The pomegranate, whose supposed 613 seeds make it a popular choice for High Holy
Day meals, continues to become more and more available throughout the year,
rather than simply during the period surrounding the September and October
For over a decade, plant scientists at the Volcani Institute of
Agricultural Research have been developing and refining varieties of the
pomegranate plant that are now able to grow and bear fruit in up to eight months
of the year – a development that continues to make all agricultural work
associated with the fruit much more worthwhile and economical, according to
Dr. Sheenan Harpaz, director of deputy research and associate director of
international cooperation at the institute.
“The pomegranate is a new-old
plant here in Israel,” said Harpaz during a late September journalists’ tour of
“It’s one of the fruits this country has been blessed
with. In the past decade or so we have been doing a lot of work in order to
introduce better varieties.”
The scientists at the institute, a
subsidiary of the Agriculture and Regional Development Ministry – have been
working on methods to better irrigate, fertilize and breed the plants to
increase their annual yields, but only recently have developed new forms of the
fruit that are able to sustain climatic conditions throughout the
“The extension of pomegranate season in Israel from July till
February (eight months) became possible for two main reasons: (1) breeding of
new early-season varieties that begin bearing fruit from July, and (2) extension
of post-harvest storage of the lateseason varieties harvested at the end of
October till as late as February,” Dr. Ron Porat, a researcher in post-harvest
storage and food science told The Jerusalem Post
storage techniques have been developed by Porat and his team, the special
breeding techniques are performed by Dr.
Doron Holland, a molecular
genetics researcher at the institute’s northern Neveh Ya’ar facility, where he
began working on attaining a year-round presence for the pomegranate in
“My work is a continuation of more than about 30 years of work of my predecessors. They initiated it by connecting pomegranate material
from all over Israel,” Holland said, noting that in 2004 his team first began
getting good quality fruits for extended periods through genetic crossings, but
that these were quite “difficult to store” at first.
This was when
Porat’s postharvest group joined in the effort, leading some pomegranate
cultivars to become available on the market by around 2008, according to
Holland. But the multidisciplinary team’s work is far from over, as Holland is
currently aiming to extend the pomegranate’s growing season even further, while
maintaining top quality products at high yields and low costs to farmers, he
“It’s not a big problem to make them the whole year – it’s a
combination of using the appropriate genetics and geological conditions,”
“But the problem is to get highquality fruit whenever we
Once you achieve this you have to work on other aspects – being
able to produce in high yields at a relatively low investment.
engaged now in developing appropriate processes to make it possible to produce
them in mass, in high quality at a very low investment,” he added.
moment, the new early season fruit varieties are redder, sweeter and have softer
seeds than those that ripen later in the season, according to Porat, but Holland
stressed that this will not always be the case as quality improves.
impetus for growing fruits throughout the year is for the commercialization of a
machine that extracts and separates pomegranate seeds at a capacity of 1.5 tons
of fruit per day and delivers them on a conveyor belt, a system developed by
scientists at Volcani’s Agricultural Engineering Institute, Harpaz said. The
machine, invented by Dr. Yoav Sarig and a team of researchers, was submitted for
United States patent in 2004, and officially received its patent license this
June, according to the US Patent Office.
“This machine is very expensive.
The pomegranate season is usually only two months a year. So someone who buys
this machine has a machine that sits idle nine or 10 months,” Harpaz said. “In
order to overcome that we’ve developed varieties that develop and give fruit
throughout the year.
“We have reached the situation where the owner of
this machine doesn’t have to stand and look at this machine with cobwebs on it,”
The machine is commercially available, and is sold by the Yuran
company both in Israel and all over the world – mainly in California, according
In addition to prospective increased availability of
pomegranates, other harvest projects of late at the institute include an
automatic olive harvesting machine that contains special traps to destroy
insects, and a mechanism that saves waste products for compost, Harpaz
Meanwhile, herbs and spices from the institute and farmers
around Israel are being sold en masse to Europe, he added.
basil to Italy,” Harpaz said, chuckling, but noting that Israel exports about 15
different herbs, including basil, chives, oregano, rosemary, sage and
lemongrass. “We were able to do that by producing fresh herbs that are packed in
this special plastic packaging – we call it breathing
Steering away from plants and into the domestic animal realm,
Harpaz said that the institute is currently working with desert aquaculture
ornamental fish farms, to mass produce male Israeli “Nemo” fish – amphibrions –
for sale in Europe, where the fish that resembles the title character of the
Disney film has become extremely popular. In order to quickly make the fish
available for sale, fishermen in the Philippines and surrounding areas were
spreading cyanide to catch and resuscitate 1 to 2 percent of them, while
destroying the others, according to Harpaz.
“We have four farms in which
these fish are propagated artificially, far away from the sea,” Harpaz said,
noting that there are 20 farms in the Arava Desert. “In doing so, we are
alleviating the pressure on the coral reef in different places of the world.”