The pomegranate is the fruit du jour.

There are pomegranate juice, vodka, salad dressing, icecream, salsa, lollipops and gummy bears. You can put pomegranate essence in your hair (conditioning rinse) or on your skin (cream and perfume). In the last few years, hundreds of new pomegranate products have appeared on the market.

The pomegranate is an ancient fruit with a rich history in myth, symbol, art, medicine and religion. It has always been an important part of the Middle Eastern diet. Until recently, however, pomegranates were something of a seasonal novelty in the West. Then medical studies discovered what the ancients already believed and Middle Easterners probably took for granted: Pomegranates are really good for you. And thus, the pomegranate achieved instant celebrity status.

Scientists say the leathery-skinned, orange-sized fruit with the sweet-tart juice may help with heart disease, cancer and problems associated with aging.  It is loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, potassium, folic acid and iron. Pomegranates are the new superfood. Green tea and red wine, which have fewer antioxidants than pomegranates, are yesterday’s health news.

The popularityof pomegranates, which are native to Iran, may have been delayed in the West because it is such a labor-intensive fruit. Beneath its tough but thin skin, each pomegranate holds hundredsof tiny seeds encased in translucent ruby pulp. Bitter, inedible membranes hold the seeds and getting the seeds out can be a struggle — although it doesn’t have to be.

Pomegranates are the fruit of a small, bushy tree and are used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking. One of the most famous pomegranate dishes is the traditional Persian fesenjan, a stew of duck or chicken, pomegranates and walnuts. Like many Middle Eastern dishes, fesenjan calls for pomegranate juice or syrup. Once available only in ethnic markets, such products are now found in more mainstream markets.

One of the earliest cultivated fruits, the pomegranate has been traced back as far as 3,000 B.C. Some scholars even suggest that it was a pomegranate, not an apple, that tempted Eve.  Throughout their long history, pomegranates have been linked to health, fertility and rebirth. They figure prominently in many religions and are found in art and literature. King Tut and other ancient Egyptians, for example, were buried with pomegranates in the hope of a second life. The fruits are said to have been a favorite of the prophet Muhammad, and in Islam, the gardens of paradise hold pomegranates.

No wonder the pomegranate wears its own little crown.