Sweet and tangy pomegranate molasses is an essential and transformative ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. It's used in a variety of recipes and adds a bright, tangy and sweet flavour, which is often the perfect contrast to warm spices. It may not always be easy to find depending on where you live, so I'm going to walk you through how to make it at home. Luckily, as an Iraqi, I have grown up drizzling this on everything, so you're in good hands.
What is Pomegranate Molasses?
Pomegranate molasses is simply a reduction of pomegranate juice. Reducing the juice until it is dark, thick and syrupy produces a molasses that is tangy and sweet. It has been used for centuries in middle eastern cuisine to add depth and tangy contrast to warm flavour notes. In Arabic, it is called "dibs rumman".
It is preferably made from 100% pomegranate juice. But depending on the season and the flavour of the pomegranate you have, you may need to help it along with a bit of added sugar and lemon juice.
It is readily available at most Middle Eastern grocery stores or grocery stores that have international cuisine aisles. If you see it, grab it! Store bought pomegranate molasses (at typically $6-$10 per bottle in Canada) is delicious and much easier to have on hand. However, if you don't have access to it, it's absolutely worth making at home.
How Pomegranate Molasses is Used in Middle Eastern Cuisine
Many regions in the middle east prefer a sweet and tangy flavour profile in savoury dishes. The best example is Iraq, the country where I am from. We absolutely love sweet and sour flavours, and we tend to use pomegranate molasses in classic dishes like dolma.
It is also added to many lamb or beef stews, in small quantities (a tablespoon or so), to cut through the richness of these stews. A great example is Iraqi okra stew, or sheikh al mahshi, which are both not complete without pomegranate molasses.
One of the most classic ways to use it is in salad dressings, like the one I make regularly for my classic arabic salad. It is also added to fattoush and to bulgur salads. It does double duty in a dressing; providing both the tanginess in place of vinegar and the sweetness in place of honey. When I'm short on time, it is often the only thing I drizzle on chopped veg for a quick fix.
I love using it as part of a marinade for chicken, like in these pomegranate chicken drumsticks as well as these pomegranate air fryer wings. It also works great with fish, and perfect to drizzle into ground beef kofta mixtures, especially for arayes and lahm bi ajeen.
Finally, feel free to drizzle it over roasted fall vegetables like squash, sweet potato, and carrots for a bright contrast. And add a few tablespoons to sparkling water and some lemon juice for a refreshing summer drink.
Fresh vs. Bottled Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranate Molasses is easy to make at home, you just need pomegranate juice and some time. It can be made with either fresh pomegranate juice or store bought. I tested this recipe using both, and here are my thoughts on each method:
Bottled Pomegranate Juice: Using bottled juice saves a lot of time de-seeding and juicing fresh pomegranate. Make sure you find juice that is 100% pomegranate juice with no added sugar. The result from bottled juice is a dark, thick and stick molasses. Taste wise - it was very similar to the fresh one.
Fresh Pomegranate Juice: It is a tedious task to de-seed enough pomegranates (you usually need 8-10 to make 4 cups of juice) for the molasses. However, if the pomegranates are in season and very tangy, it could end up more flavorful. The final result is a much brighter pomegranate molasses.
Mine also turned out less smooth due to residual pulp left after straining. It's sweetness also depends on how ripe the pomegranates are or the time of season. This is why in the instructions, the sugar is variable so you can control the sweetness depending on how sweet your pomegranate is.
The verdict: I recommend a high quality bottled juice because it is much faster and the taste was very similar (especially when using sugar and lemon juice to balance the flavours).
Juicing Fresh Pomegranates
In trying to figure out how to get the maximum amount of juice from fresh pomegranates, I resorted to blending them, which was great at getting all the juice out. But blending also blends up the tiny seeds in the arils until they were so tiny that even my sieve could not catch them.
In hindsight I should have used a cheesecloth or a very fine sieve in order to get a completely smooth, seed free juice, but alas, we live and we learn. I cannot promise that your cheesecloth won't come out stained with pomegranate juice but it will be seed free!
The blender remains the most effective way to juice the pomegranate seeds. Using those juicers that press the fruit down ends up leaving behind way too many seeds un-juiced.
How to Make Pomegranate Molasses Two Ways
Now that you know it can be made with using either bottled or fresh juice, it's time to go through how to actually do it! If using bottled juice you can skep ahead past the juicing of the fresh pomegranates. Make sure the bottled juice you are using is pure pomegranate juice with no sugar or other juices added.
How to De-Seed and Juice a Pomegranate
Start by carefully slicing off the crown of the pomegranate just until you start to see the seeds. Do not cut too deeply, otherwise you may splatter yourself with pomegranate juice.
TIP: Be warned that pomegranate juice will stain! Make sure you keep it away from your countertops and any cooking vessels that will stain (and do not get it on your white curtains like I did. Don't ask me how!).
Following the pattern of the white membrane or pith, slice down along the lines made by it. Generally it makes a star shaped pattern and there's usually 4 or 5 membrane lines going around. Carefully pry the pieces open until all the pomegranate seeds or arils are showing.
Fill a large bowl halfway with water, place a section of the pomegranate so the seeds are under the water. Gently start separating the seeds from the pith and the skin with your hands while it is under water.
