Twist of Pomegranate

Life is full of funny little twists and connections. Take the pomegranate, for example…

The deep red juice of the pomegranate seemed to pop up out of nowhere, suddenly occupying space in my grocer’s produce section. During a seminar on flavor trends presented at FONA International, formerly Flavors of North America, I learned that new flavors tend to first hit the market through beverages. Consumers seem to be more adventurous with what they drink as opposed to what they eat. I had no idea I’ve actually known the fruit for quite some time.

While visiting my grandparents as a child, I had spied a captivating bottle next to the high-ball glasses behind their bar. The label with a cartoonish Hawaiian dancer only partially obscured what looked like bad chemistry. The contents had separated with age into a sugary lump and a fading red liquid. My father also had been fascinated by this bottle as a child, but I have a feeling the hula girl was the draw for a grade-school kid in the 1950s. The mess inside, before its breakdown, was the magic elixir grenadine—the key to the ubiquitous “kiddie cocktail” that I savored on special occasions.

That syrup is, in fact, flavored with pomegranate, and now, like fruit falling from the tree, pomegranate is everywhere I aim my eyes.

The pomegranate is native to Iran and northern India. It was subsequently cultivated and naturalized over the entire Mediterranean region and now is grown worldwide. In the U.S., the pomegranate is grown predominately in the drier parts of California and Arizona.
The taste depends on the variety and state of ripeness. Ranging from very sweet to very sour, the characteristic taste is laced with notes of tannin. My only first-hand taste experiences with pomegranate, beyond the kiddie cocktails, touched on both extremes of the fruit. Starbuck’s offers an iced pomegranate tea that is fairly tart and plays up the tannins. Upon tasting, my 8-year old son simply declared it “nasty.” The sweet side of the fruit was an eye-watering slap in a pomegranate sangria. I’m not one to dump libations, but I felt that the alcohol and aggressive sweetness were already battling within the glass and my stomach was no place for continued hostilities.

Even though I think the taste is most often a disaster, I can’t deny the prominence pomegranate is gaining across store shelves.

As I walked HBA in September, the foothold pomegranate has gained in all facets of our industry was clear. A company called Pomegranate Health had a booth promoting the nutraceutical and cosmeceutical benefits, and Ampacet chose the scent of pomegranate to showcase its new fragrant bottles—a pretty nifty way to sample what’s inside the bottle without opening it—and there are plenty of cosmetic formulations that now include pomegranate for its antioxidant properties.

I met David Fondots, Extracts & Ingredients’ vice president of sales and marketing, at the show, and he supplied me with the data behind the skin of the fruit. He also gave me pomegranate headlines of the week, including a USA Today article that declared “We’re in a pomegranate population explosion.”

Pomegranates have been used extensively as a traditional medicine in various cultures around the world for centuries. The fruit contains a wide range of polyphenolic compounds—including ellagic acid, flavonoids, anthocyanidins, tannins as well as vitamin C—and various components of pomegranate are reported to be bactericidal and antiviral. It is one of approximately six plant sources known that contain conjugated fatty acids, and no other plant oil commonly known or readily obtainable contains such compounds. These fatty acids inhibit eicosanoid metabolism, meaning they are significant natural anti-inflammatory agents and appropriate as an antiaging ingredient.

Ellagic acid from the peel, juice and seed extract, and punicic acid, found in the seed oil, are key ingredients to Extracts & Ingredients’ Pomegranate Seed Oil. According to company literature, the product imparts excellent moisturizing and nourishing properties—including boosting the restoration and repair of skin, evening skin tone, aiding in collagen production and acting as a natural SPF booster.

Does the flavor of pomegranate have staying power? That’s to be seen. It is clear, however, that pomegranate has made solid strides onto shelves in personal care and cosmetic aisles and into consumers’ collective conscience. And the data supporting pomegranate’s benefits in personal care products should ensure that it continues to proliferate as an ingredient regardless of how the Sybil-esque sweet/tart fruit fairs as a flavor.

Jeff Falk is the associate editor of GCI magazine and avoids pomegranate flavored drinks. His son, however, is taken with grenadine-laced lemon-lime soda and waxes poetic about the day he opens a kiddie cocktail stand.

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