THE BENEFICIAL PROPERTIES OF POMEGRANATE
A pomegranate, which is the fruit of the pomegranate tree, is a shrub called punica granatum and it has long and short, green leaves which can grow to 4m long. Their origins have been traced back to North Africa and the Caucasus and today pomegranate trees grow spontaneously in the Mediterranean regions of Asia and Europe and also are very common in North America. Its flowers are scarlet red and are closed in a sort of round shell that has petals on top. The seeds are also red and have a sweet and refreshing flavour, rich in healing properties.
In ancient times it was thought that pomegranate juice represented the blood of the God Dionysus and it was believed that the Goddess of love, Aphrodite, painted this ‘blood’ on to the ground in his honour. Pomegranate was also considered the fruit of fertility: in some populations brides even used it to predict how many children they would have and pomegranate branches were very often plaited into the bride’s hair as a way to wish to be fertile. What is more, phytotherapy, and many other recent studies, attribute numerous beneficial properties to the pomegranate plant in both the root (it has antibacterial properties and anthelmintics, which can combat tapeworm) and in the fruit (the seeds contain polyphenolic substances that can help vascular problems). Polyphenols are actually antioxidant substances, which can be found in many foods, and they are very useful for combating degenerative illnesses of the vascular system. Further studies have also shown that pomegranate has a gastroprotective effect on the stomach. In floral terms the pomegranate plant, thanks to its bright red colour, is very decorative, in particular the branches and short trunks. Many parks and gardens in the Mediterranean are full of these trees and they are often planted alongside other plants to create unique bushes and floral compositions.
As mentioned, pomegranate trees have spread across the Mediterranean to places where the climate is more mild and there is less humidity (they have even spread as far as Italy). According to the variety, a pomegranate can be considered bittersweet or sweet but in some cases the fruits of the tree are not edible at all. Some of the most well known types of pomegranates are: ‘horse tooth’ (from Sicily), Larkin, Green Globe, Angel Red and Utah Sweet.
Buying and preserving
When buying a pomegranate make sure the there are no marks on the skin so you do not choose expired or infested ones. The fruit is perfectly ripe when the colour is bright red with touches of yellow. It is important not to buy them unripe because pomegranates only ripen on the tree. If the fruit is closed it can be conserved in a fresh and dry place for 7-10 days.
Pomegranate was used a lot in medieval cooking when the seeds were employed as fillings for different foods and the juice was mixed into sauces. At present, pomegranate seeds are used to enrich different courses and have a mainly decorative role for both savoury and sweet dishes. Seeds that have been sieved are also added to dishes to give an oriental touch. Pomegranate is also used to make syrups, fruit juice, jam, jelly, sorbets, ice creams and precious pastries. The only flaw that this fruit has is that it is quite hard to peel and eat it (only about 59% of the fruit is edible) and it is not very practical to eat, particularly for young children or the elderly.
The numerous beneficial properties of the pomegranate plant
The beneficial, antioxidant properties of pomegranate juice, comparable only to green tea, have been proven after many experiments. The notable benefits it has on the cardiovascular system and the preventative properties of coronary and arteriosclerosis diseases are indisputable. To get the most out of the pomegranate however, consumption of pomegranate juice should go alongside a healthy, smoke-free life style, balanced diet and a low consumption of alcohol. An Israeli study, conducted by Michael Aviram, a biochemist from the Lipid Research Laboratory at Rambam Medical Center, Haifa, also indicated that this fruit has therapeutic and antitumour properties: pomegranate juice, according to this study, seems to be toxic for tumour cells and the ‘anti-cancer’ properties have been noted for breast cancer in particular. However, it is not just this: the pomegranate plant also contains ellagic acid (a substance that is also found in raspberries, strawberries and walnuts) that, according to research, brings about the death of ‘abnormal’ cells. A recent study also showed that this fruit is beneficial for combating menopausal symptoms, in particular depression and weakness of the bones.
Antitumour effects of pomegranate
Antitumour effects that pomegranates have on breast cancer have been detected: the prevention of the growth of carcinogenic cells on the breast has been noted. The antioxidants and polyphenols contained in the juice can also work against UV rays, which is the main cause of skin cancer. The ‘shield’ effect is thanks to anthocyanins and tannins, both of which the fruit is rich in.
Pomegranates and protection from cardiovascular illnesses
As previously mentioned, the pomegranate has many beneficial properties regarding cardiovascular health: the juice actually slows down the development of arteriosclerosis, lowers systolic blood pressure and improves the lipid profile, bringing down the risk of illnesses and diseases related to this. ‘Phenolic’ antioxidants, which are concentrated in fruit, have been shown to be able to prevent cardiovascular illnesses somewhat, by working positively against arteriosclerosis, which is responsible for 80% of the deaths of diabetics in America. Pomegranate juice is beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease sufferers too: drinking one glass a day creates a ‘barrier’ effect and halves the ‘killer’ proteins. Further research in America has revealed the effective properties this plant has with regard to fighting bacteria, fungi and viruses and pomegranate juice is also beneficial for people with arthritis: it prevents the degradation of cartilage and preserves functionality and wholeness of articulation.
Nutritional values and the calories contained in a pomegranate
Pomegranate is considered a 'difficult' fruit to eat, however, it is actually very rich in calories and carbohydrates, as shown below (values/100g of pomegranate):
63 kcal, 0g fat, 16g carbohydrates, 1g protein, 81g fibre water.