Pomegranates are one of fall’s best fruits in the central San Joaquin Valley, with deep-red skin protecting hundreds of tiny arils that burst with tart flavor.
The valley is the center of the nation’s pomegranate industry. Besides growing several varieties, the tiny southeast Fresno County community of Del Rey is the home of the largest pomegranate juicing plant in the nation. Operated by POM Wonderful, a division of Paramount Farms, the factory produces juice, fresh pomegranates and packaged arils.
Other food manufacturers have joined the pomegranate bandwagon and are providing the arils in cup-sized packages that are sold to grocery stores and schools.
“More people are becoming interested in pomegranates, but they don’t always want to peel them,” says David Anthony, domestic sales manager for Ruby Fresh. “We make it easy for them.”
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Chefs and restaurant owners say the easier it is to use the juice-packed arils, the better.
Chris Mariscotti, owner of the Vineyard Restaurant in Madera, says that while the trend of using pomegranates in drinks may be waning, chefs continue to use pomegranates for taste and color, particularly in marinades and sauces.
“As a marinade, it has such a soft, rich flavor that really adds a nice balance,” Mariscotti says. “With lemon or wine marinades, the flavor can be overpowering.”
Mariscotti likes to use a pomegranate marinade on chicken and lamb. You can marinate chicken for just an hour, but lamb is best marinated overnight.
Despite an ongoing drought, pomegranate supplies have not been deeply affected.
When shopping for pomegranates, look for fruit that has a deep red color and feels solid. The heavier the better. Avoid fruit with dry, leathery skin. The skin should be slightly glossy.