Pomegranate
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The Pomegranate, (Punica granatum is the botanical name), is an edible berry of the Pomegranate shrub. Pomegranates range from red to pink in color, have a rounded hexagonal shape (crowned at the base by a prominent calyx), a thick skin and are about the size of a large Lemon or small grapefruit.

Pomegranates are usually harvested and sold for their seeds (and watery pulp), which can produce between 200 - 2,400 seeds per fruit. The seeds hang in a spongy, white, sour membrane.

The name Pomegranate stems from the combination of the medieval Latin words for “Apple” (pomum) and “Seeded” (granatum). Because of the reach of Latin, the common name for Pomegranate sounds similar in many romance languages and languages from neighboring countries (“Granada”* in Spanish, “Granatapfel” or “Grenadine” in German, “Grenade” in French, “Granatäpple” in Swedish, “Pomogranà” in Venetian). An interesting side note for any of you who think that a Pomegranate looks like a military grenade, the French thought so too. French soldiers commented on the similar shapes and the explosive device took on the grenade name.

Our knowledge of exactly where the Pomegranate originated is lost to time. It is commonly believed that Pomegranates were first cultivated in Eastern Persia but they may have been native to Central Asia and domesticated independently by the Indians and the Persians around 4000 years ago and then expanded to the East and to the West by traders like the Phoenicians, who transported Pomegranates around the ancient Mediterranean world.

We do know that the carbonized exocarp of a Pomegranate has been identified in Early Bronze Age levels of Jericho in the West Bank, as well as Late Bronze Age levels of Hala Sultan Tekke on Cyprus and Tiryns. Also, 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.

Pomegranates are also mentioned in the literary and religious works of ancients and were important in their cultures. For example, Pomegranates are mentioned in the Book of Exodus (some Jewish scholars believe that the Pomegranate is the real forbidden fruit), the Koran (Pomegranates are said to grow in Paradise) and the Homeric Hymns.

Ancient Egyptians, Hindus, Greeks, Romans, Persians, Chinese and others viewed the numerous seeds contained in a Pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity, fertility and ambition. Six particular Pomegranate seeds figure prominently in the Greek myth of Persephone and Hades which attempts to explain seasonal growth cycles. In modern times the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks who traditionally give Pomegranates (symbolizing fertility, abundance and good luck) as the first house warming gift when a new home is purchased.

*The Spanish city of Granada does not take its name from the Pomegranate but instead from the Arabic name for the city “Ġarnaṭah.” 

Season

The Pomegranate season is early Fall to mid-Winter in the northern hemisphere and the opposite (March - May) in the southern.

Availability

Fresh Pomegranates are typically available from September through January in North America. Pomegranate Concentrate is available all year long. A number of companies sell Pomegranate Juice.

Cultivation

The Pomegranate comes from a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub (or small tree) that grows 16 - 26 feet (5 m - 8m) tall. Pomegranates are grown as a fruit crop and for decoration. Pomegranates are drought tolerant and can be grown in dry areas with sufficient irrigation. They can handle some frost, down to about 10˚ F (-12˚ C) and thrive on calcareous, alkaline soil and on deep, acidic loam and a wide range of soils in between these extremes. The pomegranate is both self-pollinated and cross-pollinated by insects. There is very little wind dispersal of pollen.

Production

Today, Pomegranates are cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, the Middle East and Caucasus region, northern Africa and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia and the drier parts of southeast Asia and North America.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture stopped collecting worldwide Pomegranate production figures in 1989 so it is pretty hard to find a definitive list of producers ranked by crop volume but it is reliably believed that Iran is the world leader in Pomegranate production (roughly 600,000 tons a year), followed by India, China, Turkey and the U.S. where the fruit was introduced in Georgia and California by Spanish settlers.

Pomegranate production is increasing due to the popularity of the fruit with health conscious consumers who appreciate the high level of antioxidants (polyphenols) and nutrients (sodium, potassium, iron and phosphorus). In 2007 the U.S. had 559 farms growing Pomegranates on 24,517 acres. In 2011 California alone had 30,000 acres under cultivation most of them (22,000 acres) in the San Joaquin Valley. 

