Many scholars believe it was a pomegranate, rather than an apple, that tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Spanish settlers introduced pomegranates to California in 1769.

Thomas Jefferson planted pomegranates at Monticello in 1771.

Pomegranates were relegated to trivia status until about a decade ago, when Los Angeles billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick discovered 120 acres of pomegranates tucked away in a pistachio orchard that their Paramount Farms operation had purchased.

As the story goes, in 1996 Lynda Resnick became intrigued by pomegranate medical folklore and heavily funded research to scientifically uncover the pomegranate's health effects. She has reportedly spent more than $30 million in those efforts. Some 55 papers were published. By 2000, the research was trumpeting the health virtues of pomegranate products to the world. It bolstered the Resnick’s POM Wonderful brand and other pomegranate juices and products. In addition, the research elevated pomegranates to a hot new crop — just as San Joaquin Valley producers were looking for an alternative to almonds, grapes and pistachios.

With little production other than an occasional orchard or cluster of backyard trees, pomegranates were never a popular fruit crop until the Resnicks spent their millions. It did not hurt that pomegranates are water thrifty.

They are also labor intensive to harvest and messy when split, a common malady of pomegranates in the field. You can identify anyone who has handled cracked pomegranates by the red stains on their fingers. However, the success of Resnick’s Pom Wonderful California pomegranate has minimized those drawbacks.

San Joaquin Valley pomegranate production has reached 30,000 acres, doubling from 2006 to 2009, and is expected to continue growing. Pomegranates reportedly use about a third of the water almonds and grapes need to produce a crop, a fact not lost on California farmers struggling to cope with less available water.

The latest twist in the California pomegranate story is a patented, proprietary variety discovered in Tulare County.

It is called Angel Red. This is its first season for a significant harvest. Licensed growers, packers and marketers are expected to ship 30,000 boxes of the premium, soft-seeded pomegranate to market this season. (Most pomegranate varieties are hard-seeded.) Most of the 2010 Angel Red crop will go to Japan, a growing and discerning market for the California premium, bright red fruit.

Recently, pomegranates have also been identified as a functional food in Asia where women appreciate them as a health and beauty food, just like in the U.S.

A wide range of pomegranate products have been launched throughout Asia, and pomegranate juice is rapidly gaining popularity, paralleling its ascent in the U.S.

Greg Smith, Tulare County, Calif., farmer, discovered the Angel Red pomegranate variety on one of his farms. He patented it as Smith Pomegranate and then copyrighted the name Angel Red. There are about 1,700 acres planted to Angel Red, mostly in the San Joaquin Valley. Many of the trees are less than four years old.

Monrovia Nursery is licensed to propagate Angel Red, and Sunriver Sales in Visalia, Calif., is licensed to market the new variety. Giannini Packing out of Dinuba, Calif., is the first packer licensed for Angel Red.

Smith and his partner, General Manager Chad Fjeld, a veteran fruit marketer, will license other packers as the volume grows.

At a field day in Smith’s 80 acres of pomegranates orchard near Plainview, Calif., west of Strathmore, grower Joel Atkins of Visalia said he has added 40 acres of Angel Reds to his citrus and walnut farming operation.