Israeli pomegranates worth their weight in gold

New species bred at Ben-Gurion University taste better and ripen earlier.

By
September 28, 2008 21:02
2 minute read.
Israeli pomegranates worth their weight in gold

pomegranates 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Although many people don't improve from one year to another, pomegranates have. Ben-Gurion University of the Negev horticultural researchers have developed new types of the royal, crowned red fruits that taste better, are more vividly colorful inside and out and ripen in July and August instead of September and October. Prof. Ze'ev Wiesman of the plant oil biotechnology lab heads a team that has worked to improve the genetic makeup of pomegranates - whose use is most popular on Rosh Hashana because of the notion that each fruit has 613 seeds, the number of the commandments in the Torah. Recent scientific articles by BGU researchers on their work in this field have appeared in leading journals and have aroused much attention from around the world. The three new BGU-developed varieties are called Narda, Rotem and Nitzan, and their skin and seeds are reddish-purple, Wiesman told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday. The seeds have a very delicate taste and are soft, so that they can be eaten whole without having to spit out the center as waste. In 1998, a number of special pomegranates were brought from Central Asia by BGU Prof. Dov Pasternak. Different varieties were chosen for early ripening, color and taste and were bred to create new varieties. B-G Negev Technologies, the university's technology transfer company, registered the best varieties for patents and has signed contracts with a number of companies in Israel and abroad. Some have already been planted and put on the market, but in a few years, they will be more readily available (albeit more expensive than conventional varieties) from growers in the south - the Negev hills, Beersheba, Nitzanim and Neve Mivtah near Gadera - as whole fruit and for their juice and oil. Wiesman said that he and his team used conventional breeding rather than genetic engineering, which is much more expensive. In addition, since pomegranates are considered a health food and are especially popular among Europeans who fear and avoid genetically engineered produce, conventional breeding was preferred. When the seeds are dried and pressed, they produce excellent pomegranate oil, which costs $3,000 per kilo. They are very high in antioxidants, which reputedly fight cell ageing, and are being researched for their potential as drugs against cancer and neurological diseases. The strong red color is an indication of a high level of antioxidants, he said, like those in red wine. Wiesman is worried by the worldwide shortage of bees for pollination, but he says there is almost no need for bees in the production of flowers and fruits in pomegranates, as they pollinate themselves.

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