Pomegranates Offer Versatility

Grocery stores are having trouble keeping pomegranates and juices on the shelves.
The pomegranate has sprung up as sort of the "fruit of the moment" over the past year. Look! There it is at your favorite watering hole, its sweet-tart juices tinting an array of pretty pink cocktails. In the kitchen, its flavorful flesh thickens the glaze on a rack of lamb, and even on the salad buffet, the crisp little seeds crown a plate of greenery like a cluster of shiny red rubies.

For those keeping track of current food trends, the pomegranate looks to be the "it" ingredient of 2006, with no sign of let-up as 2007 makes way for a whole new list of food trends. It is no flash in the pan, but its seasonality in winter makes this fruit the perfect ingredient for an abundance of cozy winter dishes. In fact, Bon Apptit magazine names it "the new cranberry," citing its wintry versatility in sauces, desserts, cocktails and garnishes.

"The pomegranate is autumnal, it's sweet-tart and it's giving the cranberry a run for its money," writes Hugh Garvey, features editor of Bon Apptit.

But unlike the cranberry, the pomegranate has much more flexibility in the kitchen. It shouldn't be taken for just another sweet ending to a savory meal. Put it in the same category as the tomato. It pairs well with other vegetables, makes a sultry glaze for lamb, and a delicious sauce for chicken, exemplified at Bon Femme in Valparaiso with chef Eddie Luick's Chicken Chasseur, a roasted chicken smothered in a brown sauce of pomegranate juice and white wine -- truly a winter dish.

That isn't to say that the pomegranate doesn't work well in sweets. Of course it is on the dessert cart where this favorite winter fruit truly shines, but the latest craze that is taking the pomegranate to new heights is the pomegranate cocktail. Magnificent in a martini, captivating in a cosmopolitan, the sweetened pink juice from this fruit adds a splash of splendor to any drink.

At Giovanni's in Munster, bartender Eric Zakula serves a spectacular pomatini, a slightly sweet concoction of vodka, pomegranate juice, and Pama liquor, a pomegranate-flavored liqueur.

"We make quite a bit of them," says Zakula. "We've been running them since the end of the summer. You'd be surprised at how popular they are."

The pomatini sizzles at Giovanni's during happy hour and on busy winter weekend nights as Zakula pours the beloved martini out with polished ease.

"Pomegranate liqueur is the rage right now," says Zakula, who also whipped up a "Sparkler," a bubbly combination of champagne and pomegranate liqueur, at Giovanni's New Year's Eve celebration.

Is it a wonder fruit or a tasty secret ingredient?

Part of the recent popularity of the pomegranate is due to POM Wonderful, a California-based company that is responsible for getting pomegranates and pomegranate juices on grocery store shelves year-round.

"When we first pitched the idea of pomegranates to retailers, they laughed at us," said Kurt Vetter, vice president of sales at POM Wonderful. "They told us no one grew pomegranates, no one ate pomegranates and we said, that's the whole point. There's a whole untapped market out there."

Now grocery stores are having trouble keeping the fruit and juices on the shelves, and if the current craze is not due to the bittersweet taste of the fruit, it is probably a result of its high reputation as a healthful superfood. The pomegranate has been linked to good cardiovascular health and contains large amounts of antioxidants.

"Pomegranate seeds and juice contain high levels of disease- fighting antioxidants -- higher proportionately than in other fruits, red wine or green tea," said Dr. Harley Liker, professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. "They are also packed with vitamins C and E and are thought to possess heart- healthy properties as well."

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