Pomegranate: One of Earth’s Healthiest Fruits

The supremely useful pomegranate has risen to star status within culinary, cosmetic, and wellness communities.

| November/December 2018

  • The mysteries of the pomegranate have begun to unfold in the hands of the many scientists now studying the fruit for its health and beauty benefits.
    Photo by Getty/Creativeye99
  • Gardener's, delight! Pomegranates bear early and suffer from few diseases or pests.
    Photo by John Morgan
  • Pomegranates grow in Colonial Williamsburg, where they're used to decorate holiday wreaths around the historic site.
    Image courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg
  • When dried, pomegranate seeds are known as the spice "anardana."
    Photo by Adobe/Monkey Business

Pomegranate. A hint of its juice and the sound of its name can command a premium price, or bestow superfood status on junk food. The whole fruit can be seen gracing holiday wreaths at historic sites, such as Colonial Williamsburg — a tradition that began in the 1930s. Its leftover rinds can be used to create an earthy yellow dye. Its design inspired engineers at Stanford to build a better battery, while musician Katy Perry used it as lipstick.

Examples of pomegranate swagger could fill an entire article — but the best way to appreciate the berry known as the “fruit of paradise” is to taste it. With up to 83 aromatic notes in its juices alone, the flavor of pomegranate blends the syrupy sweetness of Concord grapes, the refreshing astringency of cranberries, and the cooling quality of lemons. Each bite pops like tapioca.

If culinary pleasure isn’t enough, recent science supports historical claims that pomegranates promote health as much as they delight the taste buds. And for gardeners, the benefits are easy to harvest; pomegranates bear early and suffer from few diseases or pests. For orchardists seeking a niche market, pomegranates come in more than 1,000 diverse cultivars, most of which aren’t commonly available.

But to the frustration of pomegranate lovers in North America, more than a century of efforts have not lifted the fruit to staple status, because for many in the Western world, the pomegranate remains an edible puzzle — seemingly baffling and difficult to solve — that punishes every wrong move with an indelible spritz of scarlet juice. Luckily, its basic mysteries have begun to unfold in the hands of the many scientists who have turned to studying its health and beauty benefits.



A Healthy and Historic Fruit

Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and Egyptian hieroglyphs show that the pomegranate has been used medicinally for as long as people have been writing. Wherever it spread, cultures placed their hopes on its ability to promote health and treat illnesses. Along with the Egyptian prescription for tapeworm, it got endorsements from Hippocrates and Pliny the Elder, first century Jewish physician Shabtai Donolo, and the medieval medicinal text Trotula. In China, it was recognized as a hydrating and cooling yin tonic, while Ayurveda calls it “a pharmacy unto itself.” Perhaps most famously, it was included in the coat of arms for the Royal College of Physicians in Britain in the 16th century. In more recent times, the pomegranate has been considered so healthy that when the Soviet Union sent monkeys into space, they were given a power drink made of pomegranate and rose hip juice.

Since the American revival of the pomegranate, the amount of research published on it has massively increased. Modern health claims center on the pomegranate as a unique factory that produces a rich blend of minerals, anthocyanins, and polyphenols, including some called “punicalagins” that exist in almost no other species and act as potent antioxidants. Like their apothecary predecessors, researchers have discovered pharmacological activity in all parts of the pomegranate plant, including the seed, juice, rind, leaf, flower, bark, and roots.



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