This method prevents pomegranate juice splashing onto your counters, your shirt or in my case, curtains! Repeat with each piece of pomegranate.
Continue de-seeding all the remaining pomegranates. Another benefit of doing this in a bowl of water is that any white pith will float to the top. You can scoop that out and discard.
Another method that some use to de-seed pomegranate is the spoon method. Simply take your pieces of pomegranate, hold them upside down over a bowl and tap the back firmly with a spoon to let the seeds fall out. I still prefer the water in the bowl method, which guarantees no splatter.
Drain them, and go over them once more to ensure no large pieces of pith are left, this will make the juice taste bitter.
In a large blender, add the pomegranate arils and blend until it becomes a mostly smooth mixture, this may take awhile. It won't be completely smooth but that is fine, we will strain them in the next step.
Why not just use a juicer? Unfortunately a juicer is not the most effective way to get juice from a pomegranate, a lot of the juice does not come out and is still in the seed so I recommend a blender.
Place the juice and all the pulp in a strainer set over a bowl. Use a spatula to press the pulp down to get as much juice out as possible.
Here's where I make my mistake. I only use a fine mesh strainer. It is not fine enough to get the tiny bits of seed that are in the blender. So next time I would definitely use a cheesecloth or a very fine strainer in order to get all those bits out. The end product was still tasty but the texture was not as smooth as I like it to be.
After blending we have a beautifully vibrant juice! I mean look at that colour, it's gorgeous! That's the advantage of fresh juice, the colour is just so much more bright.
You could stop here by the way and just chug the juice. Fresh pomegranate juice is very popular in Iraq, sold by street vendors. But we shall continue!
Making Pomegranate Molasses
Here is where we get cooking! If you are using bottled juice, welcome back, you can join us from here on out. Add the pomegranate juice, the sugar and the lemon juice to a medium sized saucepan.
Use the lowest amount of sugar listed, stir everything together, then taste and adjust. Keep in mind that the flavours will deepen and become stronger as it cooks down. Simmer over low heat.
Important: Keep the mixture over a low heat and only allow it to gently simmer. Do not allow it to boil, otherwise the flavour have more of a 'cooked' flavour which is not as pleasant.
After simmering for 1 to 2 hours (depending on your quantity) you will have this gorgeously thick and viscous syrup. Check on it after 45 minutes to an hour, and you'll notice most of the liquid has evaporated. Continue to simmer until it can coat the back of a spoon and has thickened to a drizzling consistency.
The colour and flavours will have deepened and once cooled, transfer to an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator for 4-6 months. It is ready to use in all your favourite Middle Eastern dishes!
Once the syrup is cooled, it's best to store it in an air tight jar. I typically keep my store bough pomegranate molasses in my pantry, even after opening. But if you want to prolong its life, store it in the fridge and it will be good to use for 4-6 months.
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Homemade Pomegranate Molasses and How To Use It
Using Bottled Juice:
- 1 litre pomegranate juice 1000 ml
- ¼ cup lemon juice 45 ml
- 50-100 grams granulated sugar add and adjust as needed
Using Fresh Juice:
- 8 large pomegranates yields 4 cups of juice (approx. 1L)
- ¼ cup lemon juice 45 ml
- 50-100 grams granulated sugar add and adjust as needed
For the fresh juice (if using)
- Lightly peel the crown of the pomegranates with a small sharp knife until you can start to see the seeds inside
- With the knife, cut crosswise into the pomegranate along the membrane lines made by the white pith and pull it apart into roughly 4 sections
- In a large bowl filled with water halfway, scoop the seeds out of the pomegranate shell while in the water and into the bowl. The white pith will float to the top, allowing you to discard it and be left with just the seeds
- Alternatively, hold the pieces of pomegranate with the seeds facing the a clean bowl and hit the back of it with a spoon into the bowl. The seeds will fall into the bowl
- Strain the seeds from the water and transfer to a large blender. Blend until smooth.
- Pour the blended pomegranates over a mesh strainer lined with a cheesecloth in order to remove all the small seeds, or use a very fine mesh strainer.
To Make the Pomegranate Molasses
- Transfer either the fresh juice if using or the bottled pomegranate juice to a medium sized saucepan. Add the lemon juice and lower amount of sugar listed for each option. Taste and adjust the sugar, keep in mind that the flavour will intensify.
- Allow the mixture to come to a simmer over low heat. It is important that the mixture does not come to a rapid boil as that will make the pomegranate molasses taste overcooked and flavour will not be as vibrant.
- Keep the mixture at a low simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- The pomegranate molasses is ready once it has reduced down to a thick syrup that easily coats the back of a spoon.
- Cool and store in a clean air tight jar in the fridge for 4-6 months.
- Using fresh pomegranate juice yields a much brighter colour. But it is more labor intensive to de-seed all the pomegranates.
- Use the sugar and lemon juice sparingly if the pomegranate is in season and naturally tangy and sweet. You can also skip them completely, depending on the intensity of the pomegranate flavour.
- If using bottled juice, make sure it is 100% pomegranate juice.
- Make sure you do not boil the pomegranate juice, and only gently simmer to avoid an unpleasant "cooked" flavour.