A pomegranate is the fruit of a bush native to the Middle East region, although it is also grown commercially in California and other areas with similar climates. The average bush grows to be around 50 feet (about 15 meters) tall, but many species remain relatively close to the ground. Pomegranate bushes have been known to live for hundreds of years, although fruit production tends to drop after a few decades.
A pomegranate is about the size of an orange, with a yellowish shell that turns a rich red color as it matures. Inside the inedible husk are individual cells containing seed kernels. Each seed is surrounded by a juice-filled sac, which is pressed out during processing. It is the juice of the fruit that interests most cooks and health food enthusiasts.
Depending on the variety, pomegranate juice can be extremely sour or pleasantly tart with a degree of sweetness. Many Westerners compare the taste to that of cranberries or sour cherries. It is commonly boiled down into a form of molasses in Middle Eastern countries. A sweet variety of juice is also used to produce grenadine, an ingredient used as a flavor enhancer and colorant in mixed drinks. Straight pomegranate juice is also blended with blueberry or raspberry juice as a healthy beverage.
The main reason many people have become interested in the pomegranate is its antioxidant properties. An average-sized fruit contains substantially more antioxidants than even blueberries or oranges. Antioxidants are believed to protect the body's cells from the damaging effects of free radicals found in oxygen. Since the juice can be a challenge to drink straight, beverage producers may create a more palatable cocktail blend. Chilled juice blends can usually be found in health food outlets and grocery stores.
Because the pomegranate is an ancient fruit, several legends have grown up around it. Some biblical scholars suggest that the "fruit of knowledge" consumed by Adam and Eve against God's command may have been a pomegranate, since it was prevalent during the time of Moses. In some cultures, a representation of the fruit is placed in the bedroom of newlyweds to encourage fertility.