Enjoy health benefits of the season during National Pomegranate Month

Written by Laura Petersen

It’s a sure sign of fall when strange-looking crimson globes begin appearing next to pumpkins and persimmons at Greater Sacramento grocers and farmers’ markets. November is National Pomegranate Month and a great time to add the locally grown, health-giving fruit packed with antioxidants into everyday meal planning and special holiday menus.

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Photos courtesy of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

“The foothill region here in California is optimal for growing pomegranates because of the hot dry summers and cool winters,” says Rick Kilby, produce manager for Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. “The pomegranates we sell come from the foothills outside of Fresno.”

Right now, the Co-Op has a fresh shipment of “wonderful” variety pomegranates deep red in color, super juicy, and sweet sourced from Homegrown Organics in Porterville.

“Pomegranates are full of antioxidants and Vitamin C. They come into season right as cold and flu season start and are perfect for fighting against getting sick,” says Kilby, who enjoys his pomegranates as a topping on a grain salad with wilted kale, delicata squash, and fuyu persimmons.

An original superfood, the “jewel of winter” is packed with important nutrients such as fiber, protein, vitamins C and K, folate, and potassium. A known anti-inflammatory, pomegranates can mediate diseases such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and obesity. Regular consumption of pomegranate juice has been shown to lower blood pressure levels.

Dating back to ancient civilizations throughout the Mediterranean, the pomegranate has long been revered as a superfood. The pomegranate tree is native to Iran and the Himalayas in Northern India and was carried by desert caravans as a thirst quencher. Spanish settlers brought pomegranates to California in the 1700s.

Many folks have fond memories of eating pomegranates as children, including Janis Elliget of Newcastle Produce in Newcastle, who remembers growing up in the San Joaquin Valley, eating juicy pomegranates on hot days.

This year, favorable weather conditions meant that several pomegranate varieties began arriving early to Newcastle Produce from farms in Newcastle, Penryn, and Loomis, including a white variety grown by the boss’ daughter.

“They came in kind of early. As soon as it starts to get cold at night, they start to ripen up. It’s timing, and we lucked out this year,” Elliget says.

She encourages foodies to stop by the market and deli for a delicious, chef-created, seasonal salad. At home, she recommends tossing pomegranate kernels, or arils, into grain salads made with farro or amaranth for a colorful, healthy punch. The juice is also a popular addition to holiday cocktails and dressings.

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Photos courtesy of Food Literacy Center

Children are naturally drawn to the fruit and love the challenge of removing seeds from the pith.

“If parents want to give their kids a distraction, give them a pomegranate. They find it’s really fun to get the seeds out,” says Amber K. Stott, CEO and Chief Food Genius at Food Literacy Center.

The center’s mission is to get kids to eat their fruits and vegetables by turning them into food adventurers. Each week, the center works with hundreds of low-income elementary children teaching cooking and nutrition skills through hands-on activities that foster a lifetime of healthy choices. Pomegranates become center stage this month in foods like sunflower butter sandwiches (with fresh fruit instead of jam) and persimmon-pomegranate salad and salsa.

How to remove the seeds without fuss

  • Score fruit into quarters through just the skin.
  • Crack the pomegranate into large chunks, and submerge into a basin of water.
  • Using your fingers, gently peel the arils away from the membrane and skin.
  • The white membrane will float to the top; skim off and strain the arils.

The holidays are a fun time to try these seasonal pomegranate recipes with family and friends, or design your own and share with edible Sacramento magazine!

Persimmon Pomegranate Salsa

(courtesy of Food Literacy Center. Makes 2 cups)

2 small carrots, or 1 cup grated carrot

1 jalapeño, finely diced

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

1 fuyu persimmon, finely diced

3 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

1 tablespoon lime juice

Pinch of cinnamon

Instructions for adults

Dice the jalapeno and persimmon. Slice open the pomegranate. Cut a lime in half. Assist your child with prepping the other ingredients.

Instructions for kids

Use a box grater to grate the carrots. Tear the cilantro with your hands into small pieces. Use your hands to wiggle the pomegranate seeds (like a loose tooth) to remove from the inside of the fruit. Squeeze the lime, and measure 1 tablespoon of juice.

Place all ingredients in a small bowl and stir to combine. Serve with tortilla chips.

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Photo courtesy of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op

Pomegranate Dressing

(courtesy of Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op)

4 tablespoons pomegranate juice

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoon white wine vinegar

Seeds from ½ large pomegranate

½ teaspoon honey or other sweetener, optional

Combine all ingredients in a jar and shake it up to mix well. Dress salads of greens, fruits, grains, or whatever you like.

Pick Your Pomegranate

Look for richly colored fruit with a reddish-brown rind. Larger-sized fruit that is heavy for its size promises more juice. If you lightly squeeze fruit and powder comes out of its crown, it has dried out.

Local Sources for Pomegranates

Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op
2820 R Street, Sacramento
Open daily 6 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Newcastle Produce
9230 Cypress St., Newcastle
916-663-2016 • Newcastleproduce.com

Natural Trading Company
937 Lincoln Way, Auburn
530-820-3210 • Naturaltradingco.com
Open daily, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Soil Born Farms
American River Ranch Farmstand
2140 Chase Drive, Rancho Cordova
(916) 363-9685 Soilborn.org
Saturdays: 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (mid-May to mid-Dec.)
Note: Closed Nov. 24 for the Thanksgiving holiday

Laura Petersen is a freelance writer from Nevada City who has written about food and farming for nearly two decades. Contact her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..