The pomegranate (/ˈpɒmᵻɡrænᵻt/), botanical name Punica granatum, is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing between 5 and 8 m tall.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the fruit is typically in season from September to February, and in the Southern Hemisphere from March to May. As intact arils or juice, pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, meal garnishes, juice blends, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages, such as cocktails and wine.
The pomegranate originated in the region of modern-day Iran and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region and northern India. It was introduced into America (Spanish America) in the late 16th century and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.
Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the Middle East and Caucasus region, north Africa and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, the drier parts of southeast Asia, and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. It is also cultivated in parts of California and Arizona. In recent years, it has become more common in the commercial markets of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
The name pomegranate derives from medieval Latin pōmum "apple" and grānātum "seeded". Perhaps stemming from the old 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.
Garnet derives from Old French grenat by metathesis, from Medieval Latin granatum as used in a different meaning "of a dark red color". This derivation may have originated from pomum granatum describing the color of pomegranate pulp or from granum referring to "red dye, cochineal".
The French term for pomegranate, grenade, has given its name to the military grenade.
A shrub or small tree growing 6 to 10 m high, the pomegranate has multiple spiny branches, and is extremely long-lived, with some specimens in France surviving for 200 years. P. granatum leaves are opposite or subopposite, glossy, narrow oblong, entire, 3–7 cm long and 2 cm broad. The flowers are bright red and 3 cm in diameter, with three to seven petals. Some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone.
The edible fruit is a berry, intermediate in size between a lemon and a grapefruit, 5–12 cm in diameter with a rounded shape and thick, reddish skin. The number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1400. Each seed has a surrounding water-laden pulp — the edible sarcotesta that forms from the seed coat — ranging in color from white to deep red or purple. The seeds are "exarillate", i.e., unlike some other species in the order, Myrtales, no aril is present. The sarcotesta of pomegranate seeds consists of epidermis cells derived from the integument. The seeds are embedded in a white, spongy, astringent membrane.
P. granatum is grown for its fruit crop, and as ornamental trees and shrubs in parks and gardens. Mature specimens can develop sculptural twisted-bark multiple trunks and a distinctive overall form. 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 can be prone to root decay from fungal diseases. They can be tolerant of moderate frost, down to about −12 °C.
Insect pests of the pomegranate can include the pomegranate butterfly Virachola isocrates and the leaf-footed bug Leptoglossus zonatus, and fruit flies and ants are attracted to unharvested ripe fruit. Pomegranate grows easily from seed, but is commonly propagated from 25– to 50-cm hardwood cuttings to avoid the genetic variation of seedlings. Air layering is also an option for propagation, but grafting fails.
P. granatum var. nana is a dwarf variety of P. granatum popularly planted as an ornamental plant in gardens and larger containers, and used as a bonsai specimen tree. It could well be a wild form with a distinct origin. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit. The only other species in the genus Punica is the Socotran pomegranate (P. protopunica), which is endemic to the island of Socotra. It differs in having pink (not red) flowers and smaller, less sweet fruit.
P. granatum has more than 500 named cultivars, but evidently has 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), seed-coat color (ranging from white to red), hardness of seed, maturity, juice content and its acidity, sweetness, and astringency.
Pomegranate is native to a region from Iran to northern India. Pomegranates have been cultivated throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and Mediterranean region for several millennia, and also thrive in the drier climates of California and Arizona.
Carbonized exocarp of the fruit 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. 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 the older specimens can attain. The term "balaustine" (Latin: balaustinus) is also used for a pomegranate-red color.
The ancient city of Granada in Spain was renamed after the fruit during the Moorish period and today the province of Granada uses pomegranate as a charge in heraldry for its canting arms.
Spanish colonists later introduced the fruit to the Caribbean and America (Spanish America), but in the English colonies, it was less at home: "Don’t use the pomegranate inhospitably, a stranger that has come so far to pay his respects to thee," the English Quaker Peter Collinson wrote to the botanizing John Bartram in Philadelphia, 1762. "Plant it against the side of thy house, nail it close to the wall. In this manner it thrives wonderfully with us, and flowers beautifully, and bears fruit this hot year. I have twenty-four on one tree… Doctor Fothergill says, of all trees this is most salutiferous to mankind."
The pomegranate had been introduced as an exotic to England the previous century, by John Tradescant the elder, but the disappointment that it did not set fruit there led to its repeated introduction to the American colonies, even New England. It succeeded in the South: Bartram received a barrel of pomegranates and oranges from a correspondent in Charleston, South Carolina, 1764. John Bartram partook of "delitious" pomegranates with Noble Jones at Wormsloe Plantation, near Savannah, Georgia, in September 1765. Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771: he had them from George Wythe of Williamsburg.
