Sun | Sep 25, 2016

The benefits of pomegranate

Published:Saturday | February 27, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Heather Little-White, Contributor

Fruits came to Jamaica from all parts of the world, and the pomegranate is no different. Pomegranate (
Puinica granatum
) is native to Iran, ancient Egypt, Babylonia and northern India.

The fruit is cultivated and naturalised in the East Indies and tropical Africa. It is reported that the Spanish brought the fruit to Mexico, California and Arizona in the 16th century. In Spanish, the fruit is called granada, and in French, it is grenade.

Its use for medicinal purposes dates back to ancient days when extracts of the juice, bark, leaves and immature fruit and fruit rind, with antioxidant and antibacterial properties, were used to treat diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Backyard plant

Every home should have a pomegranate tree in the backyard, as the plant is easy to grow. Pomegranates grow on shrublike plants up to six to 12 feet in height and can be easily trained into a tree or made to run along a wall or fence. The plants require full sun, alkaline soils and are tolerant to drought. However, for optimum fruit quality, pomegranate plants should be irrigated like other fruit trees. Pomegranates are long-living and specimens in Europe are known to live for more than 200 years. The attractive flowers and foliage of the pomegranate make it an excellent landscaping plant.

The mature fruit is two to five inches in diameter and comes with a purplish, reddish skin with hundreds of seeds on the inside. A distinctive feature of the pomegranate is tough, leathery skin or rind. Seeds are surrounded by a membrane which encloses a juicy, purplish or pink pulp. This is the edible part of the fruit, and though tart, it has a slightly nutty flavour.

Fertility and family

History is replete with stories about the pomegranate. Egyptian mythology and art featured the pomegranate and its legendary history is well documented. For example, ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates in hope of rebirth.

According to Peggy Trowbridge Filippone in
About.com
Guide, pomegranates have long denoted fertility and family. For some cultures, the pomegranate is seen as the fruit of temptation which led to the demise of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Bible.

The symbolic fertility, bounty and eternality of the fruit are associated with its abundance of seeds. Paintings of the Madonna and child prominently display a pomegranate. Followers of the Hittite god of agriculture were blessed with grapes, wheat and pomegranates.

The seeds were sugared and served to guests at Chinese weddings. When it was time to consummate the marriage, pomegranates were thrown on the floor of the bed chamber to encourage a happy and fruitful union.

Purging spirits

Pomegranates were used to predict the number of their offspring by drawing a circle on the ground and dropping a ripe pomegranate in the centre. The number of seeds expelled from the ring allegedly prophesied the number of future children. Mohammed purged the spirits of envy and hatred from the body with pomegranates and urged all his followers to eat lavish amounts.

It is from this story that believers think our yearly cycle of six months of growth and harvest, followed by six months of winter, is derived. When Persephone was held captive in Hades, the Greek goddess of spring and fruit swore she would not partake of food until her release. However, she could not resist the tempting pomegranate, consuming nearly the entire fruit before halting herself and leaving only six seeds uneaten.

Nutrition

Folklore aside, the seeds of the pomegranate are rich in several nutrients. One fruit provides 105 calories:

protein - 1g: carbohydrate - 26g: total fat - 0g: fibre - 1g: potassium (398.86mg) and vitamin C (9.39mg).

Health benefits

There are several doubting Thomases about the effectiveness of pomegranate for treating health conditions. However, the scientific evidence is convincing.

The most active constituents of the juice are polyphenols rich in multiple potent antioxidants. Pomegranate extracts can prevent certain bacterial diseases. Research has shown that pomegranate juice is very active in antioxidants and the antimicrobial properties have been shown to be effective against the streptococci strains, S. mutans, S. mitis and C. albicans. (Menezes, et al, 2006).

Preliminary studies have shown that the juice of the pomegranate may significantly reduce total cholesterol and bad LDL cholesterol. Drinking pomegranate juice may reduce the risk of heart disease, and that daily consumption may improve stress-induced myocardial ischaemia in patients with coronary heart disease. Some studies have shown that pomegranate juice can also reduce systolic blood pressure (top blood pressure number) (
klemow.wilkes.edu
).

The antioxidant properties of pomegranate juice produce dramatic results in prostate cancer cells. Pomegranate juice can repair oxidative damage which often causes several chronic diseases such as cancers, age-related neuro-degeneration and atherosclerosis.

Purchasing

If you purchase pomegranates, there are tips to a perfect buy. Pomegranates are typically available September through November. Choose pomegranates with good colour and that feel heavy. Avoid those with dry-looking, wrinkled or cracked rind. They will keep at room temperature for two to three days or in the refrigerator for up to three months.

Pomegranate products

Besides the fresh fruit, you can also buy pomegranate juice, grenadine and pomegranate molasses. Grenadine is light pomegranate syrup used to flavour alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and confections. Pomegranate molasses is a heavy pomegranate syrup used in Mediterranean cuisine and is one of the essential ingredients in muhammara, a traditional Mediterranean dip made from hot and sweet red peppers, walnuts and pomegranates.

Supplements

Pomegranates are available as health supplements which claim to provide unique and potent nutrients to benefit the body. The potency of the pomegranate has attracted the attention of pharmaceutical firms which manufacture supplements and other health products such as supplements for the heart, hormonal imbalance; skincare products for anti-ageing through pomegranate's special oils and antioxidants and a vaginal dryness cream providing a natural remedy for the discomfort associated with menopause and other hormonal problems. (
www.pomegranatehealth.com
)

Other uses of the pomegranate outside food include:

Making a red dye from flowers.

Making a yellow dye from the skin of the fruit.

Making a black dye from the roots.

Building agricultural implements.

Manufacturing from the bark and roots medicine for worms.

Heather Little-White, PhD, is a nutrition and lifestyle consultant in Kingston. Send comments to saturdaylife@gleanerjm.com or fax to 922-6223.

Food preparation

It is recommended that you have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables. The pomegranate is very versatile. (
www.foodreference.com
)

Sprinkle pomegranate seeds over salads, or desserts.

Use pomegranate extract in marinades or as a glaze for poultry.

Use pomegranate seeds as a garnish on rice dishes or potatoes.

Eat pomegranate seeds by the handful - like tiny berries.

Top waffles, pancakes or ice-cream sundaes with pomegranate seeds.

Juice may be extracted by using a food mill to grind fresh juice from the seeds, leaving the seeds trapped in the mill. You may also use a blender to pulse the pips in short bursts and then strain. You may also place the seeds in a sealed plastic bag and roll over with a rolling pin.

Cutting the pomegranate

To use a pomegranate, cut it in half and pry out the pulp-encased seeds, removing any of the light-coloured membrane that adheres. The juice can stain, and removing the seeds can take time.

Method:

1. Slice the stem off the fruit, then make four cuts through the skin, each starting at the exposed stem end and meeting at the opposite end.

2. Break the fruit into quarters. Remove the seeds from each quarter with your fingers. It may be less tedious to immerse the fruit in cold water to dig out the seeds - the seeds will sink and the flesh will float.

The tartness of the pomegranate makes a delightful recipe to use with turkey, lamb, chicken or pork.

Ginger orange pomegranate relish

Seeds of 2 pomegranatess

1 tbsp finely chopped orange zest

1 tbsp orange juice

1
/
2
tbsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tbsp honey

1
/
2
tsp salt

Method:

Gently mix pomegranate seeds, orange zest, orange juice, ginger, honey and salt together. Cover tightly and refrigerate until serving.

Source:
www.About.Com
: Home Cooking