Pomegranate molasses is a thick syrup with a dark grapey colour. As with many Persian ingredients, it’s most often used to enhance savoury dishes with fruity flavours. What makes pomegranate molasses that bit more exciting though is its tangy, almost citric, bite meaning that the flavours it introduces to dishes are more like the sweet-sourness of preserved lemons or even tamarind, rather than the fruity-sweetness of sultanas and prunes.
The pomegranate is an ancient fruit with a rich and chequered history. It’s native to Asia Minor, and crops up in Greek Mythology – it’s the food that broke Persephone the Goddess of Spring’s fast, forcing her back to Hades for the long winter months. Many also think that it was in fact the pomegranate, also known as a ‘punic apple’ which tempted Adam and Eve in Eden.
Many think it was the pomegranate, also known as a ‘punic apple’
which tempted Adam and Eve in Eden
The pomegranate is mentioned in the Qu’ran and the Torah, and whole fruits have even been found preserved in Ancient Egyptian burial chambers. The fruit was also traded along the Silk Route – still, one of the most prolific pomegranate orchards is in the Afghan city of Kandahar. Though now pomegranates are harvested all round the world, best suited to the dry climates of Arizona, the Mediterranean and the Maharashtra state of India.
Pomegranate molasses is made from reducing fresh pomegranate juice which intensifies the fruit’s natural flavours. It’s not hard to make at home, but with the cost of shipping fresh pomegranate juice to the UK, it’s more cost-effective to buy it ready-reduced as a syrup. When scouring supermarket shelves for pomegranate molasses in the past, many may have mistakenly picked up a bottle of grenadine instead. But the pink bar syrup used to flavour cocktails is a very different ingredient, and is best kept to a Tequila Sunrise – as the sweet, sweet flavours aren’t suited to savoury cooking.
If you’ve got a little pomegranate molasses left over at home, or you’re nervous
about committing to a bottle, then don’t worry – you’re not alone
Although pomegranate molasses is a versatile ingredient, just one little look in online cooking forums show that lots of people are at a loss as to what to do with the “leftover pomegranate molasses” in their pantry. So if you’ve got a little left over at home, or you’re nervous about committing to a bottle, then don’t worry – you’re not alone. Use it as an excuse to get experimental. The thick, fluid consistency of pomegranate molasses means that it can easily be incorporated into marinades, dressings, cake mixes and drinks. Here are some ideas.
Traditional recipes are a good place to start. A fesenjan is a Persian stew made from either chicken or duck. It’s flavoured with walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and is the perfect demonstration of how pomegranate molasses’ citrus bite cuts through rich flavours.
The sticky, treacle-like consistency of pomegranate molasses means it’s also a great meat glaze. Nigel Slater uses it in a recipe for pork belly. He also demonstrates the versatility of pomegranate molasses with a Chinese-style glaze for pork ribs – mixing the molasses with mirin, soy, honey and chillies.
See Serious Eat’s recipe for a step even further away from traditional Persian recipes. They use pomegranate molasses in an American-style brisket. The cider, wine, cola and ketchup in the marinade are all unashamedly naughty ingredients you might expect in a Deep South dish. But the Middle Eastern touch of pomegranate molasses, dried prunes, apricots and cherries all bring a sweet-sourness which makes for a rich and sticky and delicious dish.
Paula Wolfert uses pomegranate molasses in a traditional mouhamara dip, which combines pepper, chilli, walnuts and cumin.
Sometimes straying from traditional recipes can reap great rewards though, so try pomegranate in other dips used in Middle Eastern mezzes. A spoonful really lifts a baba ganoush, and a swirl of pomegranate molasses atop of a bowl of homemade hummus is a great finishing touch.
Salads & Vegetables
Probably the quickest and easiest way to use pomegranate molasses is in a salad dressing. Its fruity sharpness is a great alternative to vinegars, and it’s a delicious dressing for salads containing dried or fresh fruit and nuts.
We find that a 1:3 ration of ‘pomegranate molasses: olive oil’ is a good starting point. Try a little, and then add some lemon juice if you prefer slightly sharper vinaigrettes, or a bit of honey if you’re after something sweeter.
Traditional Middle Eastern milk puddings such as sahlab or malabi are a natural partner to pomegranate molasses. This pomegranate rose-milk pudding at Food 52 is a lovely way to end a Middle Eastern-themed meal.
Stirring a little into the British equivalent – rice pudding – also makes a delicious topping. Other quick and sweet servings range from pouring a pomegranate molasses over plain meringues to drizzling it over ice cream or natural yoghurt.
How have you used pomegranate molasses in your kitchen? Do you prefer sticking to traditional Middle Eastern recipes? Or have you enjoyed getting experimental?