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The deep red juice of the pomegranate seemed to pop up out of nowhere, suddenly occupying space in my grocer’s produce section. During a seminar on flavor trends presented at FONA International, formerly Flavors of North America, I learned that new flavors tend to first hit the market through beverages. Consumers seem to be more adventurous with what they drink as opposed to what they eat. I had no idea I’ve actually known the fruit for quite some time.
While visiting my grandparents as a child, I had spied a captivating bottle next to the high-ball glasses behind their bar. The label with a cartoonish Hawaiian dancer only partially obscured what looked like bad chemistry. The contents had separated with age into a sugary lump and a fading red liquid. My father also had been fascinated by this bottle as a child, but I have a feeling the hula girl was the draw for a grade-school kid in the 1950s. The mess inside, before its breakdown, was the magic elixir grenadine—the key to the ubiquitous “kiddie cocktail” that I savored on special occasions.
That syrup is, in fact, flavored with pomegranate, and now, like fruit falling from the tree, pomegranate is everywhere I aim my eyes.
The pomegranate is native to Iran and northern India. It was subsequently cultivated and naturalized over the entire Mediterranean region and now is grown worldwide. In the U.S., the pomegranate is grown predominately in the drier parts of California and Arizona.
The taste depends on the variety and state of ripeness. Ranging from very sweet to very sour, the characteristic taste is laced with notes of tannin. My only first-hand taste experiences with pomegranate, beyond the kiddie cocktails, touched on both extremes of the fruit. Starbuck’s offers an iced pomegranate tea that is fairly tart and plays up the tannins. Upon tasting, my 8-year old son simply declared it “nasty.” The sweet side of the fruit was an eye-watering slap in a pomegranate sangria. I’m not one to dump libations, but I felt that the alcohol and aggressive sweetness were already battling within the glass and my stomach was no place for continued hostilities.