What you didn’t know about Pomegranates

From its healing properties, possible forbidden history and influence in war, here are eight facts you didn't know about pomegranates

By Staff Writer

Food 4 June 2018

The jewel of winter, the kissing fruit, the apple with many seeds – the pomegranate has had many names throughout history. From its mesmerizing ruby red colour, to its tangy sweet taste and the struggle (and ultimate satisfaction) of opening one without breaking any seeds – the Arab world has always been obsessed with pomegranates.

Many Arab dishes include pomegranate molasses and juice (also a popular drink) while the fruit itself is a popular and healthy snack. But how much do we know about the history and cultural significance of the fruit with the leathery hard shell filled with hundreds of juicy-red jewel like seeds? Not much.

For example, did you know that there are over 760 varieties of pomegranate and that pomegranate trees can live for over 200 years? Also, other than having symbolic significance across a number of world religions, pomegranates have a bizarre connection to war? Read on for more interesting facts about the pomegranate.

Ancient Fruit

Pomegranates have been around for a long time. Remains of the fruit have been found as far back as 1000 BC in Transcaucasia. Today, pomegranates can be found in many countries but they mainly originated from Iran and the Himalayas in northern India. The pomegranate tree has been cultivated since then throughout Asia, Africa, and Europe and was introduced into Spanish America in the late 16th century and into California by Spanish settlers in 1769.

The Forbidden Fruit

The Fall of Man by Hendrik Goltzius (1616)

So, this is a bit awkward. We might owe apples an apology. Many scholars believe it was the pomegranate and not the apple that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The English word pomegranate comes from the Latin words for apple (pomum) and seeded (granatus). So basically, the latin translation for the word pomegranate is apple with many seeds. Over the course of a few translations however. the “many seeds” part was lost and the world simply became apple.

Fruit of War

This might sound crazy but pomegranates helped create the hand grenade. The word grenade is based on the French word pomme-grenade which means hand grenade. Why? Well, grenades were actually designed with pomegranates as a great source of inspiration. Inside a grenade are tiny pellets of shrapnel that look similar to the seeds inside a pomegranate fruit.  Setting aside how someone could take inspiration from a fruit and create something so twisted – pomegranates might be making amends by fighting the war against drugs. Poppy fields across Afghanistan, which produce 90 per cent of the world’s poppy-produced heroin supply, are slowly being replaced by pomegranate plantations given demand for the fruit.

The Party Fruit

Pomegranate season is from September to February in the Northern Hemisphere which is how the fruit earned the nickname The Jewel of Winter. In fact, every October, there is a Pomegranate Festival held in Goychay, Azerbaijan. The festival features pomegranate cuisine, dancing, music and competitions that include the biggest pomegranate and a pomegranate eating competition. This is no small village festival by the way. Around 5,000-7,000 people visit the festival every year! It has also inspired a similar festival in US, California as well.

Fruit of Tradition

Ancient Egyptians were often buried with pomegranates. A large, dry pomegranate was found in the tomb of Djehuty, the butler of Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut! Pomegranates have also held a pristine position in the Greek culture. They are mentioned in the popular myth about Goddess Persephone and her kidnapping by Hades from the underworld. Today, pomegranates still hold a high importance in the Greek culture. They are often used to decorate tables during Christmas while on New Year, it’s customary to break a pomegranate on the ground and traditional for guests to bring pomegranates as gifts to housewarming parties as a symbol of abundance, fertility and good luck for the new owner.

Sacred Fruit

Madonna Salting by Antonello da Messina

The Catholic church sees the pomegranate fruit as a symbol representing eternal life and the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. It’s also said that the seeds represent the people of the church, royalty and the promise of eternal life. Pomegranates are mentioned in the Torah multiple times and are of great importance in Judaism. Pomegranates were believed to have exactly 613 seeds to represent the 613 Mitzvot (Plural for Mitzvah/Commandments) according to a Torah-myth. However, this has been debated and disputed. Studies say that one pomegranate can hold up to a thousand seeds. An image of a pomegranate decorated some ancient Jewish coins, including a recently discovered one from the era of the Bar Kochba revolt. In Islam, the Qur’an mentions that pomegranates grow in the Gardens of Paradise. While in Hinduism and Buddhism, pomegranates are considered to be a blessed fruit.

Healing fruit

For more than 4,000 years people have used pomegranates for their healing properties. Conventional healers experimented with its juice, seeds, leaves, blooms, bark, roots and skin. Ancient Indian Ayurvedic medicine traditionally used pomegranate to lower fever. In Greek medicine, the flowers were used to treat diabetes, while the root and bark were used to stop bleeding, dysentery and heal ulcers. The ancient Egyptians used the fruit to combat intestinal worms. Today, we know that pomegranates have strong nutritional value in its juice, seeds and even skin. They are a rich source of vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber and also have anti-inflammatory properties. Most interestingly though, studies have shown that eating pomegranate seeds or drinking its juice daily can help protect against certain cancers and Alzheimer’s.

Pomegranate Tip

Although we can’t promise a sure way to break open a pomegranate without sacrificing a few seeds (and potentially an impossible to remove stain from your clothes) we can tell you how to make sure your pomegranate is ripe and ready for breaking. Tap a pomegranate and if it makes a tin-like, metallic sound then it’s ripe!

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