Discovering Dalyan - The Delicious Pomegranates of Turkey
While tourism contributes the most to the local economy of Dalyan, there is one other trade that the area has always relied on; agriculture. In fact, Dalyan was a hub of fishing and farming long before tourists discovered the sleepy town. In Turkish, the town’s name, Dalyan, translates as ‘fishing weir’, the name given to the obstructions placed wholly or partially across a river in order to direct the passage of fish, to trap them and catch them. The fishing weirs in Dalyan can still be seen in certain parts of the delta which leads out to the Mediterranean Sea. Agriculturally, the area relied on the land for the cultivation of olives and citrus fruits, which can still be found in fields around Dalyan and across the river towards Kaunos and Çandır.
Cotton cultivation, which remains a big money maker in the east of Turkey, once filled the land surrounding Dalyan and cotton trees once lined the road from Dalyan down to Iztuzu Beach. However, as the government pulled back on supporting the cultivation of cotton and farmers began to find it more difficult to make money, they looked elsewhere for something profitable. Along came Dalyan’s world famous pomegranates. Of course, with many endeavours in Dalyan, once one started to do it and make a success of it, so followed everybody else. It was not long before every cotton field in Turkey had been replaced with pomegranate trees. There are currently 189 million pomegranate trees in Dalyan, cultivated in three and a half million square metres of land.
Dalyan's Distinctive Pomegranate Trees
In 2005, the term ‘superfood’ began to be thrown around in the food industry, which initiated a huge surge in demand for anything that seemed to have incredible life changing health benefits. Pomegranates was one of these foods; suddenly the agricultural trade in Dalyan was hitting new highs. In 2007, the marketing of products as ‘superfoods’ was prohibited in the EU unless the claim was supported by credible scientific research and evidence. Before this, the ‘superfoods’ category was forecast to become a billion dollar global industry by 2011, but as the fad began to die out and health miracles were left unfounded, sales began to decline drastically. Luckily for Dalyan, while he sale of rare fruits such as noni, seabuckthorn, mangosteen and acai began to decline, consumer interest in new products using pomegranate remained consistent through 2013.
Sadly though, all good things seem to come to an end and whether you want to blame it on the decline of ‘superfoods’ or the over supply of the fruit in Dalyan to a lack of demand outside of Turkey, Dalyan’s pomegranate trade has steadily begun to drop. In the past couple of years, trucks of burning pomegranates at the end of the season have become all too familiar a sight. Dalyan is simply producing far too many pomegranates. However, widespread and colourful trees adorning the surroundings and the sale of all too delicious pomegranates juice is just a part of what makes Dalyan so beautiful; a fruit that will always be synonymous with Dalyan’s land.
Growing Pomegranate Fruits in May
The Pomegranate Tree
The pomegranate originated in the region of modern day Iran and has been cultivated since the ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region and northern India. In Turkey, the tree has been cultivated for over a thousand years. Perfect for Dalyan’s long, hot and dry summers, pomegranates are drought-tolerant and thrive in a Mediterranean climate. Pomegranates are a fruit bearing deciduous shrub or small tree in the family Lythraceae and they grow between 5 and 8 metres tall. The trees have multiple spiny branches and are extremely long lived, with some specimens surviving for 200 years. Mature specimens can develop multiple sculptured twisted-bark multiple and a distinctive overall form which is immediately recognisable.
Sculptured, Twisted Bark and Multiple Spiny Branches
The flowers that the trees produce are bright red and approximately 3cm in diameter, with three to seven petals. You will see these flowers bloom in March and April before they start to turn to fruits in May. Most pomegranates are self-fruitful, meaning they do not require another tree to cross pollinate with as the bees do all the work. Planting another pomegranate nearby does increase fruit production on both trees, which is why you will see them planted quite close together. The flowers of a pomegranate are so beautiful that some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone. It is well worth looking out for the pomegranate trees at the beginning of the tourist season to take in their beauty.
Stunning Pomegranate Flowers
Well known varieties of pomegranate are grown in Turkey, the Hicaz, Wonderful and Caner. the Hicaz is the most produced and most consumed in Turkey and is probably the variety you will drink in Dalyan. The Hicaz and Wonderful are quite similar, although the Wonderful is sweeter. In the Northern Hemisphere, the fruit is typically in season from September to February and the taste differs depending on the variety of the pomegranate and its ripeness. In Dalyan, the pomegranates are harvested in October, though usable before that if you wanted to take some home with you.
While I was in Dalyan, I was fortunate enough to visit the pomegranate farm of local man Gürsel Kocaöz whose family were once cotton farmers but turned to pomegranates in 2001. Please do watch the short film about his family and his business, he gives some insightful information about the cultivation and harvest of pomegranates and the ups and downs of the trade in Dalyan.
A Short Film With Dalyan's Gürsel Kocaöz About his Pomegranate Farm
The Symbolism of the Pomegranate
In Turkey, the pomegranate is known as the “fruit of illusions”, it looks like a perfect sphere to the human eye, but actually has a hexagonal shape. The pomegranate used to hold a special symbolic value for the Ottoman society as well. “The existence of many within the single” has been especially popular as a recurring theme in various Ottoman artistic creations. However, across the ages, for thousands of years and in many, many cultures, because of the multiple seeds it contains within a single husk, the pomegranate has been a symbol of abundance and fertility. In Turkey, it is believed that if a ripe pomegranate is broken on the doorstep of newlyweds, allowing its seeds got spread, it will ensure richness in the couple’s life together and ensure them a large family. The people of Greece and Armenia do something similar and it is also believed in Azerbaijan, Persia and Iran.
