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"Superfood" for fresh or processed consumption"

Italy: POMGRANA Cooperative aims at bringing pomegranates back on our tables

From fruit of the past to superfood with unique characteristics. From niche product to independent segment in retailing. This is the path that pomegranates seem to have taken.

The merit for this goes to Uzi Cairo, an Italian-Israeli grower who is transforming pomegranates into fruits for fresh and processed consumption, ideal for cooking and cosmetics.

His project and what it would entail were discussed during the "I consumatori scoprono il melograno" (Consumers discover pomegranates) round table (speaker's table in the photo above) organised by POMGRANA Italia and by the CSO- Centro Servizi Ortofrutticoli on 25th September 2013 at Macfrut.

The audience during the round table

The conference was moderated by Luciano Trentini, director of Ferrara's CSO, who reminded everyone of how some of the failures of the past were caused by insufficient knowledge of the plant and mistakes in the choice of land or irrigation techniques. Almost a call for attention to the strategy devised by Cairo, which has already been put into practice by companies part of the POMGRANA Italia cooperative.

Claudio Gamberini - national purchase manager for Conad - also took part of the meeting and explained how the group is very interested in a high-quality fruit with excellent organoleptic qualities and many uses. He added that, if countries like Israel, Turkey and Spain managed to select high quality pomegranates, there is no reason why this cannot be done in Italy. 

Claudio Gamberini during his speech.

According to Gamberini, it would be possible to establish a chain which is profitable for both consumers and producers. "We think pomegranates can evolve from a niche product to an autonomous one in a few years' time."

Giacomo Linoci, sole administrator of POMGRANA Italia, said that the experiments carried out so far are the "most important in the fruit and vegetable field in Europe." In fact, the cooperative is leading as regards cultivation techniques at a continental level.

Giacomo Linoci during his speech.

POMGRANA Italia cultivated two varieties in its orchards from Southern Lazio to Sicily, both of which are of Israeli origin and are of excellent quality. One is early, as harvesting starts at the beginning of September. Productivity varies between 25 and 30 tons per hectare and the brix level is between 17 and 20. The other starts around 10th/20th October, yields are between 35 and 45 tons per hectare and the brix level is between 17 and 21.

"These are the fruits of 9 years of hard work!" said Uzi Cairo, leader of the Cairo & Doutcher commercial farm, which operates with the support of the Volcani Institute of Agricultural Research in Israel. Italian producers are very satisfied, as they are implementing cultivation techniques that were devised by Cairo.

Uzi Cairo while he opens one of the fruits of the first 2013 harvest in Copertino.

"We have invested around €800,000 on R&D in the past 9 years." Among the best assets of the projects, there is a network of agronomists and technicians that can reply to producers part of POMGRANA Italia within 24 hours.

Red both outside and inside!

As regards the location of the partners, at the moment they are in Central and Southern Italy, but Cairo anticipated that soon new varieties will be introduced, that are going to be suitable for Northern Italy. Concerning the initial investment, Cairo calculated it at about €15,000/hectare and talked about 50% yields from the third year and 100% starting from the fourth.

Not just fresh fruit! Pomegranates are also ideal for processing. Uzi Cairo brought some pomegranate juice with him, which everyone enjoyed! 

The point of view of the processed fruit industry was reported by Silver Giorgini, from Orogel. He talked about the number of varieties available worldwide (130) and the difficulty of both sourcing and storing pomegranates without a proper chain. But these problems could be solved thanks to the POMGRANA Italia project.

Silver Giorgini.

To mention some figures, the latest ones concern the 2009 worldwide production. Giorgini said that China seems to be the biggest producer with 1,600,000 tons, but it does not export, so the produce is consumed at a domestic level. Italy is sharing the stage with Iran (800,000 tons produced of which 30,000 are exported) and India (500,000 tons produced of which 25,000 are exported).

In addition to fresh consumption, Giorgini indicated some alternatives like pomegranate juice, an excellent source of vitamin C, or using single arils in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, it's no secret that a team of chefs works for Orogel to experiment on the possible use of processed products.

Finally, professor Alessandra Bordoni from the Department of Agri-food Science and Technology of the University of Bologna intervened. She said that, despite the fact the EFSA hasn't officially recognised the healthy characteristics of pomegranates yet, they are important because of polyphenols. These are bioactive molecules that help prevent metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular diseases and breast and prostate cancer. 

Alessandra Bordoni.

In particular, she explained the main mechanism that these fruits activate i.e. the defence against oxidative stress. The bioactive molecules can in fact reduce the production of oxidants and increase that of anti-oxidants.

A lively debate followed, a testimony to the interest for pomegranates and for the techniques devised by Uzi Cairo. As can be seen from the photos, the room was so full that many had to stand up or sit on the floor.

POMGRANA Italia seems to have been born under a good omen, with the objective of bringing pomegranates back to our table and make them an ally for out well-being in addition to a source of income for farmers.

Author: Emanuele Mùrino
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