Pomegranate power

There was the Pashmina. There was the Mini Cooper. And now there's the pomegranate. Yes, the pomegranate is what's hot this winter.

Charlotte spritzed herself with a pomegranate-scented spray on Sex and the City recently. It's the star of such mixed drinks as the pomtini and ruby mojito. Origins, a natural-skin-product store, now has a line of pomegranate bath and body products and a scented candle. Its juices are turning up in vinaigrettes, and its seeds are sprinkled over salads.


"I ... worked the Sex and the City party at New Year's Eve," says Dale DeGroff, author of The Craft of the Cocktail. "I did a pomegranate margarita that night, and it was very well received."

In Style magazine named it a hot item in a recent issue, and it's received press in the magazines Time, Oprah Winfrey's O and Saveur.


Part of this ancient fruit's rediscovery is its health benefits. Pomegranates are rich in antioxidants, believed to help prevent cancer, heart disease and stroke. They also contain flavonoids, which might alleviate bladder and urinary tract infections.

At least one country has even experienced pomegranate-mania.

"It can get out of hand," says Tom Tjerandsen, manager of the Pomegranate Council, based in San Francisco. "In Japan, for example, some researchers got on TV and ran a special confirming that pomegranates are unique in the fruit-vegetable kingdom as being the only naturally occurring source of estrogen. For menopausal women looking for replacement, it was big news. There was not a pomegranate left in Japan the next morning. The clamor continued for six months until another special ran. It agreed that pomegranates are unique in that asset, but you have to eat 700 or 800 per day. That's more than most consumers were willing to consider."

Especially because it takes work to get to the seeds -- the edible part of the fruit. But newfound easier access is another reason for its increased popularity. In September 2002, Pom Wonderful, a pomegranate marketing group, came out with a line of pomegranate juices, making it easier to whip up exotic recipes such as chicken with pomegranate and walnuts and halibut rolled with pomegranate stuffing. (There are several fruit mixtures, including pomegranate tangerine, cherry, blueberry and mango.)

"Pomegranates have such a short season [October through late December], so having a juice product enables consumers to get health benefits but also increase awareness," says Fiona Posell, a spokeswoman for Pom Wonderful.

At one time, pomegranates were imported mainly from Iran and Iraq. When the United States and its allies imposed embargoes in those countries, farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley began planting them in the late '90s, according to Posell.

Pomegranates have been around since biblical times. Some scholars say it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that tempted Eve. Pomegranates appeared on frescoes about 5500 B.C.

They've also appeared in Greek mythology. When Persephone, Zeus' daughter, pulled the fruit off the tree, it opened the underworld and sucked her down.


Tjerandsen, of the Pomegranate Council, has produced a booklet that helps people get to the seeds easily.

The trick, he said, is to fill a bowl with water and submerge the fruit.

Score it like an orange, then break it open and push the seeds out. All the other elements float to the top.

By the way, the juice from the seeds does stain.

The Hartford Courant is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.