IN ORIENTAL COUNTRIES, THE DATES ARE ALSO CALLED BREAD OF THE DESERT
because of the fact that you can survive for several weeks in the desert only with dates and water! Although they are available all year round, the oldest cultivated fruit tastes best right now in the winter months when they are harvested. How old they really are is shown by fossil finds, which go back at least 50 million years. Recent archaeological evidence can be traced back to 7,000 BC.
Since ancient times the oriental plant has been valued for its plump properties and served as an important and affordable staple food comparable to rice, wheat and potatoes for the people in the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Because it is dried, easily preserved and easy to transport, it is ideal for long trips through the deserts.
The exact place of origin is still uncertain to this day. Opinions assume the fertile crescent region between Egypt and Mesopotamia, while others are convinced that it is native to the Persian Gulf or even the West Indies. Wherever it first gained popularity, traders eventually spread the dates to Southwest Asia and North Africa. In the Mediterranean region they are mainly grown in Egypt, Algeria,Tunisia and Morocco.
Dates are the fruits of the date palm, (Phoenix dactylifera L.) from the palm family. The name of the species dactylifera means “finger-bearing” which refers to the fruit clusters produced by this plant. Dactylifera is a grouping of the Greek word δάκτυλος (dactylus), means “finger,” and the Latin word ferous, mean “bearing”.
Since the date palm grew abundantly in what was then Phoenicia, it was considered its home and became known as the tree of Phoenicia. Not only was it a symbol of the region, but it was also depicted on Phoenician coins. Later in ancient Rome, the palm fronds were often used in triumphal procession, and they began to be planted in the magnificent gardens.
The fruit itself is a 3 to 7 cm long, oval-cylindrical berry that is extremely variable in shape and size. Over the millennial they were bred and there are now a hundred different varieties with various tastes and fruit colors from red to black. The longer they are left to ripen, the sweeter and softer they become. They all go through 4 stages of maturity:
1. Kimri: The fruit grows quickly and produces more sugar in the process.
2. Kahlal: The color changes from green to yellow /orange and the fruit begins to get a pleasant taste by reducing the tannin content. Now they have a firm and crunchy texture that is juicy and just slightly sweet.
3. Rutab: The fruits begin to ripen, darken and lose moisture, increasing the sugar content. At this stage, some varieties can be sold fresh.
4. Tamr: As the date ripens, it becomes sweeter and less firm. It is now dark, has lost enough water to have a high enough sugar-water ratio and to prevent fermentation.
SMALL FRUITS WITH BIG EFFECT
Since dates are high in sugar, they have a correspondingly high calorie content, but also an abundance of fiber, minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, as well as B vitamins, which make them a healthy snack. Another interesting thing about dates is their high content of tryptophan, an amino acid that is required for the formation of the sleep hormone melatonin. With long-term consumption, dates are even said to help with sleep problems. Allegedly the Arabs eat a few dates in the evening to overcome sleeping problems.
Date palms make little demands on their environment, they thrive in dry heat, and only need a lot of water in summer. This is why they are often found near oases, where they can grow up to 20 meters high and produce around 80 to 150 kg of dates per year. The plant begins to fertilize in considerable quantities around the eighth year, reaching full maturity around the thirtieth year, and then begins to decay between 80 and 100 years.
After five to seven months of ripening, the solitary fruits appear. When exactly the dates are harvested differs and depends on both the variety and the growing region. While the first fruits ripen on some plantations in July or August, the harvest can extend into October in some regions.
This article was first published in Issue 15