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Jewish Recipes --> Jewish and Israeli Foods --> Pomegranate

The Pomegranate, Punica granatum, 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 eastern Iran to northern India, but its true native range is not accurately known because of its extensive cultivation.

Jewish Recipe: Fruits
Pomegranate Chicken Breasts

Poached Fish with Pomegranate Sauce

Recipes: Pomegranates Recipes

The fruit is typically in season from September to November.

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 parts are the seeds and the brilliant red seed pulp surrounding them.

Although previously treated in its own family Punicaceae, recent genetic research by the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group shows that it is a member of the family Lythraceae. The only other species in the 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.

Etymology

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 'grainy' (because of the fruit's seeds/grana: the weapon grenade later has derived its name from the fruit). However, in classical Latin the species name was malum punicum or malum granatum, where "malum" 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; pomum 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) [1], and Kabyle rrumman.

Cultivation and uses

The Pomegranate has been cultivated around the Mediterranean region for several millennia. In Georgia, to the east of the Black Sea, there are wild pomegranate groves outside of ancient abandoned settlements. 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.

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.

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, most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, as a result of which the dried whole seeds can often be obtained in markets catering to such.

One pomegranate delivers 40% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement. It is also a rich source of folic acid and of antioxidants.

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 publications 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 (which have no sugar, calories, or additives), instead of the juice, 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 essentially 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.

The juice of the pomegranate has been tested in several human clinicals as effective in reducing several heart risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation, all of which are steps in atherosclerosis and heart disease. Tannins have been identified as the primary components responsible for the reduction of oxidative states which lead to these risk factors. Pomegranate juice has recently been tested for its efficacy against prostate cancer.

Pomegranates and symbolism

Judaism and the Bible


Exodus chapter 28:33-34 directed that images of pomegranates be woven onto the borders of Hebrew priestly robes. 1 Kings chapter 7:13-22 describes pomegrantes depicted in the temple King Solomon built in Jerusalem. Jewish tradition teaches that the pomegranate is a symbol for righteousness, because it is said to have 613 seeds which corresponds with the 613 mitzvot or commandments of the Torah. For this reason and others many Jews eat pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot.

Other

  • The Ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates. The Babylonians believed chewing the seeds before battle made them invincible.
  • The Qur'an mentions pomegranates three times (6:99, 6:141, 55:068) - twice as examples of the good things God creates, once as a fruit found in the Garden of Paradise.
  • Pomegranate has a calyx shaped like a crown. In Jewish tradition it has been seen as the original "design" for the proper crown.
  • Pomegranate juice stains clothing permanently unless washed with bleach.
  • Pomegranate juice is used for natural dyeing of non-synthetic fabrics.
  • Pomegranate juice is sold in the USA under several labels, and is available in health food stores and supermarkets across the country.
  • Although not native to Japan, the pomegranate is widely grown there and many cultivars have been developed. It is widely used for bonsai, because of its lovely flowers and for the unusual twisted bark that older specimens can attain.
  •  Grenada, an island nation off the coast of South America, was named after the Spanish and French word for 'pomegranate'.
  • The pomegranate also gave its name to the hand 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. In many language (Spanish, French, and Hebrew, to name a few), the words are exactly the same.

Sept 2005 - Sept 2013
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Bagels.