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. Freezing the entire fruit also makes it easier to separate. Another effective way of quickly harvesting the seeds 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 seeds should eject from the pomegranate directly into the bowl, leaving only a dozen or more deeply embedded seeds to remove. The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty sarcotesta is the desired part. The taste differs depending on the variety or cultivar of pomegranate and its ripeness.
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. Pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Europe, the Middle East and is now widely distributed in the United States and Canada.
Grenadine syrup long ago consisted of thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice, now is usually a sales name for a syrup based on various berries, citric acid, and food coloring, mainly used in cocktail mixing. In Europe, Bols still manufactures grenadine syrup with pomegranate. Before tomatoes, a New World fruit, 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 fesenjān, 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 (from Persian: anar + dana, pomegranate + seed), most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. Dried whole seeds 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 flavoring 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 seeds, found in some natural specialty food markets, still contain some residual water, maintaining a natural sweet and tart flavor. Dried seeds can be used in several culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream.
In the Caucasus, pomegranate is used mainly for juice. In Azerbaijan, a sauce from pomegranate juice narsharab, (from Persian: (a)nar + sharab, lit. "pomegranate wine") 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 (Greek: ρόδι, rodi) 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 as a popular fruit confectionery used as ice cream topping, mixed with yogurt, or spread as jam on toast. In Cyprus and Greece, and among the Greek Orthodox Diaspora, ρόδι (Greek for pomegranate) is used to make koliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugar, almonds, and other seeds served at memorial services.
In Mexico, they are commonly used to adorn the traditional dish chiles en nogada, representing the red of the Mexican flag in the dish which evokes the green (poblano pepper), white (nogada sauce) and red (pomegranate seeds) tricolor.
IN TRADITIONAL MEDICINE
In the Indian subcontinent’s ancient Ayurveda system of traditional medicine, the pomegranate is frequently described as an ingredient in remedies.
In folk medicine pomegranate has been thought a contraceptive and abortifacient when the seeds or rind are eaten, or when as a vaginal suppository.
A 100-g serving of pomegranate seeds provides 12% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C, 16% DV for vitamin K and 10% DV for folate (table).
Pomegranate seeds are an excellent source of dietary fiber (20% DV) which is entirely contained in the edible seeds. People who choose to discard the seeds forfeit nutritional benefits conveyed by the seed fiber and micronutrients.
Pomegranate seed oil contains punicic acid (65.3%), palmitic acid (4.8%), stearic acid (2.3%), oleic acid (6.3%), and linoleic acid (6.6%).
The most abundant phytochemicals in pomegranate juice are polyphenols, including the hydrolyzable tannins called ellagitannins formed when ellagic acid and/or gallic acid binds with a carbohydrate to form pomegranate ellagitannins, also known as punicalagins.
The red color of juice can be attributed to anthocyanins, such as delphinidin, cyanidin, and pelargonidin glycosides. Generally, an increase in juice pigmentation occurs during fruit ripening.
The phenolic content of pomegranate juice is adversely affected by processing and pasteurization techniques.
Compared to the pulp, the inedible pomegranate peel contains as much as three times the total amount of polyphenols, including condensed tannins, catechins, gallocatechins and prodelphinidins.
The higher phenolic content of the peel yields extracts for use in dietary supplements and food preservatives.
Despite limited research data, manufacturers and marketers of pomegranate juice have liberally used evolving research results for product promotion. 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 anti-disease benefits.
Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. According to the Ebers Papyrus, one of the oldest medical writings from around 1500 BC, Egyptians used the pomegranate for treatment of tapeworm and other infections.
The Greeks were familiar with the fruit far before it was introduced to Rome via Carthage. In Ancient Greek mythology, the pomegranate was known as the "fruit of the dead", and believed to have sprung from the blood of Adonis.
The myth of Persephone, the goddess of the underworld, prominently features the pomegranate. In one version of Greek mythology, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken off to live in the underworld as his wife. Her mother, Demeter (goddess of the Harvest), went into mourning for her lost daughter, thus all green things ceased to grow. Zeus, the highest-ranking of the Greek gods, could not allow the Earth to die, so he commanded Hades to return Persephone. It was the rule of the Fates that anyone who consumed food or drink in the underworld was doomed to spend eternity there. Persephone had no food, but Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds while she was still his prisoner, so she was condemned to spend six months in the underworld every year. During these six months, while Persephone sits on the throne of the underworld beside her husband Hades, her mother Demeter mourns and no longer gives fertility to the earth. This was an ancient Greek explanation for the seasons. Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s painting Persephona depicts Persephone holding the fatal fruit. The number of seeds Persephone ate varies, depending on which version of the story is told. The number ranges from three to seven, which accounts for just one barren season if it is just three or four seeds, or two barren seasons (half the year) if she ate six or seven seeds.
