Dates, fruits of the date palm, are a popular part of our festive tables and a sought-after treat. Did you know that the best ones come from Iraq and Tunisia?
The date, commonly known as date palm, comes from North Africa and Asia. These places are naturally rich in this plant. In the desert regions, date palms form typical, life-giving oases. According to historical sources, date palm trees were grown as early as 3000 BC, in the territory of present-day Iraq and Egypt. This plant was also mentioned in the Bible and the Qur’an. Gradually, this plant also got to America, and today you can find date palms in Australia too.
The most significant date producers in the world include Tunisia, Iraq, Egypt, Spain, and Morocco, and are also grown in India, Pakistan, the Canary Islands, and California.
The dates we like to enjoy during the Christmas or winter season are about 6 centimeters long berries with a hard stone inside, containing approximately 10% oil. Date pulp contains about 30% water and more than 50% sugar, protein, cellulose, vitamins (groups A, B, and C), minerals – phosphorus, calcium, iron, copper, potassium, and fats. Recently, dates have been associated with the beneficial content of the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is converted to serotonin in the brain. It contributes to perfect mental well-being and quality sleep.
The different cultivars of this plant vary in pulp density, total sugar content, and color – from greenish-yellow through orange to brown or almost black. From all fruits, dates have the highest caloric value and are the sweetest fruit. The juicier the pulp is, the riper it is.
When they are ripe, they must be protected from rain, harvested gradually at the most appropriate ripeness.
In the desert, dates are an essential food of the local population and a great source of energy. In the past, Bedouins used to eat them, as well as the caravans driving through hostile deserts. In our country, dates are popular among different age groups. Some people consider them a delicious treat that is in demand all year round, the others say that the fruits are excellent for sleeping or digestive troubles, supposedly they also improve concentration, memory, and vitality – the three essentials for students. Dates will even fill you up for a long time, and besides other snacks, a big plus is that you can always carry them with you. According to some sources, they help to boost the vascular system, strengthen the immune system, and slow down the aging process. Dates can also be stored for a long time; they won’t get spoiled or lose quality.
Variety of Use
Dates should be eaten fresh – preferably in the places they naturally grow. When exported they are somewhat dried. They are suitable for the preparation of meals – both cooked and baked; they are used for tasty date honey, syrup, or even brandy. From the dates, you can prepare many delicious and delightful desserts and small treats. Slice sweet fruits into puddings, fruit salads, and muesli. Cottage cheese with finely chopped dates and nuts also tastes excellent. It is little known that the juice that is obtained from a cut trunk of date palms is used to make palm wine. In Arab countries are pressed into a loaf called adsum or roasted on butter.
Palm trees are used for many other purposes. The trunks of old trees are excellent fuel and building materials. The baskets or mats can be woven from the leaves.
A More Difficult Path to Fruits
It takes about 5 years for the date palm to bring the fruits. Its highest birth rate is at the age of approximately 30-40 years, so these always have a high value for their owner. At that time, each plant can produce nearly 100 kg of fruit. The date trees typically live for about 100 years, can be up to 30 meters high, and the trunk diameter can be up to 80 centimeters.
Of course, date palm needs ideal conditions for its growth, especially enough sun and heat. It will also withstand the most extreme conditions – dry air, heatstroke, wind, and lack of precipitation. In our country, the ideal conditions for this plant all year round cannot be achieved, but excellent specimens can be found in some of our botanical gardens.
Although this plant has the right conditions, it is still not a direct way to an abundant crop. The date palm is a dioecious plant, so it is necessary to have both male and female plants in order to produce fruits. Mostly it is required to pollinate female plants artificially. Some of the fruits produced must even be removed so that the remaining ones are larger and of higher quality. At the same time, this will ensure fruits for the next years. When they are ripe, they must be protected from rain, harvested gradually at the most appropriate ripeness. They are then washed, sorted, dried, pressed, and packaged. This is how we can most often buy them in our stores in the pre-Christmas period.
Text and photo: Daniel Košťál