The pomegranate, is a superfood with a long and rich history. Native to the East, it can be traced through historical documents as far back as 4000 B.C. The red fruit grows from pretty red flowers and is between a lemon and a grapefruit in size. The white flesh inside the thick skin is full of several hundred seeds.
The name pomegranate comes from Medieval Latin meaning “seeded apple.” It has been named in many ancient texts from the Book of Exodus in the Torah, the Quran, the Homeric Hymns, and Mesopotamian records, to name a few. The pomegranate originally came from Persia, or modern day Iran, and the western Himalayas. It has been cultivated for millennia in places such as Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Russia, and the Mediterranean region. It migrated as far east as China and Southeast Asia and was found along the Silk Road as a symbol of abundance and posterity. It is also grown extensively in Korea, Japan, and Latin America, having been introduced there by settlers or traders.
Pomegranates were highly valued in Ancient Egypt, and were part of the supply of fruits required in a pharaoh’s residence (1600 BC). It was revered enough to have been painted on walls and tombs to symbolize life after death. The pomegranate had many uses, including the fruit as food, the juice as a tonic to kill parasites, the blossom was crushed to make a red dye, and the peel was used to dye leather.
Most of us remember how Hades tempted Persephone with a pomegranate, and when she partook, it bound her to him as pomegranates symbolize the indissolubility of marriage. This is how Greek legend explains the seasons: when Persephone is in the Underworld with her husband, it is winter; when she rejoins her mother every year, we have spring.
Research and Nutritional Highlights…
The pomegranate became popular in the Middle Eastern civilizations 6000 years ago largely because its dense nutrition and juice provided sustenance for long journeys. The superfood status of the pomegranate has only grown in modern times as nutritional research has come to decipher and understand the true power of the pomegranate’s phytonutrients. India’s Ayurvedic medicine has used pomegranates as a source for traditional remedies for thousands of years. For example, the bark of the tree and the fruit rind is used to stem diarrhea, dysentery, bladder problems, mouth ulcers, and intestinal parasites while the seeds and juice are considered a tonic for the heart.
The seeds in their casings, or arils, are the most desired part of the pomegranate, and they are consumed raw. Pomegranate juice can be sweet or sour depending on the variety, but most are moderate with some astringent notes due to the acidic tannins. Pomegranates are rich in vitamin C, pantothenic acid, potassium, flavonoids, and other natural phenols such as ellagitannins, a powerful antioxidant. The pomegranate also has unsaturated oils, fiber, and many additional micronutrients, if you eat the seeds.
Some miscellaneous uses of pomegranates many may not know include that it is often used as a bonsai tree and that pomegranate juice is sweetened and thickened to make grenadine syrup for cocktails.
Current research underway includes studies on how pomegranate components affect diseases such as diabetes, cancer, rhinovirus, the common cold, coronary artery disease, kidney disease, and brain injury.