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Fruit of the Month − Pomegranate

Pomegranate

Pomegranate

Fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Subclass: Rosidae
Order: Myrtales
Family: Lythraceae
Genus: Punica
Species: P. granatum
Binomial name
Punica granatum L.
Synonyms
Punica malus Linnaeus, 1758

A pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing between five and eight meters tall. The pomegranate is mostly native to the Iranian Plateau and the Himalayas in north Pakistan and Northern India. It has been cultivated in the Caucasus since ancient times, and today, is widely cultivated throughout Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the drier parts of southeast Asia, the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe, and tropical Africa. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is now cultivated in parts of California and Arizona for juice production.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the fruit is typically in season from September to February. In the Southern Hemisphere, it is in season from March to May.

The pomegranate is a very ancient fruit, mentioned in the Homeric Hymns and the Book of Exodus. Yet, it has still to reach mainstream prominence in the commercial markets of North America and the Western Hemisphere.

Cultivars

More than 500 cultivars of pomegranate have been named, but such fruits evidently have considerable synonymy in which the same genotype is named differently across regions of the world.

Several characteristics between pomegranate genotypes vary for identification, consumer preference, preferred use, and marketing, the most important of which are fruit size, exocarp color (ranging from yellow to purple, with pink and red most common), aril color (ranging from white to red), hardness of seed, maturity, juice content and its acidity, sweetness, and astringency.

Description

The leaves are opposite or sub-opposite, glossy, narrow oblong, entire, 3-7 cm long and 2 cm broad. The flowers are bright red, 3 cm in diameter, with four to five petals (often more on cultivated plants). Some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone. The edible fruit is a berry and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size, 5-12 cm in diameter with a rounded hexagonal shape, and has thick reddish skin and around 600 seeds. Each seed has a surrounding water-laden pulp ­– the edible aril – ranging in color from white to deep red or purple. The seeds are embedded in a white, spongy, astringent pulp.

Pomegranates are drought-tolerant, and can be grown in dry areas with either a Mediterranean winter rainfall climate or in summer rainfall climates. In wetter areas, they are prone to root decay from fungal diseases. They are tolerant of moderate frost, down to about -10°C (14°F).

Punica granatum nana is a dwarf variety of P. granatum popularly used as bonsai trees and as a patio plant. It could well be a wild form with a distinct origin. The only other species in the genus Punica is the Socotran pomegranate (Punica protopunica), which is endemic to the island of Socotra. It differs in having pink (not red) flowers and smaller, less sweet fruit.

Pomegranate, arils only

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 346 kJ (83 kcal)
Carbohydrates 18.7 g
Sugars 13.7 g
Dietary fiber 4.0 g
Fat 1.2 g
Protein 1.7 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.07 mg (5%)
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.05 mg (3%)
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.29 mg (2%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.38 mg (8%)
Vitamin B6 0.08 mg (6%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 38 μg (10%)
Vitamin C 10 mg (17%)
Calcium 10 mg (1%)
Iron 0.30 mg (2%)
Magnesium 12 mg (3%)
Phosphorus 36 mg (5%)
Potassium 236 mg (5%)
Zinc 0.35 mg (3%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

Etymology

The name "pomegranate" derives from Latin pōmum "apple" and grānātus "seeded" (from grānum "grain"). This has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (e.g., German Granatapfel, Granat meaning "garnet" and Apfel meaning "apple", thus "garnet apple").

Perhaps stemming from the French word for the fruit, pomme-grenade, the pomegranate was known in early English as "apple of Grenada" – a term which today survives only in heraldic blazons. This is a folk etymology, confusing Latin granatus with the name of the Spanish city of Granada, which derives from Arabic.

The genus name Punica refers to the Phoenicians, who were active in broadening its cultivation, partly for religious reasons.

In classical Latin, where malum was broadly applied to many apple-like fruits, the pomegranate's name was malum punicum or malum granatum, the latter giving rise to the Italian name melograno, or less commonly melagrana.

Origin, cultivation, and uses

The pomegranate is native to the region of Persia and the western Himalayan range, and has been cultivated in Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, Russia, and the Mediterranean region for several millennia.

Carbonized exocarp of the fruit has been identified in Early Bronze Age levels of Jericho in Israel, as well as Late Bronze Age levels of Hala Sultan Tekke on Cyprus and Tiryns. A large, dry pomegranate was found in the tomb of Djehuty, the butler of Queen Hatshepsut in Egypt; Mesopotamian cuneiform records mention pomegranates from the mid-third millennium BC onwards.

It is also extensively grown in South China and in Southeast Asia, whether originally spread along the route of the Silk Road or brought by sea traders. Kandahar is famous in Afghanistan for its high quality pomegranates.
Although not native to Korea or Japan, the pomegranate is widely grown there and many cultivars have been developed. It is widely used for bonsai because of its flowers and for the unusual twisted bark that older specimens can attain.

