Six facts you didn’t know about dates

From different sizes, colours and tastes, dates have been part of Arab cuisine long before the were a trendy super food

Dates have been around for longer than most of us realise

by Yousef Al-Saraf / Samir Hooti

Food 7 May 2018

When we think about Arab cuisine, Arab deserts and Arab snacks it’s impossible not to mention dates. Even though they’ve become a modern, trendy superfood around the world, Arabs have been eating dates and date filled recipes for longer than you’d believe.

Not only are dates filled with all kinds of beneficial minerals, energy and fibre, its paste and syrup’s sweetness when added to beverages or a dessert is delicious. In fact, have you ever tried date honey? Go out and buy some right now and prepare to enter into full ecstasy mode.

Produced mainly in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, the origin of the date palm tree comes from the Fertile Crescent – regions that once flourished as they were strategically located on the surrounding Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers. Today there are between 12–19 species of dates that vary in size, texture and colour. Interesting, right?

Want to know what else is interesting about dates? We all know that dates are healthy for you so rather than pointing to the obvious, here are six other facts on why such a small fruit has dominated the world.

Dating Back

The cultivation of dates can be traced back to eastern Arabia in 6000 BC, and in the Sumerian regions between 2600 BC and 1800 BC. In fact, dates have been mentioned in a number of ancient texts. Date palm groves in the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates are mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh (the great poem from ancient Mesopotamia regarded as the earliest surviving great work of literature). They are also mentioned in the Akkadian-inscribed Code of Hammurabi (a Babylonian code of law dating back to 1754 BC) which noted that the date palm was worth twice as much as the ground it grew from.

Dates Variety

Dates come in a number of species which range in taste, size and colour. The most popular are the following:

Medjool: One the most commercially produced variety of dates, the Medjool is the largest and sweetest tasting date. They are dark with a thin skin.

Khadrawy: These dates are incredibly sweet, sticky and are an amber or yellow colour.

Halawy: Known for their small size, Halawy dates are sweet with a caramel like flavour and thick, wrinkled skin.

Barhi: With a much thinner skin than other dates, Barhi dates are round with a soft, chewy texture and have a butterscotch taste.

Zahidi: These are more of a rarity among the date families. The Zahidi date is crunchy and often used in date sugar.

Deglet Noor: Known as queen of all dates, Deglet Noor has a soft texture and is known for its translucent light colour and a honey-like taste.

Dates Palm

Date palms have always carried sacred significance in a number of ancient cultures. In Ancient Egypt, the date palm was associated with the sun-bird, Bennu while the Greeks dedicated the date palm to Apollo, God of beauty, youth, poetry, music, and wisdom. Ancient Egyptians also found many uses not only for dates (like making wine) but for the tree itself using palm leaves to create sandals for priests. The date palm was also used as a symbol in the ancient Egyptian calendar. It marked the years in hieroglyphs – 12 new fronds (leaves) were added to a date palm to mark a whole year.

Religious Significance

Dates and the date palm also have great significance in the three Abrahamic religions Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In Judaism, the date palm regarded to be the tree of knowledge and of life. In Christianity, the date palm became a symbol of martyrdom, as martyrs were depicted holding a palm frond as a symbol which represented the victory of the soul over the body. In Islam, the date palm represents a place of rest and hospitality, as the presence of palm groves around an oasis was symbolic of the fact that water was a gift from Allah. The palm also appears in the Qur’an as being the image of paradise. Muslims also break their fast during Ramadan with a date.

Revolutionary Date

The date palm, mainly cultivated for its fruit, helped change the face of the Middle East through trade. Given the dry and arid regions of the Middle East and North Africa dates were able to survive the weeks-long journeys across the desert. Although the date palm is mostly known for its fruit, that was not its sole use. The leaf of the date palm was used to create baskets, carpets, and trays. The trunk of the tree was used as a frame for tents, as well as to create furniture. Its fibre was crafted into brushes, ropes, and to fill mattresses and pillows.

Dates Dating

Date palms are dioecious, which means that there are male date palms and female date palms. Without both, dates can’t be produced. After reaching maturity, the male date palm yields flowers that make the pollen. The female date palm produces flowers which then become dates, if they are pollinated. Bees and other insects are strongly attracted to date palm pollen and are crucial in the creation of dates. Although date palms can pollinate naturally by wind, male date palms need to be close to female date palms for open pollination to be successful. Unfortunately, open pollination of this nature is usually low and artificial pollination is performed to supply demand.

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