11 Things You Didn't Know About Pomegranates

The healthiest thing you'll eat in December has a mythical past, Ayurvedic healing capabilities and antioxidants for days. In season through January, pomegranates are one of the more delicious ways to fight off holiday excess. Get tart, and smart, with these 11 pomegranate truths.

  1. Heart of the matter: The edible parts of the pomegranates are technically arils, not seeds. The tart, semi-translucent red aril coats the seed within, protecting it and enticing animals to eat up and share the love. Arils are also found in mangosteens and make up the soft, squishy flesh of lychees.

  2. Make it rain: As anyone who has ever shelled out $7.99 for a quarter-pound container of arils at Whole Foods will attest, removing the edible fruit from its shell can be a drag. Different techniques abound, but our favorite is violent yet effective: Cut a pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half, cut side down, into a relatively deep bowl. Smack the uncut side of the fruit with a spatula, meat pounder or other blunt object. Watch the seeds fall out. Repeat with second half. Enjoy.

  3. The pom, the myth, the legend: In Ovid's Metamorphoses, Pluto uses pomegranate seeds to trick Prosepina into shacking up with him for four months every year. Her semi-annual jaunts to and from the underworld were a way to explain the changing of the seasons. Obvs.

  4. To your health: Rich with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory fibers and paraoxonase enzymes, pomegranates can limit UV damage, help prevent arthritis and keep LDL, or bad cholesterol, from accumulating in arteries.

  5. Feel the chill: The average pomegranate can contain anywhere from 200 to 1,400 arils — which can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, arils can be frozen for up to three months. Here's how: spread arils in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and leave them, uncovered, in the freezer for about two hours. Then, transfer them to an airtight container or Ziploc baggie of your choice.

  6. Parlez-vous artillery? The French word for pomegranate is grenade, and, surprisingly, nothing is lost in translation. Etymologists speculate the connection stems from 15th Century cast-iron grenades, which were filled with tiny, round pockets of gunpowder. To the gentlemen soldier-botanists throwing them in France, these resembled aril-filled pomegranates.

  7. Heaven is a place on earth: Judeo-Christian historians believe pomegranates to be among the fruits given to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of ancient Israel. Some argue that, given its widespread cultivation in the region, pomegranate was probably the original forbidden fruit. A couple of centuries later, Botticelli and da Vinci both painted poms into Renaissance-era, Madonna-and-child motifs. And the Quran cites pomegranates, grapes and olives as earthly evidence of Allah's greatness.

  8. Alternative appeal: A prominent tool in Hindu Ayurveda, alternative healers boil and grind the peels into a powder, and use it to treat tonsillitis, inflamed or bleeding gums and even just bad breath. Roasted pomegranate skin is mixed with rose water for an all-natural astringent, and juiced arils are said to prevent memory loss, osteoarthritis and heart disease.

  9. Been around the world: A Persian native, pomegranates grow throughout the Middle East and central Asia. They were brought to China's Han dynasty around 100 B.C., had a starring role on the Roman plate, made their way to Spain by 800 A.D. and were brought to the Americas by 15th Century Spanish conquistadors. Europhile Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello the 1700s, and growers in drier regions of the United States cultivate them today.

  10. Rinse and repeat: No toothbrush? No problem. Pomegranate juice is filled with polyphenolic flavonoids, which make it as antibacterial as prescription mouthwash.

  11. Never too late for now: Pomegranates do not continue to develop sugars after they're harvested, so, once picked, they remain ripe. Keep them in your refrigerator and they are good to go for up to two months.

Cooking with pomegranates? Try out these recipes on Food Republic: