Pomegranates have been prized by numerous cultures throughout the ages and may be one of the healthiest foods in the world.
When I was a child, I remember my mom bringing home an unusual fruit one day. It looked a little like an apple but not exactly. She said it was a Chinese apple. I didn’t know it at the time but that was the British term for pomegranates.
She was so excited to show it to me. “Wait until you see what’s inside,” she said, “You’re not going to believe what you see.”
As she started to slice it open, a ruby red juice immediately poured out. When she exposed the inside, I was amazed to see hundreds of tiny jewel-like seeds. To a seven-year-old, this was no ordinary apple.
She told me to try one of the seeds. Looking at them, I expected that they would have the taste of candy. She broke a couple seeds off the rind, and I tried them.
They didn’t taste like candy at all. They were juicy, but also a little bitter tasting. I was a little disappointed. We continued to break more seeds off and ended up making a complete mess of the pomegranate and everything else around.
That was the last time my mom bought a pomegranate. I guess she figured it was just too difficult to open, and the bitter taste didn’t justify all that work.
However, since that time, my perspective on pomegranates has completely changed. I’ve figured out how to open and deseed them easily, and I’ve come to appreciate their taste and goodness.
In this post, I’ll show you how valued the pomegranate has been, why it’s one of the healthiest fruits created for us, how to open it easily, and how you can really enjoy its taste.
November is national pomegranate month
Did you know this month is National Pomegranate Month? I’m not exactly sure who officially made the proclamation but according to the Farmer’s Almanac and Wikipedia, it is. So I guess that means it must be true. Tongue in cheek.
Nonetheless, regardless of who made the proclamation, I think it’s a fabulous idea. Pomegranates are certainly worthy of such a high honor. Not only are they a delicious and nutritious fruit, but they have also been a fruit that’s been venerated in cultures throughout the centuries.
When the ancients set apart a food, as important I think that should give us pause to take a closer look at it and see if they knew something important we don’t know or have forgotten. Let’s see what the ancients thought about pomegranates.
Pomegranates in ancient Egypt
In ancient Egypt, the pomegranate was considered a symbol of ambition and prosperity. There is also evidence that around 1500 BC the Egyptians used it to treat stomach worms and other infections.
Pomegranates in ancient Greece
The pomegranate was also a central feature in many ancient Greek mythologies. Hades was said to have tricked Persephone, a vegetation goddess, to remain in Hades by getting her to eat some pomegranate seeds. By eating the seeds, she was condemned to spend part of every year in Hades.
Her yearly decent into the underworld and return to the world above was associated with seasons and harvesting and planting. The pomegranate, which was central to that myth, eventually came to be seen as a symbol of life, regeneration, and marriage.
The fruit still plays a part in many Greek traditions.
Pomegranates in ancient Israel
The pomegranate is mentioned several times in the Bible. In Numbers 13:23, the spies sent by Moses to scout out the promised land brought back pomegranates as a sign of the fertility of the land.
In Deuteronomy 8:8, Moses says that a good land was one that contained pomegranates.
The high priest’s robe was embroidered with pomegranates around its hem (Ex 28:33-34). In 1 Kings 7:20-21, we are told that the capitals of the two pillars that stood in front of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem were engraved with pomegranates.
In Song of Solomon 4:3, pomegranates are associated with beauty.
According to some rabbinic traditions, the fruit is also said to have 613 seeds, which corresponds to the 613 commandments of the Torah. It is also said to be a food eaten at Rosh Hashanah and is associated with blessings.
Pomegranates in other traditions
Pomegranates are often depicted in early Christian works of art. A Mosaic from a 4th-century church shows Jesus flanked by pomegranates.
They also show up in religious paintings by DaVinci and Botticelli.
In Persian mythology, Isfandiyar eats a pomegranate and becomes invincible. In The Histories, Herodotus mentions golden pomegranates adorning the spears of warriors in the Persian phalanx.
These warriors could be the Immortals. They were an elite infantry unit in ancient Persia who had spears with pomegranate-shaped counterweights at the butt. You might remember them from the movie 300.
Many other ancient cultures throughout the Middle-East and Asia used the pomegranate as a representation of fertility and prosperity.
