“Her mouth resembles a pomegranate blossom"
The great Persian poet -Ferdowsi- described the beauty of Princess Rudabeh to a heavenly fruit in his Epic Book of Kings, Shahnameh. This delicious fruit which is round and has a deep red leathery skin containing hundreds of ruby-red arils has long played an important role not only in Persian cuisine but also in its literature, culture and history.
Pomegranate which in Persian is called “Anar/انار” or more literary "Nar/نار" is native to the central Iranian plateau and comes in different colours and tastes. From red to black coloured skin and sour to sweet, it is widely used in Persian flavours and traditions. Iran has come to have more than 280 types of pomegranate throughout the country from the highlands to the humid parts at the shore of the Caspian Sea and in desert lands in the central plateau just close to the flat gravel lands, the story of red ruby fruit is cited.
According to Greek mythology, long before the tropical passion fruit was introduced to the world the ancient passion fruit –pomegranate- was planted on Cyprus Island by Aphrodite, the Greek Goddess of love and passion. It is also regarded as a magical fruit in Persian myths. The divine warrior of ancient Iran, Esfandiyar ate a pomegranate and became invincible as mentioned in the world's longest epic poem book, Shahnameh.
Among Muslims, it is a sacred fruit as it has been mentioned three times in Quran and along with olives, dates, grapes and figs, pomegranate is considered a heavenly fruit. Likewise, it is a revered fruit in Judaism and plays a significant role in its celebrations and rituals like Rosh Hashana. The Torah describes the pomegranate as one of the seven blessed fruits and it is believed that the pomegranate tree was among the trees that proved the fertility of the Promised Land to Moses.
While Pomegranate is seen in many religious paintings, mostly in the hands of Virgin Marry or Infant Jesus, in Christianity pomegranate has been mentioned several times in the Bible.
In Zoroastrianism, the ancient monotheist religion of Iran, the pomegranate is still in the centre of each ritual and even marriage ceremony or funeral. Being an eternal sacred element for the Zoroastrians, it is carried to the marriage proposal ceremony along with the bouquet and sweets as the symbol of love, life and alliance.
Pomegranate has been repeatedly mentioned in both classic and contemporary Persian literary works such as Shahnameh, Masnavi Manavi, Tarikh-e Bayhaqi and several other books from the pre-Islamic era to the present time. Many great poets and writers have used its unique features to describe the beauty of the beloved, the sorrows of the heart, the taste of life, etc. It is so rooted in Persian culture that there is even a specific poem about pomegranate in primary school books.
Furthermore, Persians tend to name their female children with words related to pomegranate. Some of the most popular names are Gol'nar, Nar'dokht, Nar'een, Nar'gol.
Most Famous Persian ceremonies such as Nowruz, Yalda Night and Chaharshanbeh Souri are the heritage of their Zoroastrian ancestors and since pomegranate is of great importance in Zoroastrianism, it must be present in all of these celebrations, specifically Yalda night. As pomegranate symbolizes fertility, rebirth and life in Persian culture, it definitely is the best fruit to be eaten on the longest and darkest night of the year.
There are also special thanksgiving festivals held in many cities of Iran such as Taft, Saveh, Arsanjan and Hawraman in the name of "Jashn-e Anar ", where people get together, play local music, eat pomegranates, prepare special food and celebrate its harvest season in the fall.
The variety of Persian dishes, drinks and desserts made with pomegranate is endless, but among all, Fesenjan is certainly the King! The most delicious and famous one. This rich, flavorful and creamy mixture of finely ground walnuts and sour-sweet pomegranate molasses which usually contains meatballs or chicken is a traditional Persian stew served with rice and is considered a luxurious food that is usually prepared for special events or parties. The cookery of Gilan is full of cuisines flavoured with northern sour pomegranate molasses which give incomparable taste to the foods such as "Kabab Torsh/ Sour Kebab", "Morgh e Torsh/ Sour Chicken" and stuffed eggplants or fishes.
No need to mention that other products of pomegranate like its juice, arils, paste, jam, syrup and the most favourite snack for children and adults is definitely pomegranate fruit bar with the sour taste that no one can resist not getting into the trap of it.
It was in the 18th century that Spanish people took this tree to California and introduced it to the Western world. Since then, pomegranate got very popular and its nutritional benefits became known to the public, some are listed below:
They are rich in Antioxidants
They act as natural blood purifiers
They have cancer prevention effects
They reduce heart diseases
They are good for lowering blood pressure
According to all that was discussed above, from the cultural, historical and religious background of pomegranate to its nutritional benefits it is no surprise that it has always been a favourite and revered fruit among Iranians since the ancient times till present.
By Nazanin Moayed / TasteIran