The ancient city of Granada in Spain was renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period. Spanish colonists later introduced the fruit to the Caribbean and Latin America, but in the English colonies it was less at home. The pomegranate was introduced as an exotic to England in the 17th century, but the disappointment that it did not set fruit there led to its repeated introduction to the American colonies, even New England. Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771: he had them from George Wythe of Williamsburg.

Insect pests of the pomegranate include the pomegranate butterfly Virachola isocrates and the leaf-footed bug Leptoglossus zonatus.

Culinary use

After opening the pomegranate by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open, the arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membranes. Separating the red arils is easier in a bowl of water, because the arils sink and the inedible pulp floats. Freezing the entire fruit also makes it easier to separate. Another very effective way of quickly harvesting the arils is to cut the pomegranate in half, score each half of the exterior rind four to six times, hold the pomegranate half over a bowl and smack the rind with a large spoon. The arils should eject from the pomegranate directly into the bowl, leaving only a dozen or more deeply embedded arils to remove. 

The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty aril is the desired part. The taste differs depending on the subspecies of pomegranate and its ripeness. The pomegranate juice can be very sweet or sour, but most fruits are moderate in taste, with sour notes from the acidic tannins contained in the aril juice. Pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Persian and Indian cuisine, and began to be widely distributed in the United States and Canada in 2002.

Grenadine syrup is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice used in cocktail mixing. Before tomatoes (a new-world fruit) arrived in the Middle East, grenadine was widely used in many Iranian foods, and is 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).

Wild pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana (from Persian: anar+dana, pomegranate+seed), most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but also as a substitute for pomegranate syrup in Persian cuisine. Dried whole arils can often be obtained in ethnic Indian subcontinent markets. These seeds are separated from the flesh, dried for 10-15 days and used as an acidic agent for chutney and curry preparation. Ground anardana is also used, which results in a deeper flavouring in dishes and prevents the seeds from getting stuck in teeth. Seeds of the wild pomegranate variety known as daru from the Himalayas are regarded as quality sources for this spice.

Dried pomegranate arils, found in some natural specialty food markets, still contain the seed and residual aril water, maintaining a natural sweet and tart flavor. Dried arils can be used in several culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream. Chocolate covered arils, also available in gourmet food stores like Trader Joes, may be added to desserts and baked items.

In the Caucasus, pomegranate is used mainly as juice. In Azerbaijan a sauce from pomegranate juice (narsharab) is usually served with fish or tika kabab. In Turkey, pomegranate sauce, (Turkish: nar ekşisi) 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 Syria and Turkey.

In Greece, pomegranate is used in many recipes, including kollivozoumi, a creamy broth made from boiled wheat, pomegranates and raisins, legume salad with wheat and pomegranate, traditional Middle Eastern lamb kebabs with pomegranate glaze, pomegranate eggplant relish, and avocado-pomegranate dip. Pomegranate is also made into a liqueur and popular fruit confectionery used as ice cream topping or mixed with yogurt or spread as jam on toast. In Cyprus as well as in Greece and among the Greek Orthodox Diaspora, it is used to make kolliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugar, almonds and other seeds served at memorial services.

Prominence in Ayurvedic medicine

In the Indian subcontinent's ancient Ayurveda system of medicine, the pomegranate has extensively been used as a source of traditional remedies for thousands of years.

The rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree is used as a traditional remedy against diarrhea, dysentery and intestinal parasites. The seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart and throat, and classified as a bitter-astringent (pitta or fire) component under the Ayurvedic system, and considered a healthful counterbalance to a diet high in sweet-fatty (kapha or earth) components. The astringent qualities of the flower juice, rind and tree bark are considered valuable for a variety of purposes, such as stopping nose bleeds and gum bleeds, toning skin, (after blending with mustard oil) firming-up sagging breasts and treating hemorrhoids. Pomegranate juice (of specific fruit strains) is also used as eyedrops as it is believed to slow the development of cataracts.

Ayurveda differentiates between pomegranate varieties and employs them for different remedies.

Nutrients and phytochemicals

Pomegranate aril juice provides about 16% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement per 100 ml serving, and is a good source of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), potassium and polyphenols, such as tannins and flavonoids.

Pomegranates are listed as high-fiber in some charts of nutritional value. That fiber, however, is entirely contained in the edible seeds which also supply unsaturated oils. People who choose to discard the seeds forfeit nutritional benefits conveyed by the seed fiber, oils and micronutrients.

The most abundant polyphenols in pomegranate juice are the hydrolyzable tannins called ellagitannins formed when ellagic acid binds with a carbohydrate. Punicalagins are tannins with free-radical scavenging properties in laboratory experiments and with potential human effects. Punicalagins are absorbed into the human body and may have dietary value as antioxidants, but conclusive proof of efficacy in humans has not yet been shown. During intestinal metabolism by bacteria, ellagitannins and punicalagins are converted to urolithins which have unknown biological activity in vivo.

