The pomegranate has the botanical name Punica granatum and is a fruit-bearing small tree or shrub that grows 16–26 ft tall. Indigenous to Iran, pomegranate has been cultivated since ancient times in central and southeastern Asia, the Mediterranean region and the Middle East. In 1769 Spanish settlers introduced it to California where it is now grown and it is also harvested in Arizona.
Pomegranate seeds are separated from the flesh, and are dried for 10–15 days. Slow air drying makes them more molasses-like than fresh pomegranate, which provides layers of flavor as well as brightness to a dish.
Dried pomegranate seeds are known as the spice Anardana (pronounced Anar Dana) and are most often found in Indian, Persian and Pakistani cuisine. The seeds are typically added to dishes as a souring agent, much like sumac, tamarind or amchur.
While most sour spices are better suited as finishing touches, Anardana can enrich sauces and braising liquids when added early in the cooking process as they tend to become more flavorful and more complex with longer cooking times. Slow cooked Persian fesenjan (chicken or duck with walnut and pomegranate sauce) relies on anardana for the sauce's subtle yet complex flavor. In Mexico, dried pomegranate seeds are added to the traditional dish chiles en nogada. In the Middle East they’re used in breads and pastries as well as a garnish for hummus and tahini.
When ground, anardana is a delightful addition in meat and seafood spice rubs, in chutneys, legumes, relishes, and it works wonders with potatoes and cauliflower. As a whole seed it is added as a topping for ice cream, salads, and yogurt or added to homemade granola bars, trail mixes and used in baked desserts. Dried pomegranate seeds are also used as an unexpected substitute for raisins.
When looking for top quality dried pomegranate seeds you want a texture that is similar to a recently dried chile that will also remind you of a gummy bear. Harder seeds aren’t necessarily bad but the softer seeds tend to be a bit more flavorful and juicy.
Pomegranate seeds contain high amounts of vitamin C, vitamin K and are excellent sources of dietary fiber.
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