The pomegranate is a species of fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5-8 m tall.
The pomegranate is believed to have originated in the area from Iran east to northern India, but has been cultivated around the Mediterranean for so long (several millennia) that its true native range is not accurately known. The ancient city of Granada in Spain was renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period. It is also extensively grown in South China and in Southeast Asia, and could have been brought by sea traders, assuming the pomegranate was not native to the Pacific coast. Missionaries from Spain are also said to be the source for the pomegranate's introduction into the Caribbean and Latin America during the 1700-1800's.
Pomegranates and symbolism
Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates were woven onto the borders Hebrew priestly robes. 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 described pomegranates depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. In a later tradition Citation needed the pomegranate's 613 seeds corresponded with the 613 mitzvot of the Torah. Some Jews traditionally eat pomegranates on Rosh HaShanah and Sukkot.The pomegranate gave its name to the grenade from its shape and size (and the resemblance of a pomegranate's seeds to a grenade's fragments), and to the garnet from its colour.
The arils (seed casings) of the pomegranate are consumed raw. The entire seed is eaten, though the fleshy outer portion of the seed is the part that is desired. The taste differs depending on the variety of pomegranate and its state of ripeness. It can be very sweet or it can be very sour or tangy, but most fruits lie somewhere in between, which is the characteristic taste.
For an interesting analysis of the amount of arils in a pomegranate see: http://www.aquaphoenix.com/misc/pomegranate/ where the authors compared various species from different locations to come to the conclusion that the average pomegranate has abut 613 arils.
Pomegranate juice is a popular drink in the Middle East, and is also used in Iranian and Indian cuisine; it began to be widely marketed in the US in 2004.
Pomegranate concentrate is used in Syrian cuisine. Grenadine syrup is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice; it is used in cocktail mixing. Before the tomato arrived to the Middle East, grenadine was widely used in many Persian foods; it can still be found in traditional recipes. The juice can also be used as an antiseptic when applied to cuts.Pomegranate seeds are sometimes used as a spice.One pomegranate delivers 40% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement. It is also a rich source of folic acid and of antioxidants.
Cold pressed pomegranate seed oil which is a source of Omega 5 and Punicic acid has mystified researchers because of its multiple potential medicinal and health related properties. It is used by several pioneers in the nutraceuticals industry to create vitamin like recipes and by an award wining company to formulate exquisite skin care. The pomegranate seed oil carries ORAC values which top the list of the ORAC chart.
The genus name, Punica is named after the Phoenicians, who were active in spreading its cultivation, partly for religious reasons. Its species name granatum derives from the Latin adjective granatus, meaning 'granular' (because of the fruit's seeds/grana). However, in classical Latin the species name was malum punicum or malum granatum, where "malus" is an apple. This has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (eg German Granatapfel, seeded apple). Even "pomegranate" itself has this meaning - pomus is Latin for apple.Another widespread root for "pomegranate" is the Egyptian and Semitic rmn. Attested in Ancient Egyptian, in Hebrew rimmôn, and in Arabic rummân, this root was brought by Arabic to a number of languages, including Portuguese (romã), and Kabyle rrumman.The tree is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5-8 m tall. 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 diameter, with five petals (often more on cultivated plants).The fruit is between an orange and a grapefruit in size, 7-12 cm diameter with a rounded hexagonal shape, has a thick reddish skin and many seeds. The edible part is the brilliant red seed pulp surrounding the seeds.Although it was previously given its own family Punicaceae, recent genetic evidence shows that Punica granatum may be a member of the family Lythraceae. The only other species in the Punicaceae genus, Socotra Pomegranate Punica protopunica, is endemic on the island of Socotra. It differs in having pink (not red) flowers and smaller, less sweet fruit.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.
The pomegranate, Punica granatum.Health Benefits
Pomegranates are high in polyphenols. The most abundant polyphenols in pomegranate are hydrolysable tannins, particularly punicalagins, which have been shown in many peer-reviewed research to be the superior antioxidant responsible for the free-radical scavenging ability of pomegranate juice.Many food and dietary supplement makers have found the advantages of using pomegranate extracts instead of the juice (which has no sugar, calories, or additives) as healthy ingredients in their products. As far as pomegranate extracts go, however, it may be advisable to stick with ingredients standardized to native constituents, as these are absorbed into the body, and have benefits backed by clinical research.Many pomegranate extracts are esentially ellagic acid, which is largely a by-product of the juice extraction process, and is not absorbed into the body. Other pomegranate extracts are described as 'punicosides', a new term invented by a clever marketing team and not found in any peer-reviewed journals.
It may be advisable to look for finished products which have pomegranate ingredients that are backed by their own clinical science, standardized to punicalagins, and are of reputable quality.