Depending on its environment, pomegranate is a small, deciduous or semi-deciduous shrubby tree, growing 5–8 metres tall. The tree has glossy, narrow, oblong leaves and in spring, bears bright red flowers. The fruit is a rounded hexagonal shape, 5–12cm in diameter, with thick skin that ranges from yellowy red to bright red when ripe. The fruit has many seeds (400–1,200) contained in a juicy, sweet, pulpy structure (aril). The whole fruit is divided by a membranous pith which is bitter. By weight, the average aril is approximately 50% seed and 5% juice, while the entire fruit may be about 35-50% aril/seed, with the balance being the pith. The arils range in colour from light pink to a crimson red.
The flavour of the arils and juice can range from tart to sweet depending on the variety. The arils of the pomegranate may be consumed fresh or juiced; and the juice may be further processed to produce tea, wine, pharmaceutical products and dye.
Pomegranate has an anecdotal history of health benefits and has been used in traditional medicine as a tonic for heart, throat, intestinal and blood health. Since the 2000s, there has been a considerable increase in research by western countries to quantify and better understand the nutritional benefits of pomegranate. Analytical studies show that pomegranate seeds contain high levels of vitamins C and K, antioxidants and fibre; and it has antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral qualities. Preliminary research suggests that pomegranate may be effective in reducing risk factors associated with heart disease and improving skin elasticity.
While pomegranate has been grown as an ornamental in Australian backyards for decades, commercial pomegranate production in Australia has only been contemplated and embarked upon in the 2000s. The industry is very much a ‘new’ industry and pioneering large scale orchards have struggled. However, some experienced growers consider that good opportunities exist for an Australian pomegranate industry but there is much to be learnt about sourcing true-to-type varieties and understanding the interactions between variety, region and management practices.
Facts and figures
- In the 2000s, global demand for pomegranates doubled every three years, outstripping global supply
- The pomegranate juice market in the USA expanded by greater than 750%, into a US$66 million retail industry between 2001 and 2005
- Less than 1.25% of global production originates from the southern hemisphere and of that, less than 2% is produced in Australia
- A significant opportunity exists for Australia to market a counter-seasonal product into the northern hemisphere
India is one of the largest producers of pomegranate, followed by Iran, the United States, Turkey, Spain and Israel. Less than 1.25% of world production is in the southern hemisphere (predominantly South America and South Africa), and Australia only produces 2% of that 1.25%.
There are fewer than 500 hectares of pomegranates planted in Australia, however much of this area had not reached its full potential or full production, due to poorly understood tree health problems in all regions. There are a number of smaller orchards growing pomegranates for the whole fresh and ready-to-eat arils market.
Australia imports pomegranate to meet consumer demand.