The pomegranate, 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 between the Himalayas and Egypt and has been cultivated since ancient times in India, Persia Mesopotamia, Turkey, and the Arabian Peninsula. It is mentioned in many ancient texts, notably in Babylonian texts and the Book of Exodus. It was introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769.
Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the Mediterranean region of southern Europe, the Middle East and Caucasus region, northern Africa and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, and the drier parts of southeast Asia. It is also cultivated in some areas of California and Arizona. In recent years, it has become more common in the commercial markets of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
Fruit of Paradise Garden.
According to the Qur'an, pomegranates grow in the gardens of paradise. The Qur'an also mentions pomegranates three times as examples of good things God creates.
An attractive 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. Punica granatum 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 in diameter, with three to seven petals. Some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone.
The edible fruit is a berry and is 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 colour from white to deep red or purple. The seeds are "exarillate", i.e., unlike some other species in the order, Myrtales, there is no aril. The sarcotesta of pomegranate seeds consists of epidermis cells derived from the integument. The seeds are embedded in a white, spongy, astringent membrane.
The most abundant polyphenols in pomegranate juice are the hydrolysable tannins called ellagitannins formed when ellagic acid and gallic acid binds with a carbohydrate. The different pomegranate ellagitannins (also known as punicalagin) are granatin A and B, punicacortein A, B, C and D, 5-O-galloylpunicacortein D, punicafolin, punigluconin, punicalagin, 1-alpha-O-galloylpunicalagin, punicalin, and 2-O-galloyl-punicalin.
The red colour of juice can be attributed to anthocyanins, such as delphinidin, cyaniding, and pelargonidin glycosides (delphinidin 3-glucoside and 3,5-diglucoside, cyanidin 3-glucoside and 3,5-diglucoside and pelargonidin 3-glucoside and 3,5-diglucoside). An increase in juice pigmentation occurs during fruit ripening.
The phenolic content of pomegranate juice is adversely affected by the processing and pasteurization techniques.
Potential health benefits
Pomegranate ellagitannins, also called punicalagin, have shown free-radical scavenging properties in laboratory experiments and with potential effects on humans. Punicalagins are absorbed into the human body and may have dietary value as antioxidants.
In preliminary laboratory research and clinical trials, juice of the pomegranate may be effective in reducing heart disease risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation. In mice, "oxidation of LDL by peritoneal macrophages was reduced by up to 90% after pomegranate juice consumption.
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. Juice consumption may also inhibit viral infections while pomegranate extracts have antibacterial effects against dental plaque.
Clinical trial disease targets
In 2014, 58 clinical trials were registered with the National Institutes of Health to examine effects of pomegranate extracts or juice consumption on a variety of human disorders, including:
- prostate cancer
- prostatic hyperplasia
- rhinovirus infection
- common cold
- oxidative stress in diabetic hemodialysis
- coronary artery disease
- infant brain injury
- hemodialysis for kidney disease
- male infertility
- pregnancy complications
- erectile dysfunction
In some Hindu traditions, the pomegranate 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.
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