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Ideal ingredient calling card: pomegranates

Pomegranates, native to Asia, are taking the world by storm with promising health benefits. Here's everything you need to know about this fruit in a quick cheat sheet: from market drivers to bioactives.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum)

What it’s made of

  • The edible parts of the fruit
  • Juice of the fruit with or without the peel
  • Oil of the seeds

Where it’s grown

  • Native to Iran and the Himalayas in northern India
  • Has been cultivated/naturalized in the Mediterranean region since ancient times 
  • India is the leading producer of pomegranate; Iran and the United States follow.
  • UK retailer Waitrose is supporting POM354 – a scheme to replace poppy plantations with pomegranate orchards in war-ravaged Afghanistan. 

Food or medicine?

  • Ranked 18th in the world consumption of fruit
  • Has been used medicinally by people of many cultures for centuries
  • Although the weight of evidence is inadequate for any one health claim, preliminary evidence shows promise.
  • A number of ongoing clinical trials of prostate cancer have potential to shed light on its anticancer effects.

Manufacturing constraints

  • Restricted largely to sweet and beverage applications because of color and flavor
  • Its susceptibility to heat and light limits its application in prepared meals manufacture.
  • An agricultural crop with limited availability has led to pomegranate flavor instead of real pomegranate in beverages and desserts.

Market drivers

  • Greater demand for convenience
  • More diverse choices
  • Growing demand for ethnic and exotic ingredients
  • Growing consumer awareness of health benefits
  • Growth in private label
  • Polarization of markets: premium and budget

Physiological effects

The physiological effects of the whole fruit, its juices and extracts are promising against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and prostate cancer (as reported from human clinical trials) and are attributed to high polyphenolic content, specifically punicalagins, punicalins, gallagic acid and ellagic acid. These compounds are converted during digestion to ellagic acid and urolithins, suggesting that the metabolites may be more effective than what is in the fruit. Anthocyanins and the unique fatty acid profile of the seed oil also offer health benefits.

Pomegranate bioactives

Anatomical origins of valuable extracts: peels, seeds, arils, bark and roots

  • Pomegranate juice: anthocyanins, glucose, ascorbic acid, ellagic acid, ellagitannins, gallic acid, caffeic acid, catechin, quercetin, rutin, minerals
  • Pomegranate seed oil: conjugated linolenic acid, linoleic acid, oleic acid, stearic acid, punicic acid, eleostearic acid, catalpic acid
  • Pomegranate peel (constitutes 50 percent of total fruit weight): luteolin, quercetin, kaempferol, gallagic, ellagic acid glycosides, ellagic acid, punicalagin, punicalin, pedunculagin
  • Pomegranate leaves: ellagic acid, fatty acids
  • Pomegranate flower: polyphenols, punicalagin, punicalin, ellagic acid
  • Pomegranate roots and bark: alkaloids, ellagitannins

Surprising fact: Pomegranate peel extracts have higher antioxidant activity than the juice or seed extracts.

Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., is a principal at Corvus Blue, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312.951.5810.

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