The first known pomegranate variety, called the “wonderful” pomegranate, was
actually responsible for saving the world during ancient times, according to an
“Hades saw this lovely girl Persephone picking flowers
in the field and he abducted her and took her to this dark world,” explained
Baruch Bar-Tel, varieties examiner at the Agriculture Ministry’s Agricultural
After Demeter, Persephone’s mother, responded by
striking the world with drought and famine, Zeus sent his messenger Hermes to
deal with the situation.
“Hermes brought Hades some sweet grains of
pomegranate. And when Hades tasted these sweet arils he said this is wonderful!”
Bar-Tel said. “So we see from this story that at that time, the pomegranate
saved the world, as Demeter was happy again and brought rain again and there was
no more famine and no more drought.”
Bar-Tel told this story at the First
Israel International Pomegranate Symposium, part of the 2012 Fresh AgroMashov:
International Fresh Produce Summit and Exhibition in Tel Aviv on Thursday. The
two-day exhibition, which showcased products and techniques from agriculturists
all over the world, was organized by the Mashov group – the firm also
responsible for the annual CleanTech conference that occurs each spring. At the
pomegranate symposium, arranged by the Pomeg-Tech group, experts from around the
world shared various methods of breeding and cultivating the best pomegranate
crops possible from various corners of the world.
To create the best
pomegranates possible, it is important to keep developing and trying new
varieties, according to Bar-Tel.
These varieties are able to receive
international protection through the Union for the Protection of New Varieties
of Plants (UPOV), a global entity operating since 1991 that maintains a database
of all distinct fruit varieties on worldwide basis.
impossible for any country to maintain large collections of plants,” Bar-Tel
said. “Not every country is able to do it alone.” Pomegranates grow optimally in
regions with cold winters and hot summers, such as Anatalya, Turkey, but they
can also grow in tropical zones – though many of these will bear little fruit,
according to Dr. Fathi Abd Elhadi, CAO of Pomeg-Tech.
one of the original lands in terms of pomegranates,” agreed Prof.
Isik Ozguven, of the department of horticulture at Cukurova University in Adana,
Turkey. “Pomegranate growing is increasing year by year.”
A dormant tree
can potentially survive temperatures lower than negative 11 degrees Celsius as
well as precipitation, Elhadi explained. During ripening, however, the fruits
must remain largely free of rains in order to prevent cracking, he
In order to ensure that the trees are getting enough water but not
being damaged by floods, a farmer should use plastic mulching to enhance
irrigation as well as dig ridges between tree rows to improve soil drainage, he
Around the world, researchers and farmers are seeking out new
methods to optimize the quantity and quality of their pomegranate harvests,
including taking a look at the tiniest of differences – the genetic markers –
“In Turkey, as well as in all the world,
biotechnological research has led to important innovation in pomegranate
breeding,” Ozguven said, stressing that several institutions are trying to
determine genetic relationships between different types of breeds in
The Afghani pomegranate industry is also currently booming, with
50,000 tons of the fruit exported in 2009, and scientists there are also
experimenting with different varieties, according to Dr. Mohammad Ghous, field
horticulturist in Kandahar.
While Ghous was at the last minute unable to
attend the symposium in person, Pomeg-Tech CEO Dr. Dan Rymon delivered his
Ghous and his colleagues are working until 2015 with a
European Commission for Perennial Horticulture Development, to help develop the
fruit industry in general in the country.
In Israel, Dr. Doron Holland, a
fruit molecular genetics researcher at the Neveh Ya’ar Research Center of the
Agricultural Research Organization, has been assigning genetic identity cards to
the different types of cultivars that he and his team produce.
about 150 cultivars – with around 40 originating in Israel, and the rest from
all over the world.
The markers allow the scientists to pinpoint where
each cultivar came from as well as determine what specific fruit types might
have better ripening dates, softer seeds, survival ability in cold, more
significant health benefits and disease resistance, he explained.
was not available up till now,” Holland said. “But in the next years it will be
a must because this is the way to do it. This is what is done in humans and what
is done in other organisms – so why not in pomegranates? But generating the
varieties is not necessarily enough, as the fruits need to be able to stay fresh
for a long time in order to maximize production value.
“In the past
decade there has been a pomegranate renaissance,” said Dr. Gary Ward, of
Israel-based StePac, a subsidiary of United Kingdom parent company DS Smith
Plastics. “It’s considered to be a ‘super-fruit’ rich in
Increased consumption combined with the narrow harvesting
season of the fruit, however, leads to an increased demand for storage
capabilities, according to Ward.
Typically, after two months of storage
in Israel, pomegranates would shrivel and develop skin blemishes.
California, at ideal conditions, 5% oxygen and 15% carbon dioxide, the fruits
were lasting for five months, Ward said.
Since 2003, his company StePac
has therefore been working on developing alternative packaging solutions for
prolonged storage of the fruit.
After years of modifications, StePac now
is producing a type of film bag called Xtend Modified Atmosphere/Modified
Humidity Packaging that minimizes fruit decay, decreases the occurrence of
blemishes and reduces weight loss, Ward explained.
Hearkening back to the
story of Hades and the delicious pomegranate seeds, Bar- Tel stressed the
importance of constantly introducing new and better varieties of the fruit, and
encouraged breeders in the room to do so.
“We hope to see in the future
new varieties, so we can say also in the future that pomegranate saves the world
again,” he said.