Dates And Arabic Culinary Culture: A 'Nutty' Love Affair

The thick, oval-shaped, dark brown fruit that is gooey and sweet on the inside, dates are full of taste and nutrition. They are extensively used in several sweet and savoury dishes, right from khajoor ki kheer to pulaos and biryani. The growth and production of dates is central to the Middle-Eastern world, which is the largest exporter of this fruit to the rest of the globe. However, the history and deep-connection of date palm is 6000 years old. The consumption of dates was quite common place in most Arab nations until they discovered oil. 

Significance In Arab Culture 

For the longest time, dates were the staple food of the Arabian peninsula and the idea behind it was that dates are not only nutritious but at the same time, culturally linked to the values of gratitude and generosity. The tradition of offering dates to guests who come home is still practiced in several Islamic households because it is believed that dates are a holy fruit connected with several Arabic virtues and is an important part of hospitality. 

While the date palm is often referred to as the tree of life, it is the Ajwah dates from Saudi Arabia’s Madinah that are considered to be dates from paradise in the words of Prophet Mohammed. This humble fruit had its beginnings even before the religion of Islam was formed and the fruit is an intrinsic part of the rituals and customs as it is the only fruit to be mentioned 22 times in the holy book of Quran. 

Did you know that Muslims break their Ramazan fasts with dates? The reason that follows is that it helps the body to regain the dropped sugar levels in blood due to a long period of staying hungry. On an empty stomach, stuffing heavy food makes it difficult to digest so consuming dates assists in replenishing the strength and energy lost. 

With nutrients like Vitamin A and B complex, the fruit is a great source of building muscle strength and tissues. Apart from this, they are also low in fat and cholesterol which makes them ideal for consumption. Pregnant women are recommended to consume dates in the last three months as it helps to strengthen the uterus. From a religious point of view, Prophet Mohammed believed that dates help in protecting one from evil spirits, attaching a mystical quality to the holy fruit. 

Moreover, along with the abundant spiritual and health benefits associated with this sweet fruit, there are also some unique variants that are grown and consumed across the globe. Here are some of them. 

1.  Ameri 

These dates are a little longer than the usual ones yet maintain their oval shape. The mildly-sweet dates are found in Iraq and consumed widely across the country. 

2.  Thoori 

Have you thought of a fruit stuffed with nuts? This date variety has a surprise in store for you. As soon as you break open a reddish-brown thoori, you would bite into a crunchy almond. Yes, they are almond-stuffed dates, popularly consumed in Algeria. 

3.  Omani 

These dates are specifically found in Oman where the Bedouins have been believed to have consumed this fruit since 120 B.C. This variety of dates is dark brown in colour and the sweet and juicy flavour makes the large dates really unique. 

4.  Zaghloul 

While Egypt may be known for its mummies and pyramids, it is the dates of Egypt that you shouldn’t miss out on. They are long and sweet with a dark red skin. However, what makes them unique is the fact that they are crunchy. 

5.  Deglect Noor 

This interestingly-named date type gets its name from the Arabic words Deglect meaning date and Noor meaning light. The reason behind this is that when you open the date, the centre of the fruit shines bright like a golden seed in the sun. They originate from Algerian towns of Tolga and Biskra with a sweet taste and soft and semi-dry texture. 

6.  Halawi 

Halawi or halwa, these super small dates can be traced back to the Mesopotamian era where they were used to add sweetness to the food. The honey-caramel flavour makes these dates extremely sweet, to be used in puddings like halwa. 

7.  Medjool 

A very famous type of date variety that is known for its fibrous texture, these dates are popular in the Middle-eastern countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco. 

With so many date varieties available in the world today, it only seems fair to make use of them in your cooking spree. Try the above recipes with the goodness of dates.