California Pomegranates for the fresh market are hand-harvested in the late summer and early fall, when they reach a desirable size and color. Growers generally consider Pomegranates ready for harvest if they make a metallic sound when tapped. Pomegranates must be picked before they become too mature and crack open. Splitting is the natural means of seed release and dispersal.

Production ranges from 300 boxes to 800 boxes an acre. Some mechanical harvesters are being developed but these are typically used for picking Pomegranates that will be juiced.

Once harvested, Pomegranates are handled almost like Apples and they are quickly brought to a sorting and cooling facility where they are held in storage bins between 32˚ F and 41˚ F ( C and  C). Pomegranates can be held for up to 7 months at these temperatures (and at 80% to 85% relative humidity) where they grow juicier and more flavorful.

Fruit destined for the fresh market is washed with chlorine, rinsed with water and sorted (by culls, cracks, defects, color, size and weight). A fungicide (like Scholar) and Food Grade Wax (for visual appeal and increased storage life) may also be applied. Pomegranates are transported to market packed in 28, 25, 22 or 5 pound cardboard boxes.

Varieties

Pomegranate varieties can differ a lot in terms of fruit size, color (ranging from yellow to purple with pink and red the most common), seed color (ranging from white to red), softness of the seeds, juice content, juice color, acidity, sweetness, astringency and how early in the season they mature.

There are a number of Pomegranate with different combinations of the characteristics mentioned above. Some of the varieties include: Granada PomegranatesFoothill PomegranatesWonderful PomegranatesEarly Wonderful PomegranatesAmbrosia PomegranatesAngel Red PomegranatesEversweet PomegranatesFleishman PomegranateGanesh PomegranateGamet Sash PomegranateKashmir Blend PomegranateParfianka Pomegranate, etc.

Purchasing

Depending on the ultimate use of the Pomegranates different criteria may apply to your purchase decisions. If your Pomegranate will be part of a display or presentation, you need to take appearances into consideration much more than you will if you plan to juice the fruit.

Also, it is important to note that Pomegranates don’t “ripen” once picked. Even exposure to Ethylene Gas won’t further ripen the fruit. Fruit quality depends largely on sugar and acid content of the juice which is primarily determined by the variety of Pomegranate. Varieties with harder seeds tend to be better for juicing. Varieties with softer seeds tend to better for eating fresh.

That being said, a desirable Pomegranate should have an attractive deep colored skin without sunburn, growth cracks, cuts, bruises, and decay. The Pomegranate should be heavy for its size, since that means it contains the most juice.

Pomegranates come in a range of colors from White to Purple. The skin color and smoothness help shed light on the flavor of the fruit contained within. Sour and sour-sweet pomegranates have reddish background skin. Sweeter Pomegranates have yellowish-green background skin.

Storage

Once purchased, Pomegranates should be refrigerated. They can last 3 to 4 weeks refrigerated. The whole fruit should not be frozen but once the Pomegranate is De-seeded, the seeds can be frozen in a sealed plastic bag. The seeds should last 6 weeks in the freezer.

Culinary Uses

Pomegranates, which are 80% water, have a sweet orangey-citrus essence and can almost taste like wine. The Aril (hundreds of seeds and pulpy flesh) is consumed fresh, juiced to make Pomegranate Juice or used as an ingredient in other dishes.

Pomegranate Juice can be clear (and non-staining) through dark purple (and very staining). Similarly, the juice can be very acidic and sour to very sweet, depending on the type of Pomegranate. The skin color and smoothness help shed light on the flavor of the fruit contained within. Sour and sour-sweet pomegranates have reddish background skin. Sweeter Pomegranates have yellowish-green background skin.

Pomegranate Seeds are either hard or soft, again depending on the variety of Pomegranate in question. Hard seeded varieties are best for juicing. Al Sirin Nar Pomegranates and Kara Gul Pomegranates are thought to be some of the best Pomegranates for juicing.

Pomegranates are Juiced similar to how you might juice an orange. Cut the fruit in half and place one half onto a juicer. Alternatively, you can squeeze the half with your hand over a strainer. The useful contents of the Pomegranate are 45% to 65% juice and the Aril is even higher at 76% to 85% juice.  Modern food historians joke that Pomegranate Juice was “like the Gatorade® of the 5th Century.”

