The Pomegranate

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Filled with jewel-like arils, the pomegranate is beautiful to look at and wonderful to consume. It’s a fruit rich in sweet-tart flavor and history, prized around the world for its beauty and nutritional value.

Megan Saynisch, in a recent addition to the on-going column “Real Food Right Now and How to Cook It“, digs into the pomegranate’s past and shares plenty of tips on how to enjoy this unusual fruit.

Once, wandering through a 14th Century garden in Italy, I spied a charming little shrub drooping with pink-red fruits: a pomegranate tree. Imagining the castle’s former inhabitants enjoying the beauty of the tree and lavish dishes made from the glittering red seeds, I snapped about a dozen pictures to remember it by – completely confounding my husband, who thinks that taking pictures of trees while on vacation (which I’m partial to doing in general) is pretty weird. But I think few fruit rival the pomegranate – tree, flower and fruit alike – in beauty and flavor. I look at my snapshots from that day from time to time, to be transported back to that moment and my pleasure at seeing the little Italian pomegranate tree laden with fruit.

A Brief History

The pomegranate is an ancient fruit, with much symbolism and religious significance associated with it. Native to Iran, where wild pomegranate trees can still be found, it was probably first domesticated around 3000 BCE by the ancient Persians. Pomegranate cultivation quickly spread to Israel and Northern India, then to North Africa around 2000 BCE, via the sea-faring Phoenicians and finally to the rest of the Mediterranean. In the 16th Century (CE), the Spanish brought the pomegranate to Central and South America, and by the 1700s the trees were being grown in what would later become the southern US.

In ancient Persia, the pomegranate was associated with fertility and prosperity. Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with the fruit, and King Tut’s tomb contained a silver vase in the shape of a pomegranate. The fruit appears in the Old Testament numerous times, and even appeared on coinsin ancient Judea. In Greece, the pomegranate was associated with Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and with the Underworld. Probably the most famous myth involving the fruit is that of Persephone: kidnapped by Hades, the king of the Underworld, she was tricked into eating pomegranate seeds. Whoever consumed food or drink in the Underworld was fated to remain there, so Persephone was forced to spend part of the year with Hades. The time she spends in the Underworld are the winter months – the length of which (either four or six, depending on the source) corresponds to the number of pomegranate seeds she ate.

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This article originally appeared on It is partially posted here with permission from the author.

Megan Saynisch is cook, gardener, culinary anthropologist and writer living in Brooklyn with her husband and young son. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute, she is the creator of the blog (from Ecocentric Blog)

Photo Credit: Wikipedia