The pomegranate also evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into the Olympian Hera, who is sometimes represented offering the pomegranate, as in the Polykleitos’ cult image of the Argive Heraion (see below). According to Carl A. P. Ruck and Danny Staples, the chambered pomegranate is also a surrogate for the poppy’s narcotic capsule, with its comparable shape and chambered interior. On a Mycenaean seal illustrated in Joseph Campbell’s Occidental Mythology 1964, figure 19, the seated Goddess of the double-headed axe (the labrys) offers three poppy pods in her right hand and supports her breast with her left. She embodies both aspects of the dual goddess, life-giving and death-dealing at once. The Titan Orion was represented as "marrying" Side, a name that in Boeotia means "pomegranate", thus consecrating the primal hunter to the Goddess. Other Greek dialects call the pomegranate rhoa; its possible connection with the name of the earth goddess Rhea, inexplicable in Greek, proved suggestive for the mythographer Karl Kerenyi, who suggested the consonance might ultimately derive from a deeper, pre-Indo-European language layer.
In the 5th century BC, Polycleitus took ivory and gold to sculpt the seated Argive Hera in her temple. She held a scepter in one hand and offered a pomegranate, like a ‘royal orb’, in the other. "About the pomegranate I must say nothing," whispered the traveller Pausanias in the 2nd century, "for its story is somewhat of a holy mystery." In the Orion story, Hera cast pomegranate-Side (an ancient city in Antalya) into dim Erebus — "for daring to rival Hera’s beauty", which forms the probable point of connection with the older Osiris/Isis story. Since the ancient Egyptians identified the Orion constellation in the sky as Sah the "soul of Osiris", the identification of this section of the myth seems relatively complete. Hera wears, not a wreath nor a tiara nor a diadem, but clearly the calyx of the pomegranate that has become her serrated crown. The pomegranate has a calyx shaped like a crown. In Jewish tradition, it has been seen as the original "design" for the proper crown. In some artistic depictions, the pomegranate is found in the hand of Mary, mother of Jesus.
A pomegranate is displayed on coins from the ancient city of Side, Pamphylia.
Within the Heraion at the mouth of the Sele, near Paestum, Magna Graecia, is a chapel devoted to the Madonna del Granato, "Our Lady of the Pomegranate", "who by virtue of her epithet and the attribute of a pomegranate must be the Christian successor of the ancient Greek goddess Hera", observes the excavator of the Heraion of Samos, Helmut Kyrieleis.
In modern times, the pomegranate still holds strong symbolic meanings for the Greeks. On important days in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as the Presentation of the Virgin Mary and on Christmas Day, it is traditional to have at the dinner table polysporia, also known by their ancient name panspermia, in some regions of Greece. In ancient times, they were offered to Demeter and to the other gods for fertile land, for the spirits of the dead and in honor of compassionate Dionysus. When one buys a new home, it is conventional for a house guest to bring as a first gift a pomegranate, which is placed under/near the ikonostasi (home altar) of the house, as a symbol of abundance, fertility, and good luck. Pomegranates are also prominent at Greek weddings and funerals. When Greeks commemorate their dead, they make kollyva as offerings, which consist of boiled wheat, mixed with sugar and decorated with pomegranate. It is also traditional in Greece to break a pomegranate on the ground at weddings and on New Years. Pomegranate decorations for the home are very common in Greece and sold in most home goods stores.
ANCIENT ISRAEL AND JUDAISM
Pomegranates were known in Ancient Israel as the fruits which the scouts brought to Moses to demonstrate the fertility of the "promised land". 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 alternating with golden bells which could be heard as the high priest entered and left the Holy of Holies. 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. Solomon is said to have designed his coronet based on the pomegranate’s "crown" (calyx).
It is traditional to consume pomegranates on Rosh Hashana because, with its numerous seeds, it symbolizes fruitfulness. Also, it is said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. This particular tradition is referred to in the opening pages of Ursula Dubosarsky’s novel Theodora’s Gift.
