The pomegranate /ˈpɒmɨɡrænɨt/, botanical name Punica granatum, is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing between 5 and 8 m (16–26 ft) 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 is considered to have 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 Latin America 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, and the drier parts of southeast Asia. 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.[
tymology and terms for pomegranate in other languages
An opened pomegranate
The name pomegranate derives from medieval Latin pōmum "apple" and grānātum "seeded". This has influenced the common name for pomegranate in many languages (e.g. granada in Spanish, Granatapfel or Grenadine in German, grenade in French, granatäpple in Swedish, gránátalma in Hungarian, and pomogranà in Venetian). Mālum grānātus, using the classical Latin word for apple, gives rise to the Italian name melograno, or less commonly melagrana.
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.
The genus name Punica refers to the Phoenicians, who were active in broadening its cultivation, partly for religious reasons.
Garnet comes from Old French grenat by metathesis, from Medieval Latin granatum, here used in a different meaning: "of a dark red color". This meaning perhaps originated from pomum granatum because of the color of pomegranate pulp, or from granum in the sense of "red dye, cochineal".
The French term grenade for pomegranate has given its name to the military grenade. Soldiers commented on the similar shape of early grenades and the name entered common usage.
While most European languages have cognate names for the fruit, stemming from Latin granatum, exceptions are the South Slavic languages,who call it šipak or nar, which is derived from the Persian anaar (انار). There is also the Albanian word shega, and the Portuguese term romã which is derived from Arabic rumman (رمان), and has cognates in other Semitic languages (e.g. Hebrew rimmon) and Ancient Egyptian rmn.
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.
Pomegranate blossom before petal fall
Pomegranate sepals and drying stamens after fertilization and petal fall
Unripened pomegranate fruit on a small tree in India
A pomegranate fruit
The edible fruit is a berry, between a lemon and a grapefruit in size, 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 seeds. 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.
Illustration by Otto Wilhelm Thomé, 1885
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 (10 °F).
Insect pests of the pomegranate can include the pomegranate butterfly Virachola isocrates and the leaf-footed bug Leptoglossus zonatus. 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. Scientists at Indian Institute of Horticulture Research are developing varieties tolerant to bacterial blight disease using sub-Himalayan accessions.
Pomegranate, late Southern Song dynasty or early Yuan dynasty circa 1200–1340 (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Pomegranate is native to Iran and northeast Turkey. Pomegranates also thrive in the drier climates of California and Arizona, and have been cultivated throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and Mediterranean region for several millennia.
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.
Coat of arms of Granada
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 Latin 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.
Half peeled Pomegranate
Seeds in a plate
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.
A bowl of ash-e anar, a Persian soup made with pomegranate juice
Green salad with roast beef, pomegranate vinaigrette, and lemon juice
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 Armenian, Israeli, Persian, and Indian cuisine, and now is 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).
An Indian pomegranate
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 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. Chocolate-covered seeds may be added to desserts and baked items.
In the Caucasus, pomegranate is used mainly for 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 Israel, pomegranate is used for Tabbouleh salad during Rosh HaShana.
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
Pomegranate seeds collected
In the Indian subcontinent's ancient Ayurveda system of traditional medicine, the pomegranate has been used extensively as a source of traditional remedies.
The rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree are 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 having bitter-astringent taste plus a range of taste from sweet to sour, depending on ripeness. Thus, pomegranate is considered a healthful counterbalance to a diet high in sweet-fatty (kapha or earth) components.
Especially when sweet, pomegranate fruit is nourishing for (pitta or fire) systems and is considered a blood builder. 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 an eyedrop, as it is believed to slow the development of cataracts.
Ayurveda differentiates between pomegranate varieties and employs them for different remedies.
Pomegranate has been used as a contraceptive and abortifacient by means of consuming the seeds, or rind, as well as by using the rind as a vaginal suppository. This practice is recorded in ancient Indian literature, in medieval sources, and in modern folk medicine.
Pomegranate extracts (alkaloids) are used to treat intestinal parasite infestations in some nations.
Making pomegranate juice at a stall in Turkey
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.
Potential health benefits
Pomegranate ellagitannins, also called punicalagins, have shown free-radical scavenging properties in laboratory experiments and are being studied for their potential biological activity in humans.
Pomegranate juice is under research for affecting heart disease risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation. 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.
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.
Many food and dietary supplement makers use pomegranate phenolic extracts as ingredients in their products instead of juice, such as ellagic acid which may be bioavailable only after punicalagins are metabolized. However, ingested ellagic acid is rapidly and nearly completely excreted, indicating it likely does not have significant biological roles in humans.