Monday, September 25, 2006

There’s Power in the Pom of Your Hand


No, that’s not a typo above. It’s a pun, and admittedly a rather bad one. But I have to get my readers’ attention somehow.

The “Pom” I was referring to isn’t a cheerleader’s pom, either. (Is there such a thing as a “pom,” by the way? I’ve never seen those articles referred to in the singular form. Former cheerleaders, help me out.) Nope, I was actually referring to the homely looking edible that I like to think of as the piñata of fruits, since you have to give it a good whack to get to the treasures inside: the pomegranate.

Several years back, I had something like pity for the pomegranate. It seemed to be a rather neglected fruit, at least in this country. (Never mind that I hadn’t eaten one myself for a considerable time.) And so it was with delighted enthusiasm that I embraced its healthful properties when I was working for a beverage company and looking for a new product idea for my department’s annual innovation fair.

My own introduction to the pomegranate was with some mild bewilderment over exactly how to eat one. I don’t recall now if someone told me or I simply figured it out after slicing one open, but it was an enjoyable experience – crunching on tart-sweet seeds encased in juice-filled sacs that looked like little rubies. My only regret was that there wasn’t much payoff for the work involved. (It’s not for nothing that one wit has referred to the pomegranate as “the perfect diet food.”)

Neither do I recall exactly what gave me the idea to feature the pomegranate in my beverage theme much later, but as far as innovation went, I was pretty sure no one else in my group was going to be using it. After all, while the “piñata fruit” was popular in the Middle East, its juice sold by sidewalk vendors, I didn’t see much evidence that it had caught on in America. I briefly allowed myself grandiose visions of changing that with a couple of beverages I named “Pom-Pow,” for straight pomegranate juice, and “Peach-Pom,” or something of that nature, for a juice flavored with just a bit of peach nectar. (Okay, readers, these were working titles.)

My attempts didn’t set the health beverage world, or even my department, on fire, but I learned enough to gain a new respect for this culinary rough diamond. First, I was intrigued to learn that Iranians believe the pomegranate was the fruit that Eve fed to Adam in the Garden of Eden, rather than the traditional apple, although personally, I had a bit of trouble picturing that, since she would have needed something to cut it open with. On the other hand, the Good Book says that the pair tended the Garden, so they must have possessed some kind of tools. Well, as I’ve said before, this is not a religion blog and I’m no Biblical scholar, so you’ll have to consult your local theologian on that one. Other cultures have their own pomegranate traditions: the Chinese, for example, eat a sugared version of the seeds on a couple’s wedding day, to bless the newlyweds, while Greeks break open the fruit at weddings as a symbol of fertility.

Today we know that what a BBC News article described as “the fruity panacea” is loaded with vitamins A, C, E and iron, and that its antioxidant properties outweigh even red wine and green tea. (Antioxidants are naturally occurring substances in plants which protect our bodies from free radicals, or “bad chemicals” in our blood.) When I was putting together marketing concepts for my own beverage ideas, I was particularly fascinated to discover that scientists in the U.K. were looking into using a pomegranate-derived substance in the development of an AIDS vaccine, although I don’t know now what became of that study. But our ancestors didn’t need fancy studies or modern laboratories to figure out that the pomegranate, in spite of its slightly inaccessible nature, was a health “super food.” For many years healers in the Middle East, Iran and India have used all parts of the fruit to cure conditions ranging from conjunctivitis to hemorrhoids. It is even said that a paste of the leaves, massaged into the scalp, can apparently reverse baldness. Now that’s not something I’ve ever had a problem with, but take note, Hair Club for Men customers! What really tickled me was culinary historian Margaret Shaida’s statement that when she lived in Iran, she was given a bowl of pomegranates to help her recover from “Tehran Tummy” – a condition I’d never heard of before, but which I strongly suspect bears a resemblance to “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

About a year ago, I was in the bagged salad aisle of my local grocery store when I happened upon a product called “Pom Wonderful.” Holy cow, I thought – someone stole my idea! No, not really. But I was intrigued to find the line of both “straight” and flavored pomegranate-based beverages available in both juices and tea, in an American grocery store. Somebody had finally caught on, I thought.

That somebody was a California-headquartered company called POM Wonderful LLC. According to noted nutritionist Andrew Weil (www.drweil.com), the company pays researchers to study the health benefits of pomegranate juice, gives doctors information on studies, and, naturally, sells pomegranate products. And some of those products sound pretty cool – like the Pomegranate Lychee Green Tea or the Pomegranate Peach Passion White Tea. (Hmmm...were some of this company’s researchers at that innovation fair I mentioned earlier?) If juice is more in your line, you can try flavor combinations of pomegranate with blueberry, cherry, mango and tangerine. For more information, just click on over to www.pomwonderful.com, or check out the produce aisle of your grocery store. Tell ’em Treader Lucie sent you.

The homely pomegranate is indeed a culinary asset, and America is indeed “catching on.” According to a company that tracks new products, 215 new foods and beverages containing pomegranate were introduced to the U.S. market this year, while as many as 258 pomegranate products were added in 2005. So check it out. Not only will you be doing something good for your health while you eat one, but you can impress your friends and family with your knowledge of its benefits and colorful history. Who knows – maybe you’ll spark a local trend.

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Of course I couldn’t talk about pomegranates without giving you at least one recipe including same. Enjoy! (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried it myself yet – I was too busy writing this entry.) This recipe originally appeared in Sunset magazine.

Fresh Pomegranate Chutney

1/2 cup red currant jelly
1/3 cup finely chopped green onions, including tops
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from a 1-pound pomegranate; see note below)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno chili
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Put currant jelly in a 2-cup glass measure. Heat in a microwave oven at full power (100%) until softened, about 20 seconds.

Stir in green onions, pomegranate seeds, ginger, chili, coriander, and lemon juice; add salt and pepper to taste. Let stand about 15 minutes before serving.

Yield: about 1-1/4 cups

Note: Remove pomegranate seeds up to one day ahead; chill seeds airtight.


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Let me know how you enjoy those edible little rubies. And until we meet again - Keep on Treading!

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