The pomegranate appeared on the ancient coins of Judea. When not in use, the handles of Torah scrolls are sometimes covered with decorative silver globes similar in shape to "pomegranates" (rimmonim). Some Jewish scholars believe the pomegranate was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Pomegranates are one of the Seven Species (Hebrew: שבעת המינים, Shiv’at Ha-Minim) of fruits and grains enumerated in the Hebrew Bible (Deuteronomy 8:8) as being special products of the Land of Israel. The pomegranate is mentioned in the Bible many times, including this quote from the Songs 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). Pomegranates also symbolize the mystical experience in the Jewish mystical tradition, or kabbalah, with the typical reference being to entering the "garden of pomegranates" or pardes rimonim; this is also the title of a book by the 16th-century mystic Moses ben Jacob Cordovero.
IN EUROPEAN CHRISTIAN MOTIFS
In the earliest incontrovertible appearance of Christ in a mosaic, a 4th-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. Pomegranates figure in many religious paintings by the likes of Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, often in the hands of the Virgin Mary or the infant Jesus. The fruit, broken or bursting open, is a symbol of the fullness of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, pomegranate seeds may be used in kolyva, a dish prepared for memorial services, as a symbol of the sweetness of the heavenly kingdom.
IN THE QUR´AN
According to the Qur’an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise (55:68). The Qur’an also mentions pomegranates three times.(6:99, 6:141, 55:68)
Pomegranate, a favorite fall and winter fruit in Afghanistan, has mainly two varieties: one that is sweet and dark red with hard seeds growing in and around Kandhar province, and the other that has soft seeds with variable color growing in the central/northern region. The largest market for Afghan pomegranates is India followed by Pakistan, Russia, United Arab Emirates and Europe.
The pomegranate is one of the main fruits in Armenian culture (the others being apricot and grapes). Its juice is famous with Armenians in food and heritage. The pomegranate is the symbol of Armenia and represents fertility, abundance and marriage. For example, the fruit played an integral role in a wedding custom widely practiced in ancient Armenia: a bride was given a pomegranate fruit, which she threw against a wall, breaking it into pieces. Scattered pomegranate seeds ensured the bride future children. In Karabakh, it was customary to put fruits next to the bridal couple during the first night of marriage, among them the pomegranate, which was said to ensure happiness. It is likely that newlyweds also enjoyed pomegranate wine. The symbolism of the pomegranate is that it protected a woman from infertility and protected a man’s virility. Both homemade and commercial wine is made from pomegranate in Armenia. The Color of Pomegranates (1969) is a movie directed by Sergei Parajanov. It is a biography of the Armenian ashug Sayat-Nova (King of Song) which attempts to reveal the poet’s life visually and poetically rather than literally.
Pomegranate is considered one of the symbols of Azerbaijan. Annually in October, a cultural festival is held in Goychay, Azerbaijan known as the Goychay Pomegranate Festival. The festival features Azerbaijani fruit-cuisine mainly the pomegranates from Goychay, which is famous for its pomegranate growing industry. At the festival, a parade is held with traditional Azerbaijani dances and Azerbaijani music. Pomegranate was depicted on the official logo of the 2015 European Games held in Azerbaijan. Nar the Pomegranate was one of the two mascots of these games. Pomegranates also featured on the jackets worn by Azerbaijani male athletes at the games’ opening ceremony.
IRAN AND ANCIENT PERSIA
Pomegranate was the symbol of fertility in ancient Persian culture. In Persian mythology, Isfandiyar eats a pomegranate and becomes invincible. In the Greco-Persian Wars, Herodotus mentions golden pomegranates adorning the spears of warriors in the phalanx. Even in today’s Iran, pomegranate may imply love and fertility.
Iran produces pomegranates as a common crop. Its juice and paste have a role in some Iranian cuisines, e.g. chicken, ghormas and refreshment bars. Pomegranate skins may be used to stain wool and silk in the carpet industry.
Pomegranate Festival is an annual cultural and artistic festival held during October in Tehran to exhibit and sell pomegranates, food products and handicrafts.
The pomegranate (known as "anār" in Urdu) is a popular fruit in Pakistan. It is grown in Pakistan and is also imported from Afghanistan.
In some Hindu traditions, the pomegranate (Hindi: anār) symbolizes prosperity and fertility, and is associated with both Bhoomidevi (the earth goddess) and Lord Ganesha (the one fond of the many-seeded fruit). The Tamil name maadulampazham is a metaphor for a woman’s mind. It is derived from, maadhu=woman, ullam=mind, which means as the seeds are hidden, it is not easy to decipher a woman’s mind.
Introduced to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), 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.