An Arab date is a traditional food in the UAE that is served with rich, thick coffee or used to break a fast. Date palm trees line the streets and produce this delicious fruit.
Vegetation is considered important in all cultures and areas of the world; after all it keeps humans and animals alive, thus preserving our societies and very existence. For the UAE, perhaps no other food source is held as sacred as the Arab date.
The UAE agricultural land is divided into two areas or zones: the dry inland zones and the coastal, wetter and more humid area.
The production of dates in the UAE is one of the highest grossing and economically prosperous ventures since the 1970’s, and currently over 40 million date palm trees have been planted.
Much of these date palm trees have recently been planted in honor of the late Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyyan, who placed agriculture and vegetation as a high priority. The UAE is the 7th largest production area of the Arab date and controls 6% of the world’s population to date.
It is believed that the date palm originally came from the lands that surrounded the Persian Gulf, growing abundantly around the Nile and Euphrates rivers particularly.
Archeological evidence has also unearthed evidence of them growing in regions such as Northern India and Arabia dating back to 4,000 B.C.
Nomads were also known to plant date seeds near oasis’ and Arabs transported them in large amounts to Spain. Over the years they made their way through the French Riviera and other regions of Sicily, Greece and Italy.
By the 1980’s, Saudi Arabia was leading the pack and a key player in the production of Arab dates. They were growing over a half million tons of dates seasonally mainly due to the fact that the government was regulating the dates and insistent that they be incorporated into most meals.
The government would then pay the farmers a nominal fee for high quality batches. Iraq currently has 22 million date palms and produces 600,000 tons every year.
Specific types of dates are in the thousands. Some of the better known and most enjoyed are: Barhi (very popular for their soft skin and juicy flavor), Halawy, Sayer, Thoory and Zahdi, believed to be the oldest produced.
Dates must be harvested in sunlight in warm climates where the temperatures do not fall below 20 degrees F in order to grow successfully.
Most varieties of dates require them to be exposed to a lot of water, although when dormant they can sustain periods of drought and cooler temperatures.
Dates prosper and grow best when in sand, clay and heavily soiled areas that have proper drainage and aeration.
It also cannot withstand an over abundance of salt, as this stunts the date’s growth and damages its quality quite dramatically. Pollination is also necessarily and typically one male date plant can pollinate up to 50 females.
The highest quality dates are often handpicked, but for the most part they are harvest in groups and clusters. Harvesting is often performed used fork sticks or by means of ladders and ropes.
Dates are not ready to be picked, even off the same plant all at one time; therefore the harvesting process can be tedious, as the workers must go through inspecting each plant to gauge its readiness.
Pitted dates are often eaten simply by hand as a snack but are also stuffed or chopped to be eaten on cereals, pies, ice cream and candy. They are also popular as purees and jams as well as used in vinegars. Emiratis eat red dates often.
This fruit is an important part of the UAE diet and is enjoyed in meetings, at home and during many occasions.
If you are visiting the UAE, your hotel lobby may offer you dates and Arabic coffee as a welcoming gesture!
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