But this native of the Middle East seems to have fallen through the cultural cracks, and it was largely ignored by the West until recently. Today, this luscious fruit and its juice are the focus of much research.
People in many parts of the world still chew bits of the pomegranate tree’s bark, its petals, and the fruit’s peel to treat all sorts of conditions, from dysentery to mouth and gum diseases. Western researchers, however, are focusing on cancer, heart disease, and other killers. Studies have shown that pomegranates may reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, decrease hardening of the arteries, protect against prostate and breast cancers, guard women from osteoporosis, and ease arthritis by slowing loss of cartilage.
What’s In That Fruit?
Pomegranates are a rich source of antioxidants, scavengers that neutralize free radicals before they can harm your body. They also contain flavonoids, known to relieve bladder and urinary tract infections. Researchers find that pomegranate juice, a natural source of phytoestrogen, reduces night sweats and other symptoms of menopause.
The latest, exciting research indicates that pomegranate juice may prevent recurrence in men treated for prostate cancer. Men with rising prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels drank 8 ounces of pomegranate juice a day. Their PSA levels rose nearly four times more slowly while they were consuming this juice. Some of the men still drinking pomegranate juice have kept their PSA levels stable for more than three years, delaying the need for more radical treatment.
“In older men 65 to 70 who have been treated for prostate cancer, we can give them pomegranate juice and it may be possible for them to outlive their risk of dying from their cancer,” says lead researcher Allan Pantuck, MD, at UCLA’s Jonsson Cancer Center.
Peel & Enjoy
To prepare a fresh pomegranate, cut the top (or thorn) off. Score the skin as you would an orange and peel it back gently. You’ll see a honeycomb of seeds in sections of white filament. Each ruby seed is filled with tangy juice. Gently push the seeds out as you peel away and discard the filament and skin. These treasured seeds can be used in salads, juiced as a marinade for meats, or eaten out of hand.
Working with pomegranates can be messy, so wear an apron or old clothes. You can also immerse the fruit in a bowl of lukewarm water to contain drips while you peel. Like most berries, the juice will stain, so clean up as you go or use the underwater treatment.
To juice, cut fruit in half and use a juicer, as you would for an orange. Pour through a sieve or cheesecloth-lined strainer. One large pomegranate will produce about 1/2 cup of juice.
Perfect for holiday menus with their bright red color, fresh pomegranates are available from October through late December. But you can enjoy bottled pomegranate juice all year. Read labels and choose an unsweetened juice without additives or artificial ingredients.