The British public have learned to love the pomegranate. The sweet and sour seeds are scattered in the many grab-and-go snacks we buy and have become a fashionable dinner party staple.
Much credit must be given to chef Yotam Ottolenghi, who has championed the fruit ever since he found fame with his first cook book in 2008.
The fruit's impressive nutritional profile is another key factor in its popularity. Pomegranates are packed with antioxidants and boast anti-inflammatory properties. Other nutrients include potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, manganese, copper, zinc and vitamins C, B and E.
> According to food historian Alan Davidson, pomegranates are native to a region that includes Iran, Afghanistan and northern India. The Arabs later introduced the pomegranate to Spain.
> The sweet and sour flavour of the fruit is highly useful in the kitchen. Pomegrante molasses and pomegranate powder are excellent souring agents. The drink Grenadine is also flavoured with the fruit.
> The plant is botanically known as Punica granatum and is a small deciduous tree.
> Controversy rages over the best way to open the fruit. YouTube is stuffed with how-to-videos. (Try the "chamber" method, gently opening out each seed-stuffed section; or the rolling pin or wooden spoon method, bashing out the seeds into a bowl.)
Growing and harvesting
The region around Granada in Southern Alicante in Spain is a key area for production. Around 50,000 tons is produced from 3,000 hectares devoted to this crop. The Mollar variety has PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) status and is known for its sweetness.
Mas Serrano, for example, is one of the producers in this area. In addition to the Mollar, they grow the Valenciana, Smith, Acco, Bigful and Wonderful varieties. This first photo shows their harvest.
The fruit is harvested by hand using scissors and graded prior to export.
The season for Mollar runs from around the middle of September to the last week of October. Other varieties stretch the season as late as February.
On the market
A large variety of wholesalers on the market sell the fruit. Sizes are typically described by the number of fruit in each box: 6 / 8 / 10 / 12 / 14. In October and November, most supplies are from Spain, with a minority from Turkey and Egypt.
The excellent website Great British Chefs is your best first port of call. Here are some of their recipe suggestions. These include chef Marcus Wareing's scallops with curried parsnip purée, parsnip crisps and pomegranate. And chef Atul Kochar's rhubarb and pomegranate bhapa doi, pistachio burfi. (Thanks to Reuben Overmark for the image below).
Here's a final image of the pomegranate harvest. Thanks Park Winters for the nicely styled pic.