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(article, Melanie Mesaros)
You’ve probably noticed those hourglass-shaped bottles of red juice on store shelves. Maybe you’ve seen it at restaurants, in salad dressings or dessert sauces. Or perhaps you caught the Oprah episode last winter featuring celebrity chef Rachael Ray; host and guest used the vermilion stuff to whip up a midday martini. The pomegranate — in particular, its juice — is wildly popular. Native to the Middle East, the fruit has been cultivated since ancient times; its tiny, juicy seeds (the edible part) are sweet-tart and crunchy. But the fruit is a messy hassle to eat. Hence the jones for pomegranate juice — no mess, no fuss — over the past few years. [%image pomegranate float=left width=200 credit="Photo: iStockphoto/kcline"] The fad is fueled not just by taste but by the fruit's antioxidant power. Various studies have suggested that a daily cup of pomegranate juice can fight off everything from cancer to atherosclerosis, and may even have special benefits for diabetics. Food and beverage companies — including Häagen-Dazs, which has introduced a pomegranate-flavored ice cream — are trying to capitalize on the news. According to Mintel Global New Products Database, an independent research firm, some 174 pomegranate-juice drinks have hit store shelves since 2002. The juice has been cleverly marketed by POM Wonderful, the company behind those curvy little juice bottles; POM is now pushing its summer treat POM tea. The juice maker says its tea packs a double dose of antioxidants with minimal amounts of caffeine because it's cold-brewed. But if summertime makes you want something a little, um, punchier, Oprah’s website has the recipe for that Rachael Ray martini.