The pomegranate trees with their beautiful light green leaves give a lovely contrast against the darker greens that are more common across the Algarve. But also, they have been busy growing their bright red fruits for months now and they are finally ready to eat. But as you reach up eagerly to pluck one from the tree you will, more often than not, find that the other side has already been gouged out by a bird.
Now, I’m not saying they shouldn’t eat them, there’s enough to go around, but as they are not only packed with serious deliciousness, but also with no end of health benefits - we should really try and get up earlier and get in on the action too.
Pomegranates really are some of nature’s most closely guarded treasures.
Quite literally. First off you need to pick them off the tree. Not always easy as the branches are full of spikes, and shaking them off like alfarrobas or almonds doesn’t work. Unless you have somebody underneath who’s a really, really good catch - they are bound to explode on the floor.
I find this interesting as the name pomegranate comes originally from the medieval Latin ‘p?mum’ meaning apple and ‘gr?n?tum’ seeded, but the French went on to call them ‘pomme grenade’, which in turn gave its name to the military hand grenade. I thought that this was perhaps something to do with the fact that the tip or crown of the pomegranate points out a bit and looks like the pin you remove out of the top of the grenade. It is a little bit, but it’s more to do with the inside. Apparently the inside of a grenade is packed with lots of little pieces of shrapnel that look very similar to the seeds packed inside a pomegranate. If only grenades just exploded with red pomegranate juice.
Sure, it’s a tough stain to get out of your clothes, but the world would be a better place.
But back to picking them. If you do manage to get your hands on a nice juicy red pomegranate, without getting scratched by the tree or the grenade exploding, it’s on to the next security system. They are surrounded by a leathery red rind that is almost impenetrable without a good beak like the birds have (although it should be said that the birds do have some help - if the pomegranates get wet while they are ripening they have a tendency to split open themselves). Your teeth and fingernails just won’t cut it (literally) and you can either wait until you get home, or if you are desperate (and willing to forgo finesse) maybe try and find a sharp rock.
But it’s worth the time and effort. Once you’ve cracked the safe, nature’s bright red jewels come overflowing out. You’ve hit the jackpot.
The red ‘arils’ (seeds) are so tasty. However, a word of warning, you want to be very careful to avoid eating the surrounding pith, just the tiniest bit turns what should be a delightful mouthful into a bitter affair.
The pomegranate tree originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Himalayas, and they have been cultivated all over the Mediterranean, in Asia and tropical parts of Africa for centuries. Here in Portugal (where they are called ‘Romãs’) they are mostly only found south of the River Tejo.
They were cultivated by the Phoenicians, Greeks and Egyptians and are mentioned frequently in theology books as they have always been believed to be a divine fruit.
They have long since been known as a symbol of fertility. The Ancient Greeks for example, put them under the dominion of Aphrodite, as they were believed to have aphrodisiac properties.
What I was very amused to discover is that all these years later science is finally proving the Greeks right. Pomegranates have been proven to increase blood flow and help with erectile dysfunction. They also lower the oxidative stress levels in the body, which is linked with sperm dysfunction and a decreased fertility in women. This makes sense, as the less stressed you are the more likely it is your body is going to work properly. They also increase levels of the sex hormone testosterone in both sexes. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, these natural little red pills have quite often been described as a ‘natural viagra’.
But pomegranates don’t just turn you into a sex God, they also grant you many other supernatural powers. Just for starters they are great for your immune system as they are rich in vitamin C, potassium, and they have high levels of antioxidants called polyphenols. Pomegranate juice is said to have 3 times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea.
They also help reduce inflammations in the body and so can also help with headaches, joint pain and skin conditions. They also thin your blood which helps oxygen flow more freely, which in turn has been proven to help with memory and exercise, and help prevent cardiovascular diseases.
They are also said to make your skin glow. Another god-like property no doubt bestowed upon them by Aphrodite. Those polyphenols protect your cells from what’s known as ‘free radicals’ that are responsible for premature aging. If you were hoping to discover the elixir of youth, I’d say that pomegranates are almost certainly on the list of ingredients.
There’s plenty of pomegranate juices in the shops and, as long as they aren’t full of additives, they are quite good for you too. However, as is the case with all juices, you lose the fibre you get from eating the fruit whole. Pomegranates have a good dose of fibre that helps keep your digestive system in motion and prevent bloating and constipation. It also helps you feel full, and so pomegranates are said to also aid in weight loss. Feels like cheating doesn’t it? Lose weight by gorging on natural sweeties.
Pomegranates are one of the healthiest fruits on earth. The ancients have always known that they are a gift from the gods - and they are growing on trees around you, now! Find yourself one that’s a beautiful deep red (before the birds do), crack open the safe and sprinkle your treasure on your salads, or maybe even put them in some Greek yogurt.
Aphrodite would approve.