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Tasting

August 27, 1997|Charles Perry

A colleague wandered into The Times Test Kitchen when we were about to taste five brands of pomegranate molasses. "No thanks," she said and turned to leave.

"Hey, this could be the balsamic vinegar of the next decade," we urged. "You don't want to be the last to try it."

So she hesitantly stuck a finger-ful in her mouth, and then the light of understanding blossomed on her face. Pomegranate molasses is its own best advertisement.

Middle Eastern pomegranate syrup--called rob-e ana^r in Persian and dibs rumma^n in Arabic--is not the same as grenadine, that sweet syrup used in certain cocktails. It's more concentrated in flavor, and it's usually made from a tart variety of pomegranate not grown in this country. Typically it's as thick and brown as molasses.

As an ingredient, it has much the same attractive sweet-sour quality as balsamic vinegar combined with the lush fruit aroma of pomegranates. In Iran it's used for soups and certain stews, including the famous chicken in walnut-pomegranate sauce, known as fesenjan. In Armenia and Georgia they make shish kebab sauces with it.

But it has the potential for a lot more uses: on salads, with fish . . . who knows, maybe even with pasta. Will it enter the American mainstream? We hope so.

Meanwhile, pomegranate molasses is available only at Middle Eastern markets. We found the following brands at two Reseda markets, Valley Produce and Produce Plaza. The Golnaz and Sadaf brands seem to have been made from sweet American pomegranates, Golnaz cutting the sweetness by adding citric acid. The other brands contain nothing but concentrated pomegranate juice.

THE BEST

Indo European Pomegranate Molasses. Imported from Lebanon. Tart and fruity; rather sharp by itself but an excellent cooking ingredient. 10 ounces. $2.49.

Cortas Pomegranate Concentrated Juice. Imported from Lebanon. Also tart and fruity, with a real bite, and slightly bitter. 11 1/2 ounces. $2.79.

RUNNERS-UP

Mid East Pomegranate Molasses. Thinner and lighter brown in color than the others; good pomegranate aroma, nicely tart and slightly sweet. 12.7 ounces. $2.49.

Golnaz Pomegranate Concentrate. Very fruity, a little more sweet than sour. 12 ounces. $3.49.

Sadaf Pomegranate Paste. Purple, rather than brown, and very sweet; practically grenadine. Delicious, but not as suitable for cooking as other brands. Use it in desserts. 12.7 ounces. $4.19.

SOURCES

Most Southland Middle Eastern markets carry pomegranate molasses. We bought ours at Valley Produce, 18345 Van Owen St., Reseda, (818) 609-1955, and Produce Plaza, 18525 Sherman Way, Reseda, (818) 996-4555.

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