Other phytochemicals include polyphenolic catechins, gallocatechins, and anthocyanins, such as prodelphinidins, delphinidin, cyanidin, and pelargonidin. The ORAC (antioxidant capacity) of pomegranate juice was measured at 2,860 units per 100 grams.

Many food and dietary supplement makers use pomegranate phenolic extracts as ingredients in their products instead of the juice. One of these extracts is ellagic acid, which may become bioavailable only after parent molecule punicalagins are metabolized. However, ingested ellagic acid from pomegranate juice does not accumulate in the blood in significant quantities and is rapidly excreted. Accordingly, ellagic acid from pomegranate juice does not appear to be biologically important in vivo.

Potential health benefits

In preliminary laboratory research and clinical trials, juice of the pomegranate may be effective in reducing heart disease risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation. In an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2000, researchers detailed an experiment in which healthy adult men and unhealthy mice consumed pomegranate juice daily. After two weeks, the healthy men experienced increased antioxidant levels, which resulted in a ninety percent drop in LDL cholestoral oxidation. In the mice, "oxidation of LDL by peritoneal macrophages was reduced by up to 90% after pomegranate juice consumption ...".

In a limited study of hypertensive patients, consumption of pomegranate juice for two weeks was shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting serum angiotensin-converting enzyme. Juice consumption may also inhibit viral infections while pomegranate extracts have antibacterial effects against dental plaque.

Despite some positive research data, manufacturers and marketers of pomegranate juice have liberally used evolving research results for product promotion, especially for putative antioxidant health benefits. In February 2010, the FDA issued a Warning Letter to one such manufacturer, POM Wonderful, for using published literature to make illegal claims of unproven antioxidant and anti-disease benefits.

Clinical trial rationale and activity

Metabolites of pomegranate juice ellagitannins localize specifically in the prostate gland, colon, and intestinal tissues of mice, leading to clinical studies of pomegranate juice or fruit extracts for efficacy against several diseases.
In 2010, 23 clinical trials were registered with the National Institutes of Health to examine effects of pomegranate extracts or juice consumption on diseases shown below:

prostate cancer
prostatic hyperplasia
diabetes
lymphoma
rhinovirus infection
common cold
oxidative stress in diabetic hemodialysis
atherosclerosis
coronary artery disease
infant brain injury
hemodialysis for kidney disease

Symbolism

Ancient Greece

The myth of Persephone, the goddess of the Underworld, prominently features the pomegranate.

The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate.

Judaism

Pomegranates were eaten in Ancient Israel. Pomegranates were one of the fruits that the scouts brought to Moses to show that the "promised land" was fertile. The Book of Exodus describes the me'il ("robe of the ephod") worn by the Hebrew High Priest as having pomegranates embroidered on the hem.

According to the Books of Kings the capitals of the two pillars (Jachin and Boaz) that stood in front of Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem were engraved with pomegranates. It is said that Solomon designed his coronet based on the pomegranate's "crown" (calyx). 

Some Jewish scholars believe that it was the pomegranate that was the forbidden fruit of the Garden of Eden. The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible many times, including this quote from the Song of Solomon, "Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks." (Song of Solomon 4:3).

Early Christianity

In the earliest incontrovertible appearance of Christ in a mosaic, a fourth-century floor mosaic from Hinton St Mary, Dorset, now in the British Museum, the bust of Christ and the chi rho are flanked by pomegranates. Pomegranates continue to be a motif often found in Christian religious decoration. They are often woven into the fabric of vestments and liturgical hangings or wrought in metalwork.

Islam

According to the Qur'an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise (55:068). The Qur'an also mentions pomegranates twice (6:99, 6:141) as examples of good things God creates.

Hinduism

In Hinduism, the pomegranate (Sanskrit: Beejpur, literally: replete with seeds) symbolizes prosperity and fertility, and is associated with both Bhoomidevi (the earth goddess) and Lord Ganesha (who is also called Bijapuraphalasakta, or the one fond of the many-seeded fruit).

Every part of the plant (root, bark, flowers, fruit, leaves) is used for medicinal purposes in Ayurveda.

China

Introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 BCE), the pomegranate (Chinese: 石榴; pinyin: shíliu) in olden times was considered an emblem of fertility and numerous progeny. This symbolism is a pun on the Chinese character 子 (zǐ) which, as well as meaning seed also means offspring thus a fruit containing so many seeds is a sign of fecundity. Pictures of the ripe fruit with the seeds bursting forth were often hung in homes to bestow fertility and bless the dwelling with numerous offspring, an important facet of traditional Chinese culture.

David Derrick / kddc.com
Kuwaiti Danish Dairy Co. 2011

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