Key Ingredients: Pomegranates and Cranberries
In the December 2008 issue of Reader’s Digest, our culinary experts Bonnie Stern and Fran Berkoff bring you some great recipes and nutritional tips for healthy home cooking based on one key ingredient. December’s key ingredient: Pomegranates and Cranberries!
The pomegranate whose history goes back centuries and the cranberry, a fruit native to North America, both deliver versatility, delicious taste as well as an abundance of nutrition and health properties. And, their vibrant rich colour makes them a perfect addition to any festive meal. Pomegranates and cranberries are the jewels of the holiday table but they are so delicious and versatile they can be used in everyday cooking too.
Cranberries were the first fruit of the New World to be sold in Europe, beginning in the 1700’s when “Cape Cod bell cranberries” were sold in London, England.
Today cranberries are available frozen all year around but at holiday time the stores and markets are full of fresh cranberries. Fresh or frozen, they can be used in baked goods from muffins to scones and cookies to quick breads. Many people feel dried cranberries have replaced raisins and they do make a great snack. Basic cranberry sauce is so easy to make and much better than the canned variety but use cranberries in main courses, salsas and desserts as well.
One cup of raw cranberries contains 46 calories, is high in dietary fibre (4 grams) and contains vitamin C.
Dried sweetened cranberries are often eaten as a snack or added to baked goods. Check the ingredient list for the amount of added sugar.
1/4 cup (60 ml) dried sweetened cranberries contains 95 calories and 1.8 grams of fibre
Balm for Urinary Tract Infections
People drink cranberry juice to both prevent and treat bladder and urinary tract infections and this benefit has been shown in a number of scientific studies. Research shows that the anthocyanins, which give cranberries their vibrant red colour, work by preventing the harmful bacteria from sticking to the lining of the urinary tract. The amount of juice needed to have an effect has not been determined.
A healthy stomach
Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the bacteria that is associated with stomach ulcers and gastritis. Some studies suggest that cranberries help prevent the H. pylori from sticking to the stomach wall and in so doing, can help keep your stomach healthy. A recent study of women suggests that drinking 1 cup (250 ml) of cranberry juice twice daily during and after a 1-week course of antibiotics to treat H. pylori infection, enhanced the power of the antibiotic to clear the stomach of this bacteria. Another study showed a similar effect in children.
The antioxidants found in cranberries may help the body fight off the damaging effects of free radicals. Lab studies have shown that cranberries help protect LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) from being oxidized. It is when LDL is oxidized by free radicals that it more easily sticks to artery walls, increasing heart disease risk.
A recent animal study suggests that resveratrol, a compound found in cranberries and other foods, may protect the heart and slow down the effects of aging. While it has not yet been shown in humans, the research looks promising.
Buying and Storing
Most fresh cranberries are sold in plastic bags which makes it more difficult to choose the best berries. But, if you look through the bag, try to choose one that’s full of plump, firm, dry berries with good clear colour, ranging from light pink to deep bright crimson. Avoid any that have been crushed or have mildew. If you do find loose cranberries, you can test for freshness by bouncing a few on a hard surface. If they don’t bounce, they are likely past their prime.
Fresh cranberries will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator in the original plastic bag. Before using, rinse and remove any remaining stems or leaves or freeze. They are usually only available around Thanksgiving and Christmas, but frozen cranberries are available all year round. Frozen cranberries will keep up to a year.
To learn all about pomegranates click on Next…
Even just a few years ago it was hard to find fresh pomegranates, pomegranate juice and thick pomegranate molasses but since their potent antioxidant content has become known, pomegranates are everywhere.
Messy but so Good
Although they can be a bit messy, nothing quite beats the exciting taste and texture of this fruit. Open up a pomegranate and you’ll find hundreds of tiny red arils, little edible sacs of delicious and very nutritious juice surrounding a small seed. The arils can be eaten alone or added to salads, desserts, yogurt, pilafs, smoothies or muffin batter.
To open a pomegranate, score the leathery skin around the equator and, in a large bowl of cold water, pry the pomegranate open with your fingers. Gently loosen the seeds. The seeds will sink to the bottom (the juice is encapsulated in the tiny seeds) and the white pith will float to the top. Discard the pith and drain the seeds. As well as using them in specific recipes you can sprinkle the seeds over salads, soups, dips, rice dishes and desserts.
Fresh Fruit Juice
In addition to the fruit, you can also buy pomegranate juice and pomegranate molasses, a highly concentrated form of the juice. Research has shown that the potent antioxidant activity of the polyphenols in pomegranate juice make it one of the best beverages in this regard. A cup (250 ml) of pomegranate juice supplies about 160 calories.
Although commercial pomegranate juice is available everywhere now, nothing beats freshly squeezed. You can make your own by cutting the fruit in half and using a citrus press. Pomegranate juice can replace cranberry juice in recipes and can be used to make things like sangria, cosmopolitans and poached pears.
Pomegranate molasses is pomegranate juice that has been reduced to a thick syrup and is used for a sweet sour effect in salad dressings, marinades and mixed drinks.
One pomegranate has 105 calories, 1 gram of fibre and 10 mg of vitamin C. It is a good source of potassium, containing 400 mg, almost as much as a banana. Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants that have been linked to lowering risk of heart disease and cancer and it’s these potent compounds that are putting this fruit on many superfood lists.
Pomegranate juice contains important antioxidants such as polyphenols, tannins and anthocyanins, which may benefit the heart. A study in healthy men suggests that pomegranate juice may have an anti-atherogenic effect, meaning that it may stop plaque from building up in blood vessels. In one study, people with coronary artery disease and ischemia (when not enough blood gets to the heart muscle) who drank an 8-ounce (240 ml) glass of pomegranate juice daily for three months had less ischemia during a stress test. And, another study showed its benefit in helping to moderate blood pressure.
Preliminary research suggest that 8 ounces (240 ml) of pomegranate juice may slow prostate cancer growth in men who have undergone treatment for the disease. So although more research has to be done on this remarkable fruit, much evidence points to the value of adding it to your diet.
Buying and Storing
Pomegranates are available from fall to early winter. They are usually picked when ripe so when you buy them, they are ready to eat. When choosing a pomegranate, be aware that the heavier the fruit, the juicier it will be. The skin varies from medium red to deep red with a fresh leather-like appearance.
Whole, unpeeled pomegranates keep well at room temperature for several days, away from sunlight, and will store in the fridge for up to one month. Once they are cut, they can be stored in a tightly sealed bag in the refrigerator for up to one week. The seeds can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for several days or you can freeze them and keep for up to six months.
Bonnie Stern has been teaching people to have fun in the kitchen, to eat more healthfully and to nourish their families since she started her cooking school in 1973.
Fran Berkoff is a consulting dietitian/nutritionist in Toronto, as well as a columnist for newspapers and magazines, and co-author or several books.