more recently, have gained widespread recognition as a “Superfood” due to their potent antioxidant content and stellar nutritional profile.
Pomegranates are orange-sized fruits with a red outer skin that encases the edible jewel-like seeds known as arils. These arils are bursting with flavor and nutritional goodness. Pomegranate juice contains more antioxidants than green tea and red wine. These tiny gems are also packed with vitamins C and K, folate, pantothenic acid and minerals like manganese, phosphorus, magnesium, calcium, zinc and iron. Plus, a half-cup of arils contains only 72 calories and 3 grams of filling fiber.
In addition to the impressive nutrition stats, pomegranates have antimicrobial and antifungal activity and may help the body fight off bacterial infections and pathogens.
The list of health benefits continues:
Pomegranates are loaded with flavonoid and polyphenols, potent antioxidants that have anti-proliferative properties that inhibit cancer cell growth. Particularly for prostate cancer, it is thought that consumption of pomegranates may help inhibit tumor growth and decrease serum prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels.
The various phytonutrients found in pomegranates such as anthocyanin and flavonoids work together to help maintain a healthy heart. The compound punicalagin, also found in pomegranates, may help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels within the body, and is also thought to play a role in reducing plaque buildup in the arteries, a condition that can lead to atherosclerosis. Severely blocked arteries can potentially result in heart attack, stroke or heart failure.
Compounds found in pomegranate juice may help protect the bone cartilage and enhance bone formation while preventing damage leading to osteoarthritis. Additionally, vitamin C and vitamin K also function in maintaining healthy bones.
Pomegranates are typically in season from September through January, but you can also purchase pomegranate juice year round to get the same health promoting benefits. When purchasing the whole fruit, choose ones that are shiny and are purplish-red in color. Avoid those with bruises or cracks in the skin. Uncut pomegranates can be stored for up to 1 month in an airtight bag in the refrigerator. Pomegranate seeds can be kept for a few days in the refrigerator.
De-seeding a pomegranate
This exotic fruit may take a little effort to get to, but trust me they’re well worth the work. After a few attempts, I found the easiest way to de-seed a pomegranate is to use the water method. First, start off by cutting the top crown off the pomegranate. Next, score the skin around the pomegranate 4-6 times, starting from the crown to the stem end. Be careful not to cut into the seeds. Submerge in a bowl of cool water, pull apart the scored sections, and separate the seeds from the membrane. The edible seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl. Drain and rinse the seeds, discarding any additional membrane material.
The seeds can be eaten alone or added to different recipes. I usually keep it simple and prefer to top arils on hearty salads, yogurts, and cereals. Here is a recipe that I also really enjoy. Not to mention, it’s an easy way to incorporate pomegranate seeds into a savory side dish. If you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend you give them a try this season!
Barley & Wild Rice Pilaf with Pomegranate Seeds
- 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup wild rice, rinsed
- ½ cup pearl barley
- 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, or vegetable broth
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 cup pomegranate seeds
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring often, until softened. Add wild rice and barley; stir for a few seconds. Add broth and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the wild rice and barley are tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 45 to 50 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until light golden and fragrant, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.
Add pomegranate seeds, lemon zest, parsley and the toasted pine nuts to the pilaf; fluff with a fork. Serve hot.
Bhowmilk D, Gopinath H, Kumar BP, Duraivel S, Aravind G, Kumar KPS. Medicinal uses of Punica Granatum and its health benefits. Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry. 2012;1(5).
Rettig MB, Heber D, An J, Seeram NP, Rao JY, Liu H, Klatte T, Belldegrun A, Moro A, Henning SM, Mo D, Aronson WJ, Pantuck A. Pomegranate extract inhibits androgen-independent prostate cancer growth through a nuclear factor-kappaB-dependent mechanism. Mol Cancer Ther. 2008;7(9):2662-71.
Zarfeshany A, Asgary S, Javanmard SH. Potent health effects of pomegranate. Adv Biomed Res. 2014;3:100.
http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/2038/2. Accessed December 5, 2014.
http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/barley_wild_rice_pilaf_with_pomegranate_seeds.html. Accessed December 10, 2014.