By Sabina Idayatova
Fruits benefiting the humans that were blessed by God are natural and safe cures for people's health. Pomegranate, which is considered to be "the king of all fruits" in the East, is the most valuable and worthy of them. It is also said that since the ancient times the kings` head-gear is associated with pomegranate's "crown" shape head and Biblical King Solomon, who was a ruler in approximately 967 B.C.E was the first king to wear a crown known to everybody which was designed after the pomegranate.
Historically, the pomegranate has been associated with fertility and strong health. Derived from the Latin word pomum (apple) and granatum (grained), the pomegranate is mentioned in ancient Egyptian documents, the Bible, as well as ancient Roman recipes for love. The pomegranate has been praised in the Holy Quran in three references and considered to be a fruit of paradise and an example of the good things God has created.
Pomegranate has been used as a symbol of humanity, fundamental beliefs and desires, life and death, birth and eternal life, fertility and marriage, abundance and prosperity almost in all religions. For the Jews, the pomegranate represents righteousness; for the Christians, it means life and hope for eternal life; and for the Chinese it implies wealth and many sons.
Pomegranate has been cultivated over millennia throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East and Caucasus regions, northern and tropical Africa, the Indian subcontinent and southeastern Asia.
Pomegranate is one of the most favorite fruits of Azerbaijanis. The Azerbaijani climate stands out for its climatic uniqueness; nine of the Earth's eleven climatic zones exist in Azerbaijan. As pomegranates are typically grown in semi-arid mild-temperate to subtropical climate and naturally adapt to regions with mild winters and hot summers, they are a widely cultivated and consumed fruit in our country.
The fruit of a pomegranate tree differs with its majestic peculiarities and has been associated with legendary powers for centuries. The Persians believe Eve actually ate a pomegranate, not an apple, when she plucked from the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with pomegranates because they believed it promised eternal life. The Greeks break open a pomegranate at weddings and the Chinese eat candied pomegranate seeds for good luck.
Being one of the symbols of Azerbaijani profusion, pomegranates have been cultivated in the country throughout centuries. Pomegranate is a sun-loving plant and is usually grown in the warmest southern Azerbaijani regions. Different varieties of pomegranate are planted in Azerbaijan, and wild trees are encountered as well.
Pomegranate contains 8-19 percent of glucose and fructose, 3-7 percent - citric acid, minerals as well as vitamins, cellulose, pectin substances, etc. This fruit is extremely rich in antioxidants.
Pomegranate seed oil as well as pomegranate juice are known to reduce swelling, prevent aging, lung, prostate and breast cancer, and to protect people from sunburn and ultraviolet damage to the skin. The fruit even protects teeth from decay and is suggested for weight reduction and cholesterol control.
Pomegranate is also widely used in cosmetics. The pomegranate seed oil has good nourishing, moisturizing effects that repair the epidermis and improve skin elasticity. Moreover, it has three times as many antioxidants as red wine and green tea that protect against premature aging by helping reduce the signs of skin aging caused by sun damage and wrinkles, as well as counters hyperpigmentation.
The fruit is ripe when it gains a distinctive color. The fruits must be picked before maturity i.e. when they tend to crack open.
There are three types of pomegranate trees, with one of them being Grenada which has smaller, deep red fruits that ripen in late August; there are also sweet, large, juicier fruits that ripen in early September and white-pale colored, sweetest fruits which ripen in early September.
Pomegranate has a long shelf life and can be stored for a period of 7 months within the 5-7°C temperature range and at 80 to 85 percent relative humidity, without shrinking or spoiling. In fact, while the fruits are in the storage they become juicier and more flavorful.
Traditionally, pomegranates have been cultivated in almost every region of Azerbaijan. The most popular Azerbaijani sorts of pomegranates are Guloysha, Bala Mursal, Nazik gabig, Shah nar, Girmizi gabig, Shelli cross breeding, Girmizi valas Shahnaz, Agshirin, etc.
Particularly, Goychay pomegranates gained international recognition and were named "the true Azerbaijani pomegranates". The secret of the magnificent taste and quality of the Goychay pomegranates is unique microclimate and soil composition. The quality of fresh pomegranates should meet the requirements of Azerbaijani standard (RST 202-74). The cultivation, production, collection, storage, processing, packaging, labeling and export of pomegranates and pomegranate products in Azerbaijan have already been brought into compliance with the standards of the European Union.
There are several products made from pomegranate that are inherent to the Azerbaijani cuisine. For example, pomegranates are often consumed as juice.
Pomegranate juice contains 8-19 per cent of sugar and 0.3-9 per cent of lemon acid and is especially rich in vitamin C. Pomegranate juice is a good cure to treat the lack of appetite, anaemia and other diseases.
The modern history of pomegranate juice originated in the 1960s when Timur Akhmedov laid the foundation of fruit juice production in Azerbaijan. Thanks to his efforts new specialized pomegranate state farms were established, the existing pomegranate plantations were expanded and new ones were set up to cultivate the best and selected types of pomegranates, which served as an impetus for wider cultivation of pomegranates both in Goychay and in the adjacent areas.
Long ago the Azerbaijani people squeezed juice from pomegranates, but in the absence of suitable conditions for storage they had to extract juice concentrate by boiling and use it as a sauce, now widely known as Narsharab (pomegranate sauce). It is a sour-sweet dark-brown product made from condensed pomegranate juice and served with greasy meat and fish dishes, including kebabs.
Another product made from pomegranate, Nardancha, is a sour product made by mixing pomegranate seeds with sugar. The nardancha is usually served with rice dishes.
Pomegranate is one of the most promising agricultural goods with high export potential due to peculiarities preventing its perishing.
Pomegranate and pomegranate products are consumed in foreign markets during all seasons of the year. Therefore, a policy is pursued in order to promote public awareness of pomegranate processing enterprises and entrepreneurs engaged in this business, increase access to foreign markets, support production and export of pomegranate products in accordance with international requirements and standards.
According to the data for recent years, the number of entities dealing with the production and export of pomegranate products in Azerbaijan is increasing. Processing plants have launched operation in Goychay, Gabala, Ujar and Sabirabad, with the support provided through concessional state lending.
The varieties of pomegranates such as Red and Pink Guloysha, Gırmızıgabıg, Nazikgabig, Shah nar, Red cross-breed, Gayum-nar are in demand both in the domestic and foreign markets. The main distinctive feature of the popular Azerbaijani pomegranates is their cultivation in organic climate and non-use of organic fertilizers.
Currently, both fresh and processed Azerbaijani pomegranates are available in the local and foreign markets. Since the Soviet times, products like fresh pomegranate and pomegranate juice have been mainly exported to major foreign markets such as Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic states and European countries.
Since 2006 the Pomegranate Festival related to the harvesting time has been celebrated in Azerbaijan's Goychay region on the initiative of the Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Goychay Executive Power on November. The varieties of pomegranates grown in different villages of Goychay and the products made of pomegranate are brought to the center of the region and shown at an exhibition held in the town square. Young athletes' performances and concerts take place in the town's center as well.
The main purpose of the holiday is to promote the regions, demonstrate the cultural and economic potential and the development of tourism.