Broken Pomegranates Bring Abundance and Fertility
The pomegranate has a rich history in Ancient Greek mythology. The pomegranate was once known as the “fruit of the dead”, believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis, however in contrast, pomegranates were offered to Demeter, goddess of the harvest and agriculture and to other gods for fertile land and for the spirits of the dead and in honour of compassionate Dionysus, god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, theatre, religious ecstasy and of course, fertility. In modern times, the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meaning to the Greeks. When one buys a new home, it is conventional for a house guest to bring a pomegranate as a first gift, which is then placed under or near the home altar of the house as a symbol of abundance, fertility and good luck.
The edible fruit is a berry and its size is placed somewhere between a lemon and a grapefruit. The number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400 and are used intact or as juice in cooking, baking, meal garnishes, juice blends, smoothies and alcoholic beverages such as cocktails and wine. After the pomegranate is opened by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open, the seeds are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membranes. Separating the seeds is easier in a bowl of water because the seeds sink and the inedible pulp floats. The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty sarcotesta is the desired part.
Hundreds of Seeds Fill a Pomegranate
Pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Europe, the Middle East and is now widely distributed in the US and Canada. Pomegranate juice can be sweet or sour, but most fruits are moderate in taste, with sour notes from the acidic tannins contained in the juice. In Turkey, it is the most popular fruit juice and is sold in abundance all over the country, but particularly in regions where the fruit is cultivated, such as Dalyan.
Uses in Cooking
Before tomatoes arrived in the Middle East, pomegranate juice, molasses and vinegar were widely used in many Iranian foods and are still found in traditional recipes such as ‘fesenjan’, a thick sauce made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts, usually spooned over duck or other poultry and rice, and in ‘ash-e anar', pomegranate soup. Pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana, most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Dried seeds can be used in several culinary applications such as trail mix, granola bars or as a topping for salad, yoghurt or ice cream.
In Turkey, pomegranate sauce is used as a salad dressing, to marinate meat, or simply to drink straight. Pomegranate seeds are also used in salads and sometimes as garnish for desserts such as güllaç. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is used in muhammara, a roasted red pepper, walnut and garlic spread popular in Turkey and Syria.
If reading this article has made you salivate as much as it has me as I have been writing it, why not try out some of these recipes using the mystical “fruit of illusions”? In fact, why not pop over to Dalyan and bring home a few fresh and delicious pomegranates before you do??
Cucumber and feta bites with dill and pomegranate - The perfect snack or canapé
Ingredients - 1 cucumber, 75g feta cheese drained, 1 tbsp chopped fresh dill, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 3 tbsp pomegranate seeds.
Top, tail and then peel the cucumber. Cut into 1.5-2cm/¾in thick slices to give about 16-18 in total. Using a melon baller, small teaspoon or a ¼ teaspoon measuring spoon, scoop out enough of the seeds from the middle to give a cup that has a border about 5mm thick, making sure you don’t go right down to the bottom. Arrange them on a large platter and set aside.
Break the feta cheese into a small bowl and mash it with a fork until as smooth as possible. Add the dill and season with the pepper (but no salt as feta is already salty), stirring everything together well. Divide the feta cheese mixture between the cucumber cups. Arrange a little pile of pomegranate seeds on top of each one and serve.
Lemon and Pomegranate Couscous - A great low calorie meal alone or served with chicken
Ingredients - 1 large or 2 small pomegranates, 200g couscous, 250ml of chicken stock or water, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, juice of 2 lemons, 6 tbsp olive oil, 4 tbsp chopped fresh mint or coriander.
Cut the pomegranates in half and scoop out the seeds using a teaspoon and remove the white membrane around the seeds.
Place the couscous in a bowl. Pour the boiling stock or water onto the couscous and and mix in the olive oil and lemon juice. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Cover tightly with clingfilm and allow the couscous to sit in a warm place for 5-10 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed. Remove the clingfilm and fluff the grains with a fork. Allow the couscous to cool completely.
Stir the chopped herbs and pomegranate seeds into the couscous. Add more olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs to taste.
Syrup and Molasses - Great as a salad dressing or as a base for a marinate or glaze
Ingredients - 4 cups of pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
For Syrup: Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 1/2 cups, approximately 50 minutes. It should be the consistency of syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
For Molasses: Place the pomegranate juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the mixture has reduced to 1 cup, approximately 70 minutes. It should be the consistency of thick syrup. Remove from the heat and allow to cool in the saucepan for 30 minutes. Transfer to a glass jar and allow to cool completely before covering and storing in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
Here are some links to some fabulous main dishes featuring the pomegranate.
With all of these delicious recipes and with so many more to explore, it is surprising that nobody in Dalyan has yet thought to open a pomegranate restaurant! Also, who'd be up for a pomegranate festival? Come on Dalyan!
Many thanks to Gürsel Kocaöz for his time, pomegranate wisdom and hospitality. I would also like to extend my thanks to Fırat Kurt from Kordon Restaurant and Faye Rogan, Dalyan's Newest Author, for their time and translation skills!