The pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub in the family Lythraceae, subfamily Punicoideae, that grows between 5 and 10 m (16 and 33 ft) tall.
The pomegranate originated in the region extending from Iran to northern India, and has been cultivated since ancient times throughout the Mediterranean region. It was introduced into Spanish America in the late 16th century and into California by Spanish settlers in 1769.
The fruit is typically in season in the Northern Hemisphere from September to February, and in the Southern Hemisphere from March to May. As intact sarcotestas or juice, pomegranates are used in baking, cooking, juice blends, meal garnishes, smoothies, and alcoholic beverages, such as cocktails and wine.
Today, it is widely cultivated throughout the Middle East and Caucasus region, north and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent, Central Asia, the drier parts of southeast Asia, and parts of the Mediterranean Basin. It is also cultivated in parts of Arizona and California. In the 20th and 21st centuries, it has become more common in the shops and markets of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.
A shrub or small tree growing 5 to 10 m (16 to 33 ft) high, the pomegranate has multiple spiny branches and is extremely long-lived, with some specimens in France surviving for 200 years. P. granatum leaves are opposite or subopposite, glossy, narrow oblong, entire, 3–7 cm (1 1⁄4–2 3⁄4 in) long and 2 cm (3⁄4 in) broad. The flowers are bright red and 3 cm (1.2 in) in diameter, with three to seven petals. Some fruitless varieties are grown for the flowers alone.
Fruit, sarcotesta and seeds
Red-purple in color, the pomegranate fruit husk has two parts: an outer, hard pericarp, and an inner, spongy mesocarp (white “albedo”), which comprises the fruit inner wall where seeds attach. Membranes of the mesocarp are organized as nonsymmetrical chambers that contain seeds inside sarcotestas, which are embedded without attachment to the mesocarp. Containing juice, the sarcotesta is formed as a thin membrane derived from the epidermal cells of the seeds. The number of seeds in a pomegranate can vary from 200 to about 1,400.
Botanically, the edible fruit is a berry with seeds and pulp produced from the ovary of a single flower. The fruit is intermediate in size between a lemon and a grapefruit, 5–12 cm (2–5 in) in diameter with a rounded shape and thick, reddish husk.
In mature fruits, the juice obtained by compressing the seeds yields a sour flavor due to low pH (4.4) and high contents of polyphenols, which may cause a red indelible stain on fabrics. Primarily, the pigmentation of pomegranate juice results from the presence of anthocyanins and ellagitannins.
- granatum is grown for its fruit crop, and as ornamental treesand shrubs in parks and gardens. Mature specimens can develop sculptural twisted-bark multiple trunks and a distinctive overall form. 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 can be prone to root decay from fungaldiseases. They can be tolerant of moderate frost, down to about −12 °C (10 °F).
Insect pests of the pomegranate can include the pomegranate butterfly Virachola isocrates and the leaf-footed bug Leptoglossus zonatus, and fruit flies and ants are attracted to unharvested ripe fruit. Pomegranate grows easily from seed, but is commonly propagated from 25 to 50 cm (10 to 20 in) hardwood cuttings to avoid the genetic variation of seedlings. Air layering is also an option for propagation, but grafting fails.
- granatum var.nana is a dwarf variety of P. granatum popularly planted as an ornamental plantin gardens and larger containers, and used as a bonsai specimen tree. It could well be a wild form with a distinct origin. It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit.
The only other species in the genus Punica is the Socotran pomegranate (P. protopunica), which is endemic to the Socotraan archipelago of four islands located in the Arabian Sea, the largest island of which is also known as Socotra. The territory is part of Yemen. It differs in having pink (not red) flowers and smaller, less sweet fruit.
- granatum has more than 500 named cultivars, but evidently has considerable synonymy in which the same genotypeis named differently across regions of the world.
Several characteristics between pomegranate genotypes vary for identification, consumer preference, preferred use, and marketing, the most important of which are fruit size, exocarp color (ranging from yellow to purple, with pink and red most common), seed-coat color (ranging from white to red), hardness of seed, maturity, juice content and its acidity, sweetness, and astringency.
A 100 g (3.5 oz) serving of pomegranate sarcotesta provides 12% of the Daily Value (DV) for vitamin C, 16% DV for vitamin K and 10% DV for folate.
Pomegranate seeds are a rich source of dietary fiber (20% DV) which is entirely contained in the edible seeds. People who choose to discard the seeds forfeit nutritional benefits conveyed by the seed fiber and micronutrients.
Iran and ancient Persia
Iran is the second largest producer and largest exporter of pomegranates in the world. In Persian, pomegranate is known as “anar”. The fruit’s juice and paste have a role in Iranian cuisine, e.g. chicken, ghormas, and refreshment bars. Pomegranate skins may be used to stain wool and silk in the carpet industry.
The Pomegranate Festival is an annual cultural and artistic festival held to exhibit and sell pomegranates, food products, and handicrafts.