Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Pomegranate Juice Taste-Off

This past Monday was unseasonably warm, clear and perfect. The kind of day that makes you forget winter is brewing up her cruel spell. A day that leads one (at least me) to walk across the Queensborough Bridge to view an endless skyline. In honor of these fleeting days of perfection POM Wonderful has declared November "National Pomegranate Month". The fruit is at its peak now, a fabulous winter beauty, so partake of her juices and be seduced.

I gathered four friends to kick-off the pomegranate festivities of the upcoming month for a blind juice taste testing (they were also wined and dined and held an election powwow). I picked up six pomegranate juice varietals that I was able to find with some ease and would hope others would just as well. We judged on bouquet, visual appeal, flavor and final analysis. Three were domestic juices; three imported. All were 100% juice, with no added sweeteners or flavors. (POM has added flavors but was used as a control for its mass-market reach. I wanted to add Naked's pomegranate juice to the tasting. This also contains flavorings and I went without it.)

It is interesting to note how many inferences to fish products came up during the tasting. I have never thought of pomegranate juice smelling like fish or the likes. I must say I am partial to Z's comment: "Ruby. If this were a J. Crew sweater it might even be the color 'pomegranate'". Make note that the three most expensive varieties are those available at Whole Foods and in the end, price and taste were not equal. Overall, the judges were split on the winner between #2 and #4 (POM and Pomegranate Juice). But really, whatever brand you prefer, know you are doing your body good. Pomegranates are high in Vitamins A, C, E, potassium and iron. They are one of the highest antioxidant containing fruits, thought to aid in good cholesterol production, reduce the bad, and even ward off cancer.

If you are to purchase pomegranate juice from a store, for overall bouquet, visual, flavor, final analysis and especially price, I beg you to save your money. The judges could not tell the winner from the leading market brand and neither will you. Vote POMEGRANATE JUICE (from Azerbaijan) on Election Day. On a serious note, nothing can compare to a real pomegranate or fresh-squeezed juice (the natural color of which is clear pinkish-rose with a slight seedy flavor). All the juices tasted are overly concentrated, and much too syrupy sweet. Interesting enough, ILG, an importer, rather than juice producer won the tasting. It had a bouquet of light, fresh pomegranates. It was the clear, garnet color we as consumers have come to expect from pomegranates. It offers a juicy, rather than seedy or earthy flavor and is palatable, rather than the bitter or tart shocks that crossed our palates on some tastings. Herewith, the lineup and bone breaking analysis (in order of random numbered, blind testing):

1) Just Pomegranate. Produced by R.W. Krudsen in California. Purchased at local organic grocery, available at Whole Foods. $6.99 for 32 oz.
2) POM Wonderful. Produced by POM Wonderful in California. Purchased at local organic grocery, available at Whole Foods. $3.99 for 16 oz.
3) Sameco. Produced by Sameco Corp. in Azerbijan. Purchased at organic grocery (not my local one). $4.50 for 25.4 oz.
4) Pomegranate Juice. Produced in Azerbijan, imported by ILG International. Purchased at regular local grocery [on a whim 1 month ago when the grocer told me "Yes, very good. You will love it". $4.99 for 33.8 oz.
5) Lakewood Pomegranate Juice. Produced by Lakewood Juices in Florida. Purchased at local organic grocery, available at Whole Foods. $9.99 for 32 oz.
6) King Pomegranate Juice (also goes by Crown). Producer/ importer unknown in Azerbijan. Purchased at local Mediterranean deli. $1.50 for 8 oz.

The Judges:
D. Juice-lover.
MK. General food disposal, and lover of fruits and vegetables.
MT. Connoisseur of all things food.
Z. Fruit-lover (thanks for the clementines).
S. Pomegranate and general food snob.

The Tastings (listed as (B)ouquet; (V)isual; (F)lavor; Final (A)nalysis):
D. (B) clam, vinegar; (V) ruddy, chalky, turbid; (F) bitter, slight tannic fruit; (A) tannic.
MK. (B) oaky, stemmy; (V) milky wine; (F) bittersweet; (A) stemmy.
MT. (B) fishy, artichoky, acidic; (V) dense; (F) not much aftertaste, bland (A) n/p.
Z. (B) pungent; (V) brown, colloid-- not clear; (F) dry aftertaste, very seedy, dries your tongue (A) n/p.
S. (B) fruity dirt; (V) earthy, purple, residual; (F) more seedy than pulp; (A) dry seedy.

