Those who wish to explore cultures different to their own do so in a myriad of ways. Travel, music, theatre, film, literature, and languages are some personal favorites. Of course, one would be remiss to ignore food and the very industry that gave us the amazing Anthony Bourdain. Worth nearly 800 billion dollars in the U.S. alone, the restaurant industry has the power to bring us together like few other industries. After all, one does have to eat, right?

Food is that unifier that allows people to sit down, chat, share and discover each other’s cultures, often taking culinary journeys to faraway lands within minutes of their home. Additionally, food can be the inspiration for a weekend getaway, an international cooking class or a photographic journey that includes multiple gastronomies.

IMG: Photo by Arjun Kapoor

Now think about your favorite fruit. Is it local? Perhaps it’s only available seasonally. If you are Persian/Iranian, then there is a high probability that the Anar,  pomegranate, is the protagonist of all fruits, having a  starring role in fesenjān, the quintessential Persian/Iranian chicken dish made with walnuts. Available from September to March or March to May, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres respectively, 1 million tons of pomegranate made its way beyond the Iranian border in 2017 alone. This represents a third of the global production of the favored Persian fruit. It produces profits in excess of USD$1 million.

IMG: Fesenjān served with Ottolenghi eggplant and buttermilk sauce. Ghidra97. Flickr. Creative Commons.

 

The pomegranate’s existence is recorded in the Torah and Bible, even causing some scholars to question whether it really was an apple that caused such an uproar in the Garden of Eden. While the fruit in question caused a separation that day, pomegranates have served to bridge not only cultures but religions as well. Jews, Muslims, Baha’is and other Iranians could come together during Yaldā, or winter solstice, to protect people from evil. Nowadays, it is a celebration to mark the official start of winter, garnering an official place on Iran’s list of National Treasures since 2008.


TRAVEL DEEPER

The next Yaldā Night celebration is Friday, December 21. Would you like to know more about the holiday? Then check out this indepth video.


 

Speaking to Persian friends, they further praise their national fruit for its antioxidant and anti-aging benefits. If drinking it or eating it seems like too much trouble, you can always opt to buy Pomegranate Seed Oil to get your daily dose. When asked to discuss the pomegranate’s fertility powers, however, they claim no such knowledge. Any number of fertility websites will advocate the consumption of pomegranate juice for both men and women. So how did this Persian treasure become a go to for fertility?

The exact answer may elude us. What is true is that the beloved ruby fruit established itself as a poignant symbol of life and abundance in ancient times. Its position across the majority of the world’s religions is evident in the texts, clothing, and art.

Traditions that continue to uphold the belief in its fertility is the Armenian custom of gifting the bride a pomegranate to throw against a wall. The fallen seeds are meant to ensure her future children. Chinese homes historically would have been decorated with ripe fruit showing its seeds as a way to bless the family with fertility and numerous children.

Beyond the fertility of the human variety, pomegranates were also symbolic of the fertility of the land. In Judaism, it was what Moses received to symbolize the promised land. While in Greek mythology, Demeter, the goddess of fertility, was offered pomegranates in prayer for fertile lands during the winter months. A time when she mourned her daughter, Persephone’s, six-month sojourn to Hades in the Underworld.

With so much power and belief placed on it, it is no wonder that couples trying to have children or ramp up their love lives would turn to the ancient fruit. There is also a study from Queen Mary University, Edinburgh, that studied 58 volunteers between the ages of  21-64. After a two-week period, their testosterone levels increased 16-30 percent. However, some want to discredit the research due to it having been partly funded by PomGreat and having no link to the actual research. It seems like there is an opportunity for those wishing to conduct an objective study to do so now. Are there any volunteers who want to possibly lower their high blood pressure, raise their positive emotions, increase their sex drive and increase the possibility of having a child?

IMG: Photo by Hasan Almasi

Whatever you choose, remember that more often than not, what you eat has a history. Do you know what you are actually putting in your body and its potential benefits or harm? You don’t need to be Anthony Bourdain to know your ingredients. Do your own research. You never know what you’ll discover.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some pomegranate juice to drink.

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