The pomegranate, whose name means literally "grain
-bearing fruit" or "grainy apple", is a largish red fruit
which grows on a bushy tree. The taxonomic
name of the pomegranate tree is Punica granatum;
it is the only extant member of its family
This scientific name comes from the Latin name, malum punicum,
apple. Native to the Middle East
region, the pomegranate is now grown worldwide, with commercially popular varieties cultivated in the Middle East, the American South
, and China
While most pomegranates are about the same size as your average apple or orange, exceptional varieties can grow up to the size of a small melon. In all cases, the pomegranate's leathery red or yellow skin encloses hundreds of seeds, each sealed in a sweet, juicy casing. To eat a pomegranate, slit the skin then pry it apart, being careful to rupture as few of the seed cases as possible. Pluck the seed cases from the yellow-white pulp and eat them, discarding the bitter pulp.
The juice inside the seed cases is sweet and tangy, with a flavor reminiscent of a much milder, sweeter cranberry. Be careful when eating one, though: the juice is bright pink or red, and stains fabrics (and sometimes fingers!) quite vividly. Of old, pomegranate juice was used as a dye. Pomegranate seeds can be used in fruit salads, and the juice can find its way into vinaigrette, glazes and marinades for meat, or into cocktails and desserts as grenadine. It is high in potassium and vitamin C, and its enzymatic content makes it a good tenderizer for meats.
When shopping for pomegranates, look for ones which are dense and therefore juicy, and which are not bruised. Bruising crushes the seeds under the bruise, turning them brown and fouling their taste with the pulp's bitterness.
The pomegranate's most vivid mythological or literary reference is in the story of Persephone (also known as Proserpina or Kore) from Greek mythology. When Persephone, goddess of springtime, was abducted by Hades, king of the underworld, she swore to accept no hospitality from the dark king or his dead subjects. Yet when a shade tempted her with pomegranate seeds, she relented, eating six of them. For this reason, the myth tells us, Persephone must remain in the underworld for six months out of every year before she can return in the spring and bring rebirth to the world.