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Spice Descriptions and Uses

Pomegranate Seeds Punica granatum

Description

Pomegranate is the fruit of Punica granatum, a bush or small tree of Asia belonging to the family Punicaceae. Throughout the Orient, the pomegranate has since earliest times occupied a position of importance alongside the grape and the fig. Romanites considered this as the apple in the garden of Eden. According to the Bible, King Solomon possessed an orchard of pomegranates, and, when the children of Israel, wandering in the wilderness, sighed for the abandoned comforts of Egypt, the cooling pomegranates were remembered longingly. Centuries later, the prophet Muhammad remarked, "Eat the pomegranate, for it purges the system of envy and hatred."

Botany

The plant, which may attain 5 or 7 metres (16 or 23 feet) in height, has elliptic to lance-shaped, bright-green leaves about 75 millimetres (3 inches) long and handsome axillary orange-red flowers borne toward the ends of the branchlets. The calyx is tubular and persistent and has five to seven lobes; the petals are lance-shaped, inserted between the calyx lobes. The ovary is embedded in the calyx tube and contains several compartments in two series, one above the other. The fruit is the size of a large orange, obscurely six-sided, with a smooth, leathery skin that ranges from brownish yellow to red; within, it is divided into several chambers containing many thin, transparent vesicles of reddish, juicy pulp, each surrounding an angular, elongated seed. The fruit is eaten fresh, and the juice is the source of grenadine syrup, used in flavourings and liqueurs. The seeds are extracted from the peel, pith and membranes, then dried. When dry, they are small and dark-red to black in colour and slightly sticky.

Cultivation

While the pomegranate is considered indigenous to Iran and neighbouring countries, its cultivation long ago encircled the Mediterranean and extended through the Arabian Peninsula, Afghanistan, and India. It is commonly cultivated in the Americas from the warmer parts of the United States to Chile. Though the pomegranate grows in a wide range of climates, good fruit is produced only where high temperatures and dry atmosphere accompany the ripening period. Deep, rather heavy loams appear to be the best soils. Seeds can readily be grown, but choice varieties are reproduced by cutting and layerings. Commercial propagation is performed by taking hardwood cuttings 250-300 mm (10-12 inches) long and rooting them in the open ground.

Culinary use

Pomegranate seeds have an astringent smell and sweet-sour taste. A sweet and fresh syrup, known as Grenadine, is made from the juice of pomegranate. Pomegranate syrup, used in Middle Eastern cooking, has an intense concentrated flavour. Pomegranate seeds are used in Indian cooking as a souring agent. Crushed seeds are sprinkled in some of the Middle Eastern cuisines.

Medicinal use

Pomegranate seeds are used in gargles and widely used in Indian medicines. They are good to ease fevers and to counteract diarrhoea.