Dates are among those fruits that are mentioned in the Bible as well as the Quran. In fact, cultivation of date palm dates back to 4000 BCE.
It is believed that Prophet Muhammad used to break his fast with dates. Muslims follow the tradition of breaking Ramadan fast with dates fruit, which is also an instant energy source.
Dates are fruits of the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which is believed to have originated from areas surrounding the Persian Gulf. The present day Iraq is considered the birthplace of this tree, which is now widely cultivated in many parts of the world. According to fossil records, this palm tree existed on the Earth before 50 million years.
Date palm is one of the oldest fruit crops and the history of date fruit cultivation can be traced back to the period of Ancient Egyptians. Even the Arabs started cultivating date palm from 6000 BCE. Archeological evidence indicates that the people of Indus Valley used to cultivate date palms and consume the fruits. It was the Arabs, who introduced this fruit to other parts of the world. Now, there are numerous date palm cultivars that produce delicious and nutritious fruits that are consumed by people across the globe.
Date Palm – Phoenix dactylifera
The date palm belongs to the genus Phoenix. Usually, this palm tree grows in semi-arid regions with high levels of groundwater. The date palm grows to a height of 25 to 30 meters, and has a crown with a diameter of six to ten meters. The pinnate leaves of the palm has long, thin leaflets. The petiole has spines and each leaflet can be around 12 inches long and two inches wide. Fruits are formed in clusters, that develop from the axils of leaves. While date palms require high groundwater levels, they also need extremely hot weather for bearing fruits.
On an average, this palm takes four to eight years to bear fruit. In case of date palms, male and female trees are separate. Wind plays a major role, as far as natural pollination is concerned. In case of commercial cultivation, machines are used for pollinating date trees. Traditional farmers go for hand pollination, wherein the male flowers are harvested to collect the pollen, which is smeared over the female flowers. A single male tree is sufficient to pollinate around 50 female date palms. The fruit bunches are thinned to provide adequate ventilation that is required for proper growth. Rings are also inserted into the fruit clusters, for this purpose. Ripe fruits are covered to protect them from birds and other pests.
A lift used for manual pollination
Date fruits protected from pests
Harvested dates for sale
Dates Fruit – Stages of Development
Dates fruit can be classified according to the degree of ripeness. The development of date fruits is divided into four stages. The first stage is termed hababouk, when the fruits are in the premature stage, right after pollination. During this stage, dates are small and creamy. Date fruits, which are in the second to seventeenth week of growth are called kimri. As they pass through this second stage, the fruits remain green and hard. They have a high moisture content and some amount of sugars. However, these dates are bitter.
The next six weeks comprise the khalal stage, when the fruits attain their full size. Their color changes to yellow, orange or red, but they remain hard and unripe. The sugar content increases during this stage. The rutab stage denotes the next four weeks of growth. During this period, the fruits turn brownish at the tips. They soften a little, and lose some moisture and weight.
Yellow dates in khalal stage
Red dates in khalal stage
Yellow and red dates in rutab stage
When the fruits are allowed to ripe further, they turn semi-dry or dry and wrinkled. These last two weeks denote the tamr stage. While some varieties of dates are harvested during the khalal stage, the rutab stage is ideal for others. Let us take a look at the different cultivars of date palm.
Types of Dates
Medjool is a date palm cultivar that was formerly grown in Morocco. Now, it is cultivated in the United States, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and other regions. These reddish-brown dates are large, sweet, and succulent. Deglet Noor is another variety that is considered one of the best types of dates. This date cultivar is said to have its origin in Algeria. These soft, amber-colored dates have a subtle sweetness, and they taste like honey. Deglet Noor dates are translucent too.
Deglet Noor dates
Thoory (Thuri) is another Algerian date variety that has a sweet and nutty flavor. These dates are dry, chewy, and less sticky. They are reddish-brown, and have a wrinkled skin. These date palms are also grown in California. Empress date palm cultivar is developed in California. These dates are characterized by a brown tinge on the bottom and a tan color on the top. This cultivar is developed from the Thoory variety. The fruits are soft and chewy. Bahri or Bahree is another date cultivar that has spherical fruits. They are yellow-colored during the khalal stage. When ripe, they turn red or amber-colored. These dates are soft and sweet, and can also be consumed during the khalal stage.
Dayri or Derrie variety originated in Iraq. These dates are soft, elongated, and slender; and have a blackish color. Khadrawi (khadrawy) is another variety that is commonly grown in some Arab countries. The fruits are small, soft, and sweet. They have a dark and papery skin.
• Ajwah • Abid Rahim • Amir Hajj • Barakawi • Bireir • Datça • Fardh • Ftimi
• Halawy • Haleema • Hayany • Iteema • Khastawi • Maktoom • Manakbir • Migraf
• Saidy • Sayer • Umelkhashab • Zaghloul • Zahdi
Date cultivars are classified into three categories – soft, semi dry, and dry. While ‘medjool’ and ‘Barhee’ are among the popular varieties of soft dates; ‘Dayri’ and ‘Deglet Noor’ are classified as semi dry; and ‘thoory’ is a major dry type of date fruits. While soft dates are harvested before they turn soft, semi-dry ones are picked as soon as they turn soft. The dry ones are not harvested, till they get fully ripe on the palm trees.
Dates can be eaten as such or can be pitted and filled. Walnuts, cashews, almonds, candied orange, marzipan, cream cheese, and tahini, are some of the common fillings. Dates are among the most indispensable ingredients in both Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines. These fruits are also processed into various products, like date syrup, date spread, and date cubes. Dates have a sweet taste that is often described as a combination of honey and sugar syrup. The fruit is highly nutritious, as it has considerable amounts of vitamin A and B vitamins. It has around 20 essential amino acids. It is rich in potassium, phosphorous, and calcium; and contains dietary fiber in significant amounts. The calorific value and the nutrient content may vary from one type to another. A large Deglet Noor date weighing around 7 grams amounts to 20 calories. It has around 2.45 grams protein, 0.4 gram fat, 75 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams dietary fiber, and 63.4 grams sugar.
As dates are highly nutritious with a wide range of beneficial compounds, they offer various health benefits too. They are rich in dietary fiber, and are good for preventing cholesterol absorption in the intestine. Dates have a high fiber content, which is good for smooth bowel movements. Dates contain high amounts of vitamin A, which is essential for eye health. Vitamin A is also good for the skin and mucus membranes. They contain tannins that are antioxidants that prevent inflammation, infection, and hemorrhage. The potassium level in dates is very high, and this mineral promotes the health of the nervous system. Dates are also known to boost sexual stamina. Being rich in beta-carotene and other flavonoids, dates protect the cells from free-radical damage.