The Pomegranate (Punica granatum) is full of myth and symbolism across cultures. It is mentioned in the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, in Buddhist and Chinese Arts. The fruit is of ancient Persian and Middle Eastern origin. It is known to be one of the first 5 edible fruit crops domesticated by Man along with the fig, date palm, grape and olive around 5,000 years ago. Its best quality fruits are produced in arid regions. The small tree or shrub is recognised for its drought tolerance. Today, the Pomegranate is widely used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and North-west Indian cooking. Its connection with Persephone in Greek mythology offered ancient Greeks an explanation for the Earth’s seasons.
The name Pomegranate is believed to have emerged from the Latin combination of pomum meaning apple and granatum meaning seeded. Some early usage confusion seems to have associated it with the Spanish city of Granada. However, it is also proposed that granatum describes the red, cochineal colour of pomegranate pulp. (The Pomegranate’s outer appearance is the origin of the weapon grenade via French). The Romans called the Pomegranate malum punicum, meaning punic apple or apple of Carthage. This evolved to give Linnaeus the genus name of Punica, in which there is only one other species in the Lythraceae family.
King Solomon’s Crown
The Pomegranate’s persistent calyx is said to have inspired wise King Solomon’s crown. This was later the basis for the crowns of European kings.
Despite its availability, the Pomegranate does not really seem to have taken off in Western cooking even today. This is perhaps because of its acidic tang and the uncertainty, mess and fiddle in extracting the seeds. (If you wish to persevere, you can find guidance on YouTube).
Pomegranate in Art
It has been used more widely over the centuries as decoration, and especially with symbolic meaning in the Arts. Paintings use the Pomegranate to symbolise fertility, as in the painting of Girl with a Pomegranate from 1875 by the French artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) below:
Pomegranate juice is perhaps more familiar in the West. It offers high levels of antioxidants, Vitamins C and K along with other potential health benefits. It is more likely to be used as the non-alcoholic syrup Grenadine in cocktails this Christmas. The most popular cocktails with Grenadine are Singapore Sling and Tequila Sunrise. You can also find mocktail alternative recipes online. Unfortunately, it is not guaranteed that there will be actual Pomegranate juice in your Grenadine, as bars commonly use commercial blackcurrant or raspberry-based substitutes.
References and Further Reading
Chandra, Ram & Babu, Dhinesh & Jadhav, Vilas & Teixeira da Silva, Jaime. (2010): Origin, History and Domestication of Pomegranate. Fruit, Vegetable and Cereal Science and Biotechnology. Global Science Books. Volume 4, pp.1-6. 25 December 2010. Last accessed 6 December 2019.
Christenhusz, Maarten J. M. & Fay, Michael F. & Chase, Mark W. (2017): Plants of the World. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Vascular Plants. Kew, Chicago.
Idayatova, Sabina (2014): Pomegranate: A Crowned Fruit. Azernews. 13 January 2014. Last accessed 6 December 2019.
My Jewish Learning (2002-19): 9 Jewish Things About Pomegranates. Why this ancient fruit is a Jewish symbol. Last accessed 6 December 2019.
Van Wyk, Ben-Erik (2005): Food Plants of the World. An Illustrated Guide. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon, USA.