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 Iran east to northern India, but has been cultivated around the Mediterranean for so long (several millennia) that its true native range is not accurately known. The ancient city of Granada in Spain was renamed after the fruit by the Moors.
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 'granular' (because of the fruit's seeds/grana). However, in classical Latin the species name was malum punicum or malum granatum, where "malus" 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 - pomus is Latin for apple.
The tree is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to 5-8 m tall. 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 part is the brilliant red seed pulp surrounding the seeds.
Although it was previously given its own family Punicaceae, recent genetic evidence shows that Punica granatum may be a member of the family Lythraceae. The only other species in the Punicaceae 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.
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.
The acidic juice of pomegranates is used in Indian cookery; thickened and sweetened it makes grenadine syrup, used in cocktail mixing. The juice can also be used as an antiseptic when applied to cuts.
Pomegranate seeds are sometimes used as a spice.
One pomegranate delivers 40% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement. It is also a rich source of folic acid and of antioxidants.
Every pomegranate is composed of exactly 840 seeds, each surrounded by a sac of sweet-tart juice contained by a thin skin. The seeds are compacted in a layer resembling honeycomb around the core. The layers of seeds are separated by paper-thin white membranes which are bitter to the tongue. The inner membranes and rind are not generally eaten due to high tannic acid content, but they are useful as a skin wash.
Pomegranates and symbolism
Bloody death and fertility are inescapably linked connotations for the many-seeded pomegranate with its dark red juice: symbols of fertility because of their many seeds, yet of death because of the vivid blood red of the pulp. (See life-death-rebirth deity.)
In the development of European iconography, the pomegranate developed into the Orb that a monarch holds at coronation. Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor adopted it as his personal emblem; it appears in the Emperor's hand in Albrecht Dürer's posthumous portrait of him, 1519. A pomegranate appears in the shield of Granada, and in the shield of the Royal College of Physicians.
The pomegranate gave its name to the 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.
The wild pomegranate did not grow natively in the Aegean area in Neolithic times. It originated in the Iranian east and came to the Aegean world along the same cultural pathways that brought The Goddess whom the Anatolians worshipped as Cybele and the Mesopotamias as Ishtar. The myth of Persephone, the dark goddess of the Underworld also prominently features the pomegranate.
In Greek mythology, Persephone was condemned to spend time (usually said to be six months--one month for every seed she consumed) in the Underworld every year because Hades tricked her into eating six pomegranate seeds while she was his prisoner. The pomegranate evoked the presence of the Aegean Triple Goddess who evolved into Olympian Hera, who is represented offering the pomegranate. According to mythographers like 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. Is that why Persephone found the pomegranate waiting, when she sojourned in the dark realm? 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 that the consonance might ultimately derive from a deeper, pre-Indo-European language layer.
In the sixth century BCE, Polykleitos 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 second century A.D., "for its story is something of a mystery." Indeed, in the Orion story we hear that the Hera cast pomegranate-Side 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 outlived the Mother Goddess, to turn up in the hand of the Blessed Virgin Mother Mary.
The Ancient Egyptians were buried with pomegranates. The Babylonians believed chewing the seeds before battle made them invincible.
The Prophet Mohammed told his followers that eating pomegranates would help purge them of longing. The Koran describes the pomegranate as "a gift from God".
Common and Other Names
Pomegranate, punic apple, granatapfel, granada, grenade, melograno, melagrana
Early fall is prime time for pomegranates, October and November in the northern hemisphere, but they are usually available into early winter.
Pomegranate Varieties and Forms
There are many varieties of pomegranate with colors ranging from yellow-orange to deep reddish-purple. Forms include fresh pomegranate fruit, pomegranate juice, pomegranate syrup, and pomegranate molasses.
Source: wikipedia.com; about.com