Pomegranate season has arrived, although, in truth, the glossy pink and red globes began appearing back in July, when the first varieties of this ancient fruit, rich in seeds and good-for-you antioxidants, replaced the coral-colored bell-shaped flowers that grow on each pomegranate tree.
It’s the time of year that grower David Menachem – who established Melo Hatene, an organic farm in Karmei Yosef, a communal settlement between Ramle and Rechovot – waits for impatiently.
“There’s nothing like that first pomegranate, especially when you haven’t had one in months,” said Menachem, who began farming his 40 dunam of land back in 1985, now run by his son, Hilaf. “You open it up, and wow.”
They now grow 84 kinds of fruit, including 18 kinds of pomegranates, as well as olives, passionfruit, mango, a dozen types of berries and some more esoteric fruits, such as gooseberries, tucked inside tiny leaf pockets and the Eretz Israel plum, a miniature stone fruit eaten by the handful. But right now, it’s all about the pomegranate.
The different Types
The first pomegranate of the season is the ‘Rosh Pered’, or Head of a Mule, which is the classic pomegranate, pinkish in tone, and filled with hard, sweet seeds.
Most people prefer the ‘Wonderful’ pomegranate, an American variety, which is ruby red in tone and with soft seeds that have a sour-sweet flavor. “It’s the color of it, that gets everyone,” said Menachem. “It’s red in and out, and the seeds are that deep red tone.”
the Melissi, a whiteish green variety with pale pink seeds that are surprisingly sweet. It’s the one that many people think of as the red pomegranate’s pale, sickly cousin when they see it in the store or on the tree, but the fact is, said Menachem, it’s the best of the bunch.
It’s the natural elements that create the best pomegranates, added Hilaf. “People don’t know that you really shouldn’t eat the sprayed pomegranates that you find in the supermarket,” he said. “You need to protect pomegranates from moths that burrow into them while on the tree, but if you spray, it gets into the fruit, it gets into the very trunk of the tree.”
The Fruit Benefits
We’ve all read about the wondrous, health benefits of pomegranates, with antioxidants and vitamins that help relieve everything from stomach upsets and hot flashes to blood pressure and cholesterol, but what’s not often known is that the biggest bang comes from the inside of the peel, said David Menachem, pointing to the yellowish pith and membrane cradling the seeds. It’s often bitter in flavor, which is why drinking pomegranate juice is always a good option, as it often works in some of the peel, masking its bitter flavor in the sweetness of the juice.
Although, not surprisingly, the pith of the Melissi, said the elder Menachem, isn’t as bitter as that of the Rosh Pered or Wonderful.
1/9/13 The Times of Israel