In the kitchen, Pomegranates are used as an ingredient in Sauces, in Garnishes and in cooking (Pomegranate OilPomegranate VinaigretteBlushing Pomegranate Chicken, etc.) and baking (Cakes, Glazes, etc.). They are also used for their juice, in smoothies and alcoholic beverages and to make authentic Grenadine Syrup (Pomegranate Juice sweetened with Sugar and flavored with a few drops of Lemon Juice and Orange-Flower Water not Corn Syrup and Red Dye).

Iranian Cuisine makes extensive use of Pomegranate Juice and paste and you will also find them in Southern Recipes from the U.S. In South Carolina they make a Pomegranate Jelly in the ratio of 7 ½ cups of Sugar and 1 bottle of liquid pectin for every 4 cups of Pomegranate Juice.

Portion Size

Allow 5-10 Pomegranate seeds per person.

Pairings

Bananas, Coconut, Fruit Salads, Grapefruits, Kumquat, Lemons, Lemon Zest, Lemon Juice, Limes, Lime Zest, Lime Juice, Oranges, Orange Zest, Orange Juice, Arugula, Avocados, Beets, Chile Peppers, Cucumbers, Garlic, Ginger, Legumes, Onions, Yellow Onions, Red Onions, White Onions, Shallots, Leafy Salads, Allspice, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Coriander, Cumin, Curry, Nutmeg, Parsley, Sesame Seeds, Turmeric, Granulated Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cream, Olive Oils, Walnut Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, Poultry, Chicken, Pheasant, Squab, Turkey, Quail, Fish, Round Fish, Flat Fish, Lamb, Roasted Meats, Beef Roasts, Pork, Pork Roasts, Pork Chops, Almonds, Hazelnuts, Pine Nuts, Walnuts, Molasses, Hummus, Tequila, Wines, Port Wines, Red Wines, White Wines, Couscous, Chocolate, White Chocolate, Desserts, Sorbets, Honey

Substitutes

Cranberries

Nutritional Value

Nutritional Value USDA
POMEGRANATES,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 83
%Daily Value*
 
1%
Total Fat 1g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 3mg
5%
Potassium 236mg
6%
Total Carbohydrate 18g
16%
Dietary Fiber 4g
Sugars 13g
Protein 1g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Pomegranates were a “health food” even in the ancient days. For example, the Ebers Papyrus, from around 1500 BC and one of the oldest medical texts, prescribes Pomegranate for the treatment of tapeworm. The rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree has been used as a traditional remedy for diarrhea, dysentery and intestinal parasites. Though we don’t advise it, ancient Indian literature, medieval sources and modern folklore advocate using Pomegranate Seeds and Pomegranate rind (by consumption and as a vaginal suppository) for contraception and as an abortifacient.

In the modern scientific environment, Pomegranates are found to have high levels of Antioxidants. A 3.5 ounce serving (100 g) provides 12% of the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of Vitamin C and 16% of the RDA for Vitamin K. Pomegranates also contain Polyphenols (like Ellagitannins and Flavonoids). Just a note, many supplement makers use Pomegranate phenolic extracts (like Ellagic Acid) as ingredients in their products instead of Pomegranate Juice. Research shows that Ellagic Acid from Pomegranate Juice does not accumulate in the blood in significant quantities and is rapidly excreted.

Edible Pomegranate Seeds (depends on the variety) are also a good source of Dietary Fiber and micronutrients.

Preliminary laboratory research is pointing to Pomegranate Juice as helpful in reducing heart disease risk factors such as hardening of the arteries, LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status and foam cell formation. In another study of hypertensive patients, drinking Pomegranate Juice was shown to reduce their systolic blood pressure. A third study showed that daily consumption of Pomegranate Juice over two weeks increased salivary testosterone by 24%.

Pomegranate Juice is also believed to inhibit some viral infections and has antibacterial effects versus dental plaque.

Some Pomegranate companies have jumped the gun though and are making “very liberal” health claims.

To sum it up, Pomegranate Juice shows great promise but has not been completely researched. There were 44 clinical trials registered with the National Institute of Health in 2013 that intended to study the effects of Pomegranate Juice or extracts.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

Yes

Low Calorie

Yes