A Taste of Heaven: Pomegranates
Zaira Ahmad, MS, RD
The pomegranate is a unique fruit known as a symbol for good health and remedy that spans across cultures, empires, and religions. The rumaan (pomegranate in Arabic) has notable mention in both the Quran and Hadith as a heavenly indulgence on Earth.
The sweet, distinct fruit is mentioned as a sign of God in Surat Al-An’am (The Cattle): “It is He who sent water down from the sky to let all kinds of plants grow…and pomegranates of all types. See the fruits when they are growing and when they are ripe. This too, is evidence for those who believe” (6:99).
Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]) stated: “There is not a pomegranate which does not have a pip from one of the pomegranates of the Garden in it.” Taking this to heart, that means every pomegranate you consume has come from the seeds of a pomegranate in Heaven!
The pomegranate trees are native across the Himalayas in India to Iran but have been cultivated for centuries across the globe. They can now be found across Southeast Asia, the East Indies, tropical Africa, the entire Mediterranean region, and even in drier regions of California and Arizona. The trees blooms large red and white flowers that give way to a round, grenade-shaped, thick-skinned, purple, red, or yellow-orange colored fruit (depending on the type). The inside of the fruit contains numerous arils (seeds) in a white pericarp medium. Each seed is surrounded by small amounts of red juice, giving the appearance of suspended glistening rubies.
Pomegranates have gained steam as a superfood in recent decades, sparking interest from scientists and foodies alike. Read on to explore the wonder of this marvelous fruit.
Surat Ar-Rahman (The Beneficent) confirms the pomegranate as sign of God, a favor unto His believers on Earth, and specifically mentions the fruit towards the end of verse 68: “In both of them are fruit of palms trees and pomegranates” (55:68).
Across time, the pomegranate has been a symbol of good health and used for healing purposes. In ancient times of the Torah, Talmud, and Bible it was seen as a sacred fruit possessing powers of fertility, abundance, and good luck. The ancient Egyptians used the pomegranate to treat infection. Eastern therapeutic disciplines such as Ayurvedic and Unani medicine consider the fruit a “pharmacy unto itself.” It is used as an anti-parasitic agent and to heal aphthae, diarrhea, and ulcers. In the Middle East and India, the fruit serves as a remedy for diabetes. The pomegranate has also been known as a blood builder and skin toner. Its juice has even been used as an eye drop to hinder the development of cataracts.
The pomegranate is considered a functional food, meaning that it has a potentially positive effect on health. It may offer additional benefits beyond its basic nutritional properties, reduce the risk of disease, and promote optimal health.
A half-cup of pomegranate contains 16 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of protein, and 1 gram of fat. These nutrients provide about 72 calories per half-cup serving. Although they are high in sugar, they also contain a good amount of fiber per serving, about 3.5 grams. To an extent, the fiber content balances the effects of sugar in the body. Pomegranates are also a good source of vitamin C (more than 15 percent of the daily requirement per serving). Additional vitamins found in the fruit include vitamin B, folates, pyroxidine, and vitamin K. Small amounts of minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, and manganese are also found in the fruit.
Pomegranates are also notable for their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants counteract damaging effects of oxidation on cells—a harmful process that may lead to cancer. The pomegranate leaf, flower, peel, juice, and seed all contain helpful antioxidants and beneficial compounds such as tannins, polyphenols, flavonoids, and anthocyanins.
Since the year 2000, there have been over 150 scientific papers exploring and discussing the health benefits of consuming pomegranates.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Pomegranate and its rind strengthen the stomach.” Modern research is now coinciding with the plethora of health benefits the pomegranate is known for both in ancient times and the Hadith.
Research shows that the consumption of pomegranate products leads to a significant accumulation of ellagitannins in the large intestine. Once there, they interact with the complex gut microflora. The pomegranate byproducts inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract, essentially behaving as probiotics and aiding in strengthening the stomach (as mentioned in the hadith above).
Additional studies show that pomegranate juice and seed extracts have two to three times the antioxidant capacity of red wine or green tea. Numerous in vitro studies show that pomegranate extracts (juice, seed oil, peel) inhibit prostate cancer cell intrusiveness and growth.
In another study, diabetic patients with hyperlipidemia found drinking pomegranate juice decreased their cholesterol absorption, increased their fecal excretion of cholesterol, and reduced total LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. For those with hypertension, drinking the juice of the pomegranate reduced systolic blood pressure, which can help protect against cardiovascular disease.
In reports on diabetes, pomegranate juice consumption lowers serum C-peptide values by about 23 percent, allowing for improved insulin sensitivity. This corresponds with ancient uses for pomegranate to treat diabetes.
In accordance to the olden use of pomegranates to treat aphthae (painful oral ulcers), recent research shows topical preparations of the fruit effectively control oral inflammation and bacterial/fungal count in periodontal disease.
As the obesity epidemic continues to rise, the pomegranate may be a useful nutritional intervention. Seed extracts, leaf extracts, flower extracts, and pomegranate juice have demonstrated increased weight loss in animals and humans when consumed over time. Some studies have shown positive results in decreasing body measurements and weight in as little as four weeks. It is important to keep in mind that weight control should also include a healthful diet and regular exercise.
As research on the pomegranate continues to emerge, there is also evidence that this fruit can help treat infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and other types of cancer.
Surat Al-An’am guides us to “Eat their fruits when they ripen, but pay due thereof on the day of its harvest. And waste not by extravagance. Verily, He likes not those who waste by extravagance” (6:141). Believers are advised to use the gifts bestowed upon us to their maximum benefit, and the pomegranate is a superb example to follow.
Recall that the edible seed and juice are powerhouses for antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The extracts from the leaf, flower, and peel of the fruit also yield numerous antioxidants.
To gain more insight towards the many uses of the pomegranate, Ruman Sadiq of Bayonne, New Jersey, has much to share. Sadiq states, “At first I used to dislike my name because everyone who tried to pronounce it would butcher it, and they were unaware of its meaning. However, after I pondered over the fact that out of all the 2,000 plus fruits in this world, and out of all the countless number of fruits in Jannah [Heaven], God chose to distinctively mention pomegranates in His book. What an honor! My father named me Ruman because of his love for the Surat Ar-Rahman.”
After gaining appreciation for both her name and the fruit, Sadiq has tried to look for products that contain pomegranates in them so that she may practice what her name preaches. She even used them as part of her centerpieces in her wedding! She adds, “You can dry them out and use them as decor for the home or formal events. They last several years with proper care. It is truly a beautiful and beneficial fruit, inside and out!”
The pomegranate is indeed a gift from Heaven. Although pricey, its healthful and nutritional properties make the fruit a good investment. Research shows that the entire fruit, as well as its leaves and flowers, can be a powerful source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Its seeds and juice can be used in a variety of ways, adding a healthy boost to any menu. The dried skin can even be used in décor. Remember to be creative and you’ll be amazed at all the ways the pomegranate can benefit you.
To relish in its rich flavor, eat the fresh fruit without adding anything. Getting the arils out of the leathery skin and white spongy membrane can be tricky. Make superficial vertical incisions across the skin and then break it apart. Separating the arils is neatest when done in a bowl of cold water; the juice will not splash or stain your surroundings and clothes this way. The arils will settle down at the bottom while the white pulp floats. Lastly, gently pat the seeds dry and enjoy!
Zaira Ahmad is a registered dietitian/nutritionist from the greater New York area. She has a master’s degree in nutrition and food science with experience in nutrition education/counseling and acute/long term nutrition care.