Punica granatum: Pomegranate

Family: Lythraceae
Common name: Pomegranate, Anar, Maathalanaarakam

It’s a joy to cut open a Pomegranate and see the ruby red seeds covered with pulp, packed tightly inside in beautiful patterns. Pomegranate trees grow to a height of 5-10 meters with a heavily branched trunk and spiny branches.

They can be called a shrub or a small tree; and is long-lived, living over 100 years. The leaves are narrow, glossy, leathery, and oblong; about 3-7 cms long.

Pomegranate flowers are a key attraction, beautiful, orange-red, thick, leathery flowers that grow singly or in clusters. They have a thick, tubular calyx and 3-7 red petals which are fused together at the base.

These flowers are hermaphroditic, containing both male and female reproductive organs in the same flower. So they can be self-pollinated or cross-pollinated, where the pollen is dispersed through winds or through butterflies, birds, and insects.

Pomegranate fruits hanging like Chinese lanterns from the tree is a sight to behold, green and red rounded fruits adorning the tree. The fruits have a persistent calyx, which looks like a crown, at the bottom. They are 5-12 cms in diameter with a hard, outer pericarp and an inner spongy mesocarp to which the seeds are attached.

The mesocarp has white membranes which divide the fruit into asymmetrical chambers packed tightly with shiny, red seeds. A single fruit could contain between 200-1400 seeds depending on the size of the fruit.

People follow different methods to extract the seeds from inside the pomegranate; like cutting it into quarters and manually extracting the seeds; cutting it into half and tapping the outside with a ladle to dislodge the seeds, or removing the pericarp and separating the fruit into compartments to extract the seeds.

Pomegranate juice extracted fresh by pressing the seeds manually or using special equipment yields a fresh, sweet juice with a slightly acidic after taste.

There are several cultivars of pomegranates that range in color from yellow, pink, purple, and red; and also vary in sweetness, size, juice content, and acidity.

Pomegranates are used very commonly in Asian cuisine in making sauces, salads, jellies, jams, preserves, sweet and savory dishes. Dried seeds are used in granola bars, sweets, yogurt, and ice cream.

Pomegranate has many health benefits and is said to have a significant effect in treatment of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, arthritis, and heart diseases. Studies have shown that pomegranate juice has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Propagation is through seeds, and suckers that grow near the parent plant.