Dates – The Holy Fruit of Middle East.
It’s the summer season in the Middle East, as well as the holy month of Ramadan. Supermarket shelves are brimming with gift packs of Dates. The fleshy, sweet fruit in many shades of brown makes for a colourful and intriguing sight. Have you ever wondered why the Date fruit is so important to the Islamic culture?
Muslim friends and neighbours tell me ‘Our Prophet Mohammed recommended to break the day long fast, after Iftar prayers, by touching the Date fruit to the lips,then slowly eating it.’ Dates give the hungry body a surge of carbohydrate sugar and protein. It prepares the body for further intake of food. They protect the fasting person from having constipation as a result of changing meal times.
I’ve recently visited supermarkets like Lulu, Carrefour and the Al Mina Date market in Abu Dhabi. With more than 30 varieties to choose from, this is such a confusing task, especially for a novice like me. How do I choose – raw or ripe? Dark or light colour? Which products are superior and why? Where do they come from?
Dates are grown all over the Middle East and as far as Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The Mejdool and Hilali from Saudi Arabia are prized for its large size and succulent flesh. In the UAE – Al Khanizi, Al Khallass, Al Nukhba and Fardh are popular, grown around the Al Ain and Liwa region. Each variety stands apart in size, colour, flesh, sugar content and moisture.
Look at the elaborate wrappings of Date boxes! Some packed tightly with pistachio and almond fillings, others have sesame seed decorations on it. Some modelled like the tree or heart shape. Loose Dates are sold by the kilo or in smaller quantities. The Al Mina Date market has more than 15 shops fitted with outdoor stalls. Large aluminium trays laden with wide varieties of Dates, rest on counters, as though patiently awaiting a customer. The plastic sheath covers them from insects and flies, that are often attracted to the sweet fruit. One is welcome to taste a few before buying them. Rutab are raw yellow /red Dates. They are fibrous and slightly tannic in taste. Local Emirati enjoy eating them as a healthy snack.
The goodness of dates cannot be overlooked – they have immense health nutrients. They can stimulate muscles, relieve menstrual pain and depression, improve vision, good for cholesterol. The alkaline salts adjust the acidity of blood, thereby reducing diabetes, gout and renal stones.
No wonder date recipes exist in almost every Middle Eastern /Arabic/Lebanese cuisine! Look at my recipe section for easy date recipes.
Abu Dhabi (and the Gulf region, Iran, Iraq and Turkey) is luxuriously dotted with the date palm. The sturdy tree has a coarse, hairy trunk growing vertically. It supports large rough,leathery fronds. Once a year the tree bears fruit, blossoming during summer. The more intense the heat, the sweeter the fruit!
As the heat intensifies, the fruit changes colour: green to yellow, then orange/red and finally a dark brown.
A story in the Quran says that when the mother of Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) was giving birth to him, she was experiencing pain. Allah consoled her and told her to shake the trunk of the palm, promising that fresh, ripe dates that drop down would heal and give abundant energy.
Till date, all over the Middle East countries, people can rest under the shade of the tree and eat the abundant fruit that falls to ground upon ripening. True acts of charity and welfare in the harsh summer conditions.
Bunches protected with netting
So head off to the nearest Souk or traditional market, if you are around the Middle East region. Pick up few boxes of choose this delicious fruit and share with your friends and family.
To all my Muslim friends, bloggers and viewers – Ramadan Kareem. Enjoy eating, stay healthy. Eat Dates.
What is the fruit of your country? When is the best season to buy it? How do you eat it?
Do share your thoughts on this.
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