While the distinction between an apple and a pomegranate may seem like a no brainer, the two are linked—at least linguistically. In fact, the pomegranate's name comes from the Middle French, pomme garnete, or "seeded apple," and its botanical name, Punica granatum, means "apple with many seeds." The pomegranate was dubbed the "apple of Grenada"—the Spanish city named for the fruit—in early English. And, to this day, the pomegranate is sometimes called a Chinese apple.
Cultivated as early as 2000 BCE in tropical Asia, pomegranates prefer a semi-arid, mild-temperate climate. The Spanish brought the sweet-tart and juicy fruit to California; they were grown at missions 200 years ago. Today in the United States pomegranates are cultivated commercially in the drier parts of California and Arizona.
Pomegranates are a very good source of potassium and vitamins C and K. They also provide dietary fiber, folate and polyphenols (an antioxidant).
There are over 700 varieties of pomegranates. While you might come across varieties such as Eversweet (almost seedless, very sweet) or Granada (darker, also sweet), the most common pomegranate in produce aisles is the Wonderful—a large, purple-red, tangy fruit.
Seeding a pomegranate is fun. One easy method is to cut off the crown, then cut the fruit into sections. Place the sections in a bowl of water, then roll out the juice sacs with your fingers. (The juice stains, so you may want to don an apron in case some of the seeds burst.) The glistening red arils—hundreds of them—are ready for eating. Leave the white, bitter membrane behind and enjoy the seeds as is, or use them to add color, texture and flavor to appetizers, beverages, breakfasts and entrees.
To extract the juice from the seeds—for dressings, sauces and beverages, for example—simply pulse the seeds a few times in the blender to break them apart. (Don't overblend or you'll break the seeds themselves down into a cloudy juice.) Then use a mesh strainer to strain the liquid from the seeds.
Enjoy this lively fruit raw atop salads like Quinoa Salad with Oranges, Beets & Pomegranate and Roasted Pear & Arugula Salad with Pomegranate-Chipotle Vinaigrette. The seeds are a stunning addition to appetizers, too, like this Goat Cheese Crostini with Walnuts.
Scatter pomegranate seeds on hot cereal, pancakes and waffles. Use the vibrant juice to make dressings, glazes, syrups and sauces for lamb, chicken, fish (especially salmon and halibut), ice cream or yogurt. For days you want to show off a bit, Pomegranate-Glazed Turkey with Roasted Fennel features a rich pomegranate pan sauce served over turkey cutlets with roasted fennel.
Pomegranates make beautiful beverages, too, including juices, cocktails and wines. For a pretty pink beverage that's full of antioxidants, try a Strawberry-Pomegranate Smoothie. And for a drink that delivers celebratory fun by the glass or by the pitcher, serve this Pomegranate Cocktail.
Pomegranates are usually available from August through January, though the Wonderful variety becomes available in October. Picked ripe, the skin should be a shade of red—tough, thin and unbroken. The heavier the fruit, the juicier it'll be. One medium pomegranate yields about 3/4 cup of seeds and 1/2 cup of juice.
Store pomegranates at room temperature, out of direct sun, or refrigerate them in a plastic or produce bag. They'll keep at room temperature for a few days and in the refrigerator for up to three months. You can also freeze the seeds.