|Anardana being sold in sacks at Delhi's famed spice market Khari Boali|
"Anar" means pomegranate and "dana" means seed. Anardana refers to the dried pomegranate seeds used in Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisines. It is primarily used as a souring agent in Desi cuisines like limes, amchur, or tamarind. The pomegranate seeds are sun dried or pan roasted whole so that bits of pulp remain rendering the seeds a bit sticky with a fruity, slightly sweet and tart flavor.
|"Daru" a type of wild pomegranate growing in the Himalayas.|
(photo from fruitipedia)
The best quality anardana is said to come from a variety of wild pomegranate trees called "daru" around the Himalayan town of Shimla in the north Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. (Do not confuse the fruit "daru" with the rotgut homemade and often poisonous liquor called "Desi daru.") Anardana is commercially available whole as seen in the top photo taken at Delhi's Khari Baoli spice market or ground to a fine powder as seen in the box below of the popular Indian brand MDH.
According to celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor one can also easily make anardana by dry roasting fresh pomegranate seeds in a non stick pan until all moisture has left them. Since pomegranates are in season here in Nepal I thought I'd have a go at it.
So this is how I started out. I bought a couple of pomegranates from our local fruit and vegetable walla. I'm not sure exactly where these pomegranates came from but they certainly aren't like the pomegranates from my native California. The seeds from the pomegranates in California are a lurid red and stain your hands, mouth, and clothing that same lurid red for days. These pomegranates were a bit pale, didn't stain at all and they didn't have the sweetness that California pomegranates do either. My husband said they weren't very good quality.
At about 9 minutes into the dry roasting the seeds started popping, sort of like Mexican jumping beans. At that point I let them cool and attempted to grind them.
I ended up with this rather sticky glob. I'd say buy it ready-made rather than subject your home grinder to this sort of abuse. There wasn't much flavor to it other than a generic prune or raisin type dried fruit note. This procedure also left my nonstick pan a sticky mess, it might be interesting to do this and deglaze the pan for an interesting fruity flavored sauce for meat. To make anardana commercially in Shimla they dry the seeds and pulp on rooftops for 10 to 15 days. I think that would work much better than this dry roasting nonsense.
What does it taste like?
The commercially prepared anardana I've tasted is aggressively acidic and astringent with a mild dried fruit flavor that increases with cooking. Think powdered dried cranberries for a similar taste. Evidently the smaller wild daru pomegranates used for the commercial version contain far more tannins than the modern large sweeter cultivars grown for eating out of hand. The tannins are what makes for the sourness and astringency of true anardana.So unless you have a wild pomegranate tree or access to some wild pomegranates I'd say don't bother making your own. I've heard the flavor of anardana compared to pomegranate molasses and I can taste the similarities, but Desi anardana is far more astringent.
|"Daru" pomegranates from the Himalayas, each fruit is only 2-3 inches across|
(photo from fruitipedia)
How to use it?
Anardana is valued in Desi dishes for it's souring abilities and slightly sweet fruit flavor. Other souring agents like limes/nimbu and amchur/dried mango powder must be added at the end of the cooking process to preserve their flavor. Anardana's fruit flavor increases while it's sharpness mellows the longer it is cooked. When used sparingly in legume and vegetable dishes like curried chickpeas, dals, or parathas it can add depth and richness. In chutneys anardana is often used in large amounts and paired with the bracing heat of green chilis for a hot and tangy blast.
If you can't find anardana?
I'm of the same opinion as Madhur Jaffrey as quoted in an article in The Observer, 2003-
"I have had little luck with anardana in the West. I can buy it all right, but the seeds are dark and unyielding, nothing like the soft brown, melting seeds found in Pakistan or, indeed, in the villages of Indian Punjab. Instead I resort to lemon juice".
Actually I prefer limes/nimbu as a souring agent because I like their floral notes better than the dried fruit flavor of anardana. However, if you're really intent on getting that sweet and sour tang of anardana I'd try a dollop of pomegranate molasses stirred in towards the end of cooking.
|Our little wild pomegranate tree growing on the edge of the corn field.|
Yes, that black spot on the left is Ms. Chinger photobombing the Daru tree.