D. (B) neutral distinct fruit-- "a wind through orchards"; (V) ruby strawberry; (F) juicy, slightly viscous tasty berries, fruity; (A) edge of bitter.
MK. (B) flowery, tropical; (V) my outer blood; (F) sweet, cranberry-esque; (A) initial sweetness w/ bitter tertiary.
MT. (B) fruity, less acidic, full; (V) looks like seal color, warm; (F) nice after-taste, refreshing sugary; (A) n/p.
Z. (B) cranberry juice, weak smell; (V) ruby, if this were a j. crew sweater it might even be the color "pomegranate"; (F) much sweeter, still dry though tastes like cranberry; (A) n/p.
S. (B) perfect pom match; (V) clear, deep garnet; (F) a little sweet/ syrupy but definite pure pulp; (A) Sweet.

D. (B) vinegar, rotten crabs; (V) maple syrup; (F) harsh, woody, failed fermentation; (A) n/p.
MK. (B) ruddy dirt; (V) brown water; (F) fermented bubbly; (A) winey, bitter vinegar.
MT. (B) sardines; (V) brownish-red, less dense; (F) awful aftertaste, flat than moldy; (A) n/p.
Z. (B) browner (but not -est) but clear, dark apple cider; (V) nasty; (F) similar to #1,seedy; (A) n/p.
S. (B) tart, stemmy; (V) pink-brown, slight orange, deep cider; (F) hard to swallow, tart, grimy, more stem than pulp/ seed; (A) bitter earth.

D. (B) light fruit, mild; (V) cranberry hue; (F) sweet, tasty juice, something missing; (A) more like juice.
MK. (B) juicy; (V) amber; (F) syrupy; (A) overly sweet.
MT. (B) slightly fishy, fruity, cool; (V) deeper burgundy; (F) refreshing, very good, easy aftertaste, citrusy; (A) n/p.
Z. (B) amber in light, but MK claims it is the bulbs being used; (V) weak odor, slightly sweet like honey; (F) sweet but still pomegranatey, no dry taste; (A) n/p.
S. (B) subtle pomegranate; (V) deep crystal ruby; (F) sweet cranberry trails; (A) juicy.

D. (B) strong tannic fruit, slightly displeasing; (V) most ruby, slight CTO 80; (F) grapefruit overtones, complex citrus, oaky; (A) pucker your lips.
MK. (B) flowery; (V) residual deposits, ruby wine; (F) bitter; (A) tart, too dry, bitter.
MT. (B) strong, full; (V) ruddy red; (F) lingering aftertaste, oily texture like wet meat on tongue; (A) n/p.
Z. (B) much darker, dense color; (V) like grapefruit, sweet like honey; (F) dryish, sweet w/ slight bitter aftertaste; (A) n/p.
S. (B) bitter, dry, fruity; (V) muddied red-orange; (F) sweet, subtle; (A) dry sweet.

D. pungent smelly-like pomegranate soap overtones; (V) faded red lace, rust; (F) really tart, pucker lemon; (A) accurate portrayal of the fruit.
MK. (B) ; (V) purple-brown; (F) vinegary; (A) overly bitter, dry, tart
MT. (B) anchovy, fruit; (V) oakish, deep red; (F) silky, bitter; (A) n/p.
Z. (B) very brown, Pine-Sol; (V) chemical sort of cleaning product; (F) sharp/ acrid weird seed taste, very strong; (A) n/p.
S. (B) tart, seedy; (V) marshy red-brown; (F) tart, seedy, sweet; (A) dry, tart.

*** An ammendment to the taste-off: D would like to add that after careful consideration, and tasting of the leftovers in the fridge, Just Pomegranate is "pretty darn good and close to the natural pomegranate essence," He would also like to note that they all taste good when mixed together. (Produced by R.W. Krudsen in California. Purchased at local organic grocery, available at Whole Foods. $6.99 for 32 oz.)

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