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Pomegranate Power
Pomegranates have been cultivated since prehistoric times. These extraordinary fruits have also appeared throughout history as symbols of fertility, royalty, hope, and abundance. Celebrated in art, mythology, religious texts and literature for centuries, pomegranates appear in Greek mythology, Egyptian papyrus, and have been mentioned in the Old Testament several times under the name of rimmon. An ancient fruit, the pomegranate was brought to China a century and a half before the Christian era. The pomegranate is depicted on floor mosaics of Pompeii.

The word pomegranate is derived from Middle French pome garnete and literally means "seeded apple." The average pomegranate can contain as many as 800 seeds, and due to its profusion of seeds, the ancients connected the pomegranate with procreation and abundance, and they believed the goddess Aphrodite, deity of love, had planted it on the isle of Cyprus. It was because of the tiny, red pomegranate seed that Demeter's daughter, Persephone, was carried off by Hades to live a life divided between the underworld and the upper world. This much lauded fruit, however hasn't quite supplanted the apple in popularity in American fare. And perhaps it should, considering recent preliminary studies extolling the health benefits of pomegranates. In fact, current studies suggest that these hardy, ancient fruits could become the next superfood.

Adel A. Kader, Ph.D., Professor of Postharvest Physiology, Department of Pomology at the University of California, has conducted research on the phytochemical profile of pomegranates, and states that "our research indicates that the total antioxidant capacity of 100 ml of pomegranate juice is two to three times that of 100 ml of red wine and of 100 ml of green tea. This is due to the higher polyphenols content of pomegranates."

A recently published article, "Antioxidant and eicosanoid enzyme inhibition properties of pomegranate seed oil and fermented juice flavonoids," conducted at Israel's Institute of Technology (J Ethnopharmacol, July 1999) indicates that pomegranates contain flavonoids that are more concentrated than those found in grapes. Researchers examined the enzyme inhibition properties of pomegranate fermented juice and seed oil. The pomegranate fermented juice and cold-pressed seed oil showed strong antioxidant activity close to that of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and green tea, and significantly greater than that of red wine. The investigators showed that pomegranate seed polyphenols possess potent antioxidant and most likely cardiovascular and anti-inflammatory effects as well. If consumed daily over a long period of time, the powerful antioxidants in pomegranates may help to combat cancer, and may also prevent hardening of the arteries.

Other studies show that pomegranate seeds contain a number of flavonoids, including isoflavones with estrogenic capabilities. Flavonoids are part of a wide class of polyphenolic compounds that posses an impressive array of pharmacological activities. Researchers in England are studying the possibility of developing a virucide from pomegranates as a protective anti-viral agent against HIV.

In India, a preliminary study screening for antimicrobial activities of pomegranate seeds shows them to have potent antimicrobial activities against laboratory test organisms Bacillus subtilis, Escherichia coli, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae. While more studies are needed to further investigate the nutritional power of pomegranates, the nutritional significance of this ancient fruit is just beginning to emerge.

Date Published: 02/21/2000
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