Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

Pomegranates are fruits of the shrubby tree Punica granatum, a native of the arid and semiarid regions of the Mediterranean and western Asia; the finest varieties are said to grow in Iran. With their dull, dry rind surrounding two layered chambers of translucent, ruby-like fruitlets (there are also pale and yellow varieties), they figured very early in mythology and art. Pomegranate-shaped goblets have been found in prehistoric Troy, and in Greek myth it was a pomegranate that tempted Persephone and kept her in the underworld. Pomegranates are very sweet, fairly tart, and often astringent thanks to their strongly pigmented juice well-stuffed with anthocyanins and related phenolic antioxidants. Juice manufactured by crushing whole fruits is much more tannic than the fruitlets themselves; the rind is so rich in tannins that it was once used for tanning leather! Because each fruitlet contains a prominent seed, pomegranates are usually processed into juice, which then can be used as is or cooked down to make a syrup or “molasses,” or fermented into a wine. True grenadine is pomegranate juice mixed with a hot sugar syrup. Today most commercial grenadines are synthetic. In northern India, pomegranate fruitlets are dried and ground for use as an acidifying powder.