There must have been something special for that fruit to be so highly honored in a vast number of ancient cultures.
Did the ancients know something about pomegranates that we’re only recently finding out about today?
Let’s take a look at some of the extraordinary health benefits of pomegranates.
Ancient medicinal uses of pomegranates
As I noted before, the ancient Egyptians used pomegranates as a cure for stomach worms and other infections.
In India, they were used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine for the treatment of diarrhea and dysentery.
Dioscorides, a Greek physician who practiced medicine in Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero and was also a surgeon with the Roman army, described his medical uses of pomegranates,
“All sorts of pommegranats are of a pleasant taste and good for ye stomach . . . The juice of the kernells prest out, being sod and mixed with Hony, are good for the ulcers that are in ye mouth and in ye Genitalls and in the seate, as also for the Pterygia in digitis and for the Nomae and ye excrescencies in ulcers, and for ye paines of ye eares, and for the griefs in ye nosthrills . . . The decoction of ye flowers is a collution of moist flagging gummes and of loose teeth . . . ye rinde having a binding faculty . . . but ye decoction of ye roots doth expell and kill the Latas tineas ventris.”
Dioscorides published a five-volume book on medical treatments and pharmacology which became widely used throughout Asia and Europe for many centuries.
For more on the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean medical uses of pomegranates, see here.
Let’s discover the scientific basis for what made pomegranates a much-desired healing food in the ancient world.
Two potent medicinal compounds in pomegranates
There are two compounds in pomegranates that appear to be responsible for its extraordinary medicinal qualities.
Punicalagins are extremely potent antioxidants found in the juice and rind of the pomegranate. Antioxidants are extremely important for neutralizing cancer and disease-causing free radicals.
Interestingly, these antioxidants from the pomegranate are not absorbed intact into the bloodstream but are hydrolyzed to ellagic acid over several hours in the intestine. Intestinal flora, therefore, has some role in metabolizing punicalagins. This is another reason to make sure your gut flora is optimized. See post here.
The antioxidants found in pomegranates are so powerful that they have been found to have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea. See here.
Punicic acid is the main fatty acid in the seed or aril of the pomegranate. It is a type of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) with powerful biological properties. Some of the health benefits associated with naturally occurring CLA may include a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer.
There also have been studies showing that CLA may play a beneficial part in preventing heart disease.
Health benefits of pomegranates
1. Lowers inflammation
Many diseases (such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimers Disease, and metabolic syndrome) are thought to be driven by chronic inflammation.
Lowering inflammation should be a priority in your health plan.
2. Pomegranates may aid in the fight against prostate cancer
Results from studies in cells, animals, and humans clearly point to the benefit of pomegranate extract in slowing down prostate cancer cell growth.
Some studies have even shown that pomegranate extract can even cause prostate cancer cell death.
Pomegranate juice was also found to have a positive effect on improving prostate-specific antigen (PSA) progression in men following treatment for prostate cancer.
3. Pomegranates may help in breast cancer prevention
4. Pomegranates may help fight bacterial and fungal infections
As we saw previously in ancient times, pomegranates were used to fight a variety of infections.
5. Pomegranates may be useful in fighting heart disease
Today, more people in the United States die prematurely from heart disease than any other disease.
As I mentioned earlier, punicic acid (a type of CLA) may be helpful in preventing heart disease. One study has shown that punicic acid significantly lowered triglycerides and improved the triglyceride to HDL ratio in 51 people who had high cholesterol and triglycerides levels.
A smaller study which included 22 patients with type II diabetes and hyperlipidemia found that concentrated pomegranate juice significantly reduced total cholesterol levels.
The oxidation of LDL particles has been implicated in promoting atherosclerosis. Pomegranate juice may aid in limiting this process and thus help in the prevention of heart disease. See here and here.
6. Other health benefits of pomegranates
The bottom line: Pomegranates have been prized by numerous cultures throughout the ages and may be one of the healthiest foods in the world.
Watch this video and see how to cut and seed your pomegranate
You can enjoy pomegranate seeds with these delicious recipes:
Enjoy some pomegranate seeds today, in a salad, blended in a juice, or even by the handful. Have a happy and healthy week!
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