Happy New Year everyone! In many cultures, it is traditional to start off the year with “lucky” foods, including black-eyed peas (no, not the band), greens, and my favorite, pomegranates.
Pomegranates are particularly significant in Judaism because it is believed that there are 613 seeds in each fruit, corresponding with the 613 commandments found in the Torah. I’ll confess that I counted the seeds in a pomegranate once…only came up with 369. If you have some extra time on your hands, you can try too! And if you do find 613 seeds, mazel tov!
Coincidentally, today is also the Jewish “new year” of the trees known as Tu B’shevat. Some Jews celebrate this holiday by eating a meal of the “seven species” of Israel as described in the Torah: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, olives, dates, and pomegranates. Some families even have a festive Seder similar to Passover (fortunately sans matzah).
Pomegranates are one of the oldest fruits in existence. They likely originated in the region from central Asia to Turkey, possibly in Iran. They have been cultivated for over 5000 years, first in the Middle East and then across the globe.
In ancient times, pomegranate seeds were used as red dye for a variety of textiles and dishes. Even today, savvy home cooks know the risk of cutting open a pomegranate incorrectly. Burst a seed open and your clothes will be stained for good!
Of course, those ancient Egyptians knew all about the pomegranate’s power as well. In addition to using the fruit’s juices to make medicine, the Egyptians also buried their pharaohs and nobility with pomegranates to ensure an afterlife.
Pomegranates traveled down the Mediterranean and across Asia on the Silk Road, from 1600 B.C.E. onward. Crusaders in the 12th century C.E. brought pomegranates back from Palestine to their respective European homelands.
Pomegranates were introduced to the new world after Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs. Jesuit priests brought pomegranates with them from Spain and cultivated the fruit in Mexico. Eventually pomegranates spread to California, where most North American pomegranates are grown today.
Thanks to their high anti-oxidant content, pomegranates have become very popular in the United States and elsewhere, increasing the demand for this fruit. Its growing season ends in February, so get to a grocery store fast!
For further reading:
Karp, David. “Pomegranates.” In The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. Andrew Smith, 471. New York, Oxford University Press, 2007.
Kumar, Mohnan. “Pomegranates.” In Fruits of Tropical and Subtropical Origin, ed. Steven Nagy, Philip Shaw, and Wilfred Wardowski, 328-347. Lake Alfred: Florida Science Source, 1990.
Chocolate Pomegranate Cookies
These cookies are delicious on their own, or served warm with ice cream. Also great for Valentine’s Day!
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cups white sugar
3/4 cups brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 cups dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups pomegranate seeds
1) In a large bowl, cream butter, shortening, sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
2) In another bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
3) Slowly beat dry ingredients into wet ingredients.
4) Mix in chocolate chips and pomegranate seeds.
5) Place rounded tablespoons of dough on parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.
6) Bake in a 350 degree oven for 9-10 minutes.
7) Top with ice cream and enjoy!
Extra pomegranate seeds? They are delicious on their own, or sprinkled over salad or pasta.