Pomegranates store rich flavour in their deep red flesh and crunchy jewel-like seeds - and they are a tonic for a healthy heart.
With its sweetness tempered by a pleasantly bitter, slightly tannic astringency, in my book, no drink is more restorative than fresh pomegranate juice. Extracting that precious garnet juice from the jewel-like seeds of this orb-shaped fruit can be fiddly, so don't wear white, but it rewards you with a concentrated flavour that sweetened, watered down, pasteurised pomegranate "juice drinks" can never rival. And of course, sparkling pomegranate seeds bring flashes of vivid colour and a crunchy texture that brightens up everything from grain-based dishes through to salads.
The small, pink cosmetically pretty pomegranates with smooth, shiny skins usually have relatively insipid, pale juice. For ripeness and copious amounts of deeper-coloured juice, choose larger, maturer fruits with darker, drier, more matt skin that is beginning to sink in slightly at the sides.
Why is pomegranate good for me?
Studies suggest pomegranate juice is anti-inflammatory, and a substantial body of research now supports the idea that it can help prevent heart disease. It seems to cleanse the circulatory system by helping to unclog the arteries, prevent blood clotting, increase oxygen flow to the heart and lower blood pressure. This action may be down to the ellagitannin compounds (granatin B and punicalagin) that pomegranate juice contains in abundance - these are thought to reduce heart disease risks - but the presence of vitamins C and E may also play a part.
Research also suggests that drinking fresh pomegranate juice can also inhibit viral infections, and pomegranate extracts have been shown to have antibacterial effects against dental plaque.
Where to buy and what to pay
The juiciest and most intense pomegranates on sale in the UK come from Turkey and Iran. Guide price for one: £1.39-£1.50. You'll find the biggest and best ones in Middle Eastern shops.
Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Satsuma, goat's cheese and chicory salad with pomegranate dressing
Pomegranates and satsumas come into season around the same time and make very good partners, with their different types of sharp and sweet. This salad is ideal for lunch on cold, sunny days with some warm bread - a flatbread or pitta goes especially well. My best friend's mum would keep her kids quiet for ages by giving them a quarter of a pomegranate and a pin and leaving them to pick out the seeds individually - hours of concentration!
6 satsumas, peeled, unpithed and sliced into 3-4mm slices
1 small red onion, peeled, very finely sliced
2 heads fennel, trimmed and very finely sliced (keep the fronds)
200g soft goat's cheese
3 heads chicory, outside leaves discarded, divided into leaves, washed and dried
A small bunch of chives, finely chopped
For the dressing
Juice and seeds of 1 large pomegranate
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1.5 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 Make the dressing first. Cut the pomegranate in half and then one half in half again. Squeeze the 2 quarters through a sieve into a bowl. Add the red wine vinegar, honey, salt and pepper and slowly whisk in the oil.
2 Now mix the satsuma pieces and finely sliced onion together with a pinch of salt to let the onion soften.
3 Turn the other pomegranate half cut-side down on to a board and tap it with a rolling pin to dislodge the seeds. Remove any white membranes and add the seeds to the onions and satsumas. Crumble in the goat's cheese and carefully mix in the fennel.
4 In another bowl put the chicory leaves, chives and a little seasoning. Dress them with some vinaigrette. Arrange the chicory leaves on 4 plates and scatter the rest of the salad over the top. Finish with more dressing.
Rosie Sykes is head chef of Fitzbillies and co-author of The Kitchen Revolution (Ebury Press, £25). To order a copy for £19.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Photo: Pomegranate: good for your heart and could help prevent infection. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian