In our monthly column, One Curious Ingredient, Michelle Peters-Jones explores the history and culinary use of ingredients or dishes that are unfamiliar to her — and probably many of us! Today, Michelle explores pomegranate molasses (sometimes known as pomegranate syrup) and — bonus! — gives us a pomegranate molasses recipe so we can make our own (don't worry, you can also easily buy it).
Have you checked out FBC's delicious pomegranate cider sangria yet?
When I saw this beautiful recipe, my mind went straight to my pantry staple (and apparently, Yotam Ottolenghi's desert island pick), pomegranate molasses. Pomegranate molasses is a traditional Middle-Eastern ingredient, used in particular in Iranian, Lebanese and Turkish cuisine. The name is a little misleading, as pomegranate molasses doesn't actually have any molasses as we know it (the dark sugar kind); rather, it's made from the juice of a tarter variety of pomegranate. It is also sometimes known as pomegranate syrup.
Pomegranate molasses is usually made by reducing pure pomegranate juice, evaporating the water until the naturally occurring sugars within the juice thicken and concentrate the syrup. There are a few versions of pomegranate molasses that you can make yourself, but the two most common ones are the ones you make with added sugar and another version that you make with pure fruit juice. I like both, depending on what I am using it for, and the kind of fruit used to make the molasses. When using tarter, less ripe pomegranates, I like to add sugar, but if I'm using commercially made pomegranate juice (which can be a little sweeter than homemade juice), then I like to reduce it straight, so the result is tangier. You can play with these versions until you find the one that you like the most.
If you'd rather not make your own pomegranate molasses, then it's easily available in most Middle Eastern and Asian grocery stores, as well as in the ethnic sections of larger supermarkets. I like the Cortas brand, but again, try different brands until you find the one you like the best.
Flavour and How to Use Pomegranate Molasses
Pomegranate molasses has a rich, fruity and complex, intensely tangy and sweet flavour, with underlying dark bitter notes, that complements a wide variety of ingredients and dishes. It is the main flavour in the Persian chicken stew, Fesenjān, and Muammara, a roasted red pepper and walnut dip.
You can, however, use pomegranate molasses in pretty much any dish you can think of. Add it to vinaigrettes instead of vinegar, for a tart-sweet fruit flavour. Mix together pomegranate molasses, sugar syrup and lemon juice, and top with club soda for a fresh, unusual cocktail. Add it as a glaze to roast chicken or lamb, or stir a little into barbeque sauce to add an exotic flavour to your sticky ribs. Drizzle some over ice cream or yogourt. In fact, you're only limited by your imagination when it comes to this curious ingredient!
And finally, do you know the legend behind pomegranates? It is said that Hades tricked Persephone into eating a few pomegranate seeds when she wanted to leave him. This led to him keeping her with him in the Underworld for six (though the exact number varies from story to story) months of the year. During these six months, her mother Demeter forbade anything to grow or thrive, which is the legend of how winter came about.
- 4 large pomegranates, or 2 cups of juice
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice (optional)
- Cut the pomegranates in half widthways. Use a lemon juicer to squeeze out the juice. Use enough pomegranates until you have 2 cups of juice. Alternatively, you can use 2 cups of bought pomegranate juice.
- Place the juice, sugar and the lemon juice (if using) in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle boil, until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce the heat so that the liquid is gently simmering.
- Continue to simmer for an hour, or until the liquid has reduced by just over half and the syrup is thick and gloopy. Taste and add more lemon juice if you like your pomegranate molasses tangier.
- Pour into a jar and store in the refrigerator.
Have you used pomegranate molasses in any way? Let us know in the comments, including a link to any recipes you’ve posted!