The pomegranate has gotten a lot of good press lately. It’s become known as a cancer-fighting wonder fruit and its popularity soared. You can now find it in everything from health- food drinks to martinis. But is the ruby-red delight as good as its hype?
Almost. Even if it’s not the cure for all that ails us, recent research indicates that the pomegranate has unusually potent healing and health-boosting properties. In 2006, researchers at UCLA found that an eight-ounce glass of pomegranate juice each day could slow the growth of prostate cancer in men.
And just last month, Pace University in New York City released a study showing preliminary evidence that the antioxidants in pomegranate juice could fight viruses and some types of bacterial infections. “I’ve worked with a number of strands of bacteria,â€ says Milton Schiffenbauer, a biology professor at Pace University who led the study. â€œAnd in all cases the POM [a brand of pure pomegranate juice] is very effective in destroying bacteria. I’m amazed by how well it does.”
Pomegranates are particularly appealing to nutritionists because unlike most fruits, they become more potent when squeezed into a liquid. The researchers at UCLA found that 70 percent of the antioxidants in a pomegranate were released from the peel when the fruit was juiced.
Along with the juice, the pomegranate packs another healthy surprise: the tiny sacks inside the fruit’s hard exterior contain over 800 edible seeds (as well as copious amounts of vitamin C and potassium). Those high-fiber seeds can be eaten along with the fruit or removed and saved for later, as a salad topping or food garnish.
Behind the pomegranate’s newfound popularity in America is a storied history that stretches back to Iran, where the pomegranate was first cultivated about 4,500 years ago. Since then, pomegranates have found their way into literature and mythology. Homer’s “Odyssey,” written in 700 B.C., makes a reference to a king’s pomegranate field, and Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” picks out a single pomegranate tree. As Romeo woos Juliet from beneath her balcony, he makes reference to a nightingale that “sang on yon pomegranate tree.” With a mystical history and potential medicinal benefits, pomegranates are truly a fruit to fall in love with.