- Food and Cooking
Iran over the last three decades or so has come forward in leaps and bounds in many sectors including the agricultural sector. Iran, the nation that is analogous to Persia has a long agricultural history and an agrarian tradition that spans hundreds of years.
Many of the crops, fruits and vegetables that we take for granted have their origins in Iran and neighboring territories including an area that is known as the fertile crescent (Levant and Mesopotamia). Iran is best regarded as the traditional and orthodox bridge between the east and the west.
Iran’s agricultural sector is wide and varied and includes certain fruits that many would consider exotic like pomegranates. Iran is the largest producer and exporter of pomegranates in the world and while the fruit may not suit the delicacies of the western palate it is popular not only in the Middle East but also in South Asia.
It is the most popular fruit in Iran but over the years its consumption has declined in other parts of the world primarily because commercial cultivation has ceased in many countries despite consistent demand. Iran is probably the most conducive country to import pomegranates from next to India.
The most common type or variety of pomegranate is the red pomegranate or as some call it, the ruby of paradise, but there are other varieties that exist in Iran that have acquired little fame outside the country. There are in total over one hundred varieties and the surface color of each variety differs, ranging from white, yellow, pink, red, purple and black.
Iran produces about 700,000 tons of pomegranates per annum harvested from approximately 70, 000 hectares with an average yield of about 10 tons per hectare. The figure is likely to increase as more available land is converted into orchards and may touch the 1 million mark soon. A bulk of the pomegranate that is produced is consumed locally and only a small percentage is exported at present.
The two main factors that contribute to the low export figures are as
i) The popularity of the fruit in the domestic market
ii) A lack of export markets
The most prominent city in Iran that is synonymous to pomegranate production is Saveh, located approximately 100 km from the nation’s capital or an hour’s drive away. It is located in a semi arid part of the country and it is of some historic significance. The city was once a Medes fort that was subsequently conquered by Cyrus the Great of Persia in 550 BC. The Medes or the Medians were a group of people that originated from North-Western Iran and occupied various parts of Iran before the formalization of the Persian Empire. Persia itself is a conglomeration of two tribes.
During Yalda, a festival to commemorate the winter solstice, pomegranates become especially significant because the red color of the fruit embodies the crimson hues of Dawn, a Goddess who is of some significance to the Aryans. Dawn is worshipped according to the Rig Veda for “might, power and opulence”.
In chapter five of the Atharva Veda, the pomegranate is quoted as a fruit with natural medicinal properties and is regarded as a gift from mother nature or Bhumi, preserved by the Lord of Fire, Agni or the flame of righteousness, Mainyu Athra. The religious significance of the fruit is clearly evident in both Vedic and Zoroastrian circles.
As a matter of interest, pomegranate fruits and flowers are also used in the worship of the Hindu Goddess Varahi. Each Hindu deity has a fruit or flower that is precious to him or her and the pomegranate fruit and flower are the offerings that the Goddess Varahi cherishes most.
In addition to Saveh, Neyriz is another city that is popular for its pomegranate output. Neyriz is located in the Fars Province approximately 1,007 km away from Tehran or an approximate hour drive away. Neyriz is a dry and arid part of Iran but the inhospitable façade is highly suited to pomegranate cultivation. The region produces the best pomegranates in Iran. The capital of the Fars Province, Shiraz, houses many archaeological sites including Persepolis, the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire (550 – 330 BC).
Pomegranates are also produced in Yazd which is located approximately 622 km away from the nation’s capital or a scenic 6 hours drive away. Yazd is famous for its fire temple that corresponds in design and structure to the Parsi temples of India. The temple is the only temple in Iran to house the Atash Behram or the fire of victory and the sacred flame in the temple has been kept burning for almost 1,500 years, located within a bronze vessel visible from behind a glass wall and accessible only to the temple priest.
Pomegranates vary in taste from sweet to sour and are not only consumed as fruit but also churned into juices and sauces which are used in Iranian cuisine. According to some sources pomegranate juice is a natural cure for diabetes and therefore in addition to its savory taste the fruit also has some therapeutic value.
© 2016 Kathiresan Ramachanderam and Dyarne Jessica Ward