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Celebrate the short season of pomegranates

| Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2010

Everyone knows Eve ate forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, but did you know it was likely a pomegranate, not an apple?

Apples are not native to the Middle East, but pomegranates are, and they were a symbol of health, fertility and eternal life in ancient cultures. Its juice was used for everything from a treatment for upset stomach to a cure for leprosy.

Slightly bigger than a typical apple, the pomegranate (Punica granatum) has a leathery rind that when ripe has a deep rosy color with a small crown on the top. Inside it is nearly hollow, with white pith that cradles hundreds of brilliant red seed sacs bursting with tangy sweet juice. The crunchy white seeds inside the sacs can be enjoyed or spit out, although then you'll miss most of the fiber. One pomegranate provides about 100 calories and is relatively rich in potassium and vitamin C, as well as oxidant-squelching polyphenols and cholesterol-lowering phytosterols.

Pomegranate juice is extolled and heavily marketed these days as one of the most antioxidant-rich juice. Laboratory and animal studies of pomegranate extract show a protective effect against cancers of the breast, colon, lung, prostate and skin, and against liver disease, obesity and even dental plaque.

A recent study at the University of California at Los Angeles of men being treated for prostate cancer suggests eight ounces of pomegranate juice daily can slow tumor growth. The researchers credit ellagitannins.

The fruit's cardio-protective qualities are also promising. Animal studies suggest lower blood pressure, less plaque in arteries and lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol from an amount equivalent to two cups a day in humans.

The distinct season of pomegranates runs from October to January. The tangy, bright red seed sacs add crunch and zest sprinkled on desserts, salads or added to soups. It's tricky, however, to break apart pomegranates without making a mess. Here's a tip: Score the rind several times, then use your hands to break apart the fruit in a bowl of water, gently coaxing the crimson clusters free. Then strain off the water and enjoy your reward.

Pomegranate Yogurt Dip

This recipe is from the Pomegranate Council.

  • 1 large pomegranate
  • 2 cups chilled plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

Score and break apart the pomegranate in a bowl of water, then gently coax the seed sacs free. Strain the water off.

In a medium bowl, combine the yogurt, juice, scallions, cilantro and salt.

Gently fold in all but two tablespoons of the pomegranate seed sacs.

Spoon into a serving bowl and garnish with mint and remaining seed sacs.

Chill for 30 minutes. Serve with crudites.

Makes 2 cups.

Nutrition information per 1/4-cup serving: 183 calories, 1 gram fat, 4 grams protein, 10 grams carbohydrate, 107 milligrams sodium.

Catherine Golub is a registered dietitian.

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