Monday, October 4, 2010

Superfruit: Pomegranate

A pomegranate (Punica granatum) is a fruit-bearing deciduous shrub or small tree growing to between five and eight meters tall. The pomegranate is mostly native to the Iranian Plateau, though some forms might come from other regions (southern Mediterranean, Sahara, Arabic peninsula, ...). It has been cultivated in the Caucasus since ancient times. It is widely cultivated throughout Azerbaijan, Armenia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Turkey, India, Israel, the drier parts of Southeast Asia, Indonesia, peninsular Malaysia, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe and tropical Africa. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is now cultivated in parts of California and Arizona for juice production.
After opening the pomegranate by scoring it with a knife and breaking it open, the arils (seed casings) are separated from the peel and internal white pulp membranes. Separating the red arils is simplified by performing this task in a bowl of water, wherein arils sink and pulp floats. It is also possible to freeze the whole fruit in the freezer, making the red arils easy to separate from the white pulp membranes. A very effective way of quickly harvesting the arils with minimal time and effort is to cut the pomegranate in half, score each half of the exterior rind four to six times to assist in spreading the rind and ejection of arils, hold pomegranate half over a bowl and smack rind with a large spoon. Arils should eject from pomegranate directly into the bowl, leaving only a dozen or more deeply embedded arils to remove. The entire seed is consumed raw, though the watery, tasty aril is the desired part. The taste differs depending on subspecies of pomegranate and its ripeness. The pomegranate juice can be very sweet or sour, but most fruits are moderate in taste, with sour notes from the acidic tannins contained in the aril juice.
Having begun wide distribution in the United States and Canada in 2002, pomegranate juice has long been a popular drink in Persian and Indian cuisine. Grenadine syrup is thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice used in cocktail mixing. Before tomatoes arrived in the Middle East, grenadine was widely used in many Iranian foods, and is still found in traditional recipes such as fesenjan, a thick sauce made from pomegranate juice and ground walnuts, usually spooned over duck or other poultry and rice, and in ash-e anar (pomegranate soup).
Wild pomegranate seeds are used as a spice known as anardana (from Persian: anar+dana, pomegranate+seed), most notably in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, but also as a substitute for pomegranate syrup in Persian cuisine. Dried whole arils can often be obtained in ethnic Indian subcontinent markets. These seeds are separated from the flesh, dried for 10–15 days and used as an acidic agent for chutney and curry preparation. Ground anardana is also used, which results in a deeper flavoring in dishes and prevents the seeds from getting stuck in teeth. Seeds of the wild pomegranate variety known as daru from the Himalayas are regarded as quality sources for this spice.
Dried pomegranate arils, found in some natural specialty food markets, still contain the seed and residual aril water, maintaining a natural sweet and tart flavor. Dried arils can be used in several culinary applications, such as trail mix, granola bars, or as a topping for salad, yogurt, or ice cream. Chocolate covered arils, also available in gourmet food stores, may be added to desserts and baked items.
In the Caucasus, pomegranate is used mainly as juice. In Azerbaijan a sauce from pomegranate juice (narsharab) is usually served with fish or tika kabab. In Turkey, pomegranate sauce is used as a salad dressing, to marinate meat, or simply to drink straight. Pomegranate seeds are also used in salads and sometimes as garnish for desserts such as gullac. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is used in muhammara, a roasted red pepper, walnut, and garlic spread popular in Syria and Turkey.
In Greece, pomegranate is used in many recipes, including kollivozoumi, a creamy broth made from boiled wheat, pomegranates and raisins, legume salad with wheat and pomegranate, traditional Middle Eastern lamb kebabs with pomegranate glaze, pomegranate eggplant relish, and avocado-pomegranate dip. Pomegranate is also made into a liqueur and popular fruit confectionery used as ice cream topping or mixed with yogurt or spread as jam on toast. In Cyprus as well as in Greece and among the Greek Orthodox Diaspora, pomegranate is used to make kolliva, a mixture of wheat, pomegranate seeds, sugar, almonds and other seeds served at memorial services.
Nutrients and phytochemicals
Pomegranate aril juice provides about 16% of an adult's daily vitamin C requirement per 100 ml serving, and is a good source of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), potassium and antioxidant polyphenols.
Pomegranates are listed as high-fiber in some charts of nutritional value. That fiber, however, is entirely contained in the seeds which also supply unsaturated oils. People who choose to discard the seeds forfeit nutritional benefits conveyed by the seed fiber, oils and micronutrients.
The most abundant polyphenols in pomegranate juice are the hydrolyzable tannins called ellagitannins formed when ellagic acid binds with a carbohydrate. Punicalagins are unique pomegranate tannins with free-radical scavenging properties in laboratory experiments and with potential human effects. Punicalagins are absorbed into the human body and may have dietary value as antioxidants, but conclusive proof of efficacy in humans has not yet been shown. During intestinal metabolism by bacteria, ellagitannins and punicalagins are converted to urolithins which have unknown biological activity in vivo.
Other phytochemicals include polyphenolic catechins, gallocatechins, and anthocyanins, such as prodelphinidins, delphinidin, cyanidin, and pelargonidin. The ORAC (antioxidant capacity) of pomegranate juice was measured at 2,860 units per 100 grams.
Many food and dietary supplement makers use pomegranate phenolic extracts as ingredients in their products instead of the juice. One of these extracts is ellagic acid, which may become bioavailable only after parent molecule punicalagins are metabolized. However, ingested ellagic acid from pomegranate juice does not accumulate in the blood in significant quantities and is rapidly excreted. Accordingly, ellagic acid from pomegranate juice does not appear to be biologically important in vivo.
Potential health benefits
In preliminary laboratory research and human pilot studies, juice of the pomegranate was effective in reducing heart disease risk factors, including LDL oxidation, macrophage oxidative status, and foam cell formation, all of which are steps in atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
In a limited study of hypertensive patients, consumption of pomegranate juice for two weeks was shown to reduce systolic blood pressure by inhibiting serum angiotensin-converting enzyme. Juice consumption may also inhibit viral infections while pomegranate extracts have antibacterial effects against dental plaque.
Pomegranate, aril only : Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 285 kJ (68 kcal) | Carbohydrates 17.17 g
Sugars 16.57 g | Dietary fiber 0.6 g
Fat 0.3 g | Protein 0.95 g
Thiamine (Vit. B1) 0.030 mg (2%)
Riboflavin (Vit. B2) 0.063 mg (4%)
Niacin (Vit. B3) 0.300 mg (2%)
Pantothenic acid (B5) 0.596 mg (12%)
Vitamin B6  0.105 mg (8%)
Folate (Vit. B9) 6 μg (2%)
Vitamin C 6.1 mg (10%)
Calcium 3 mg (0%) | Iron 0.30 mg (2%)
Magnesium 3 mg (1%) | Phosphorus 8 mg (1%)
Potassium 259 mg (6%) | Zinc 0.12 mg (1%)
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

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