All About Dates!

The History & Origin of Dates

Dates are the fruits of date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) and although there place of origin is unknown because of ancient cultivation; they are believed to have originated around the Persian Gulf, and have been cultivated by the Arabs in the Middle East region from around 6000BC. However this palm is now widely cultivated in many regions of the world and was spread by the Arabs to South West Asia, northern Africa, Spain and Italy, then further spread by the Spaniards in 1765 to Mexico and California.

The sweet fruit became an essential part of the Arabs diet, and its Arabic name is mentioned in the Quran in many places. In Islamic countries, dates and yogurt or milk are a traditional first meal when the sun sets during Ramadan. Alongside its uses for food and beverage, the palm offered many uses including needles, thread, lumber, mattresses, rope, baskets and other household items.

The Date Palm

The date palm is dioecious, having separate male and female plants. They can be easily grown from seed, but only 50% of seedlings will be female and hence fruit bearing, and dates from seedling plants are often smaller and of poorer quality. Most commercial plantations thus use cuttings of heavily cropping cultivars, mainly 'Medjool,' as this cultivar produces particularly high yields of large, sweet fruit. Plants grown from cuttings will fruit 2ý3 years earlier than seedling plants.

The date palm can live up to 100 years if not more, although their productive life is limited to the years when the tree is smaller and the fruit is easier to reach for harvest. The date palm can reach to a height of between 15 to 30 metres and their crown of green leaves grow between 3 to 6 metres long.

The Date Pollination Method

Dates are naturally wind pollinated but in both traditional oasis horticulture and in the modern commercial orchards they are entirely pollinated manually. Natural pollination occurs with about an equal number of male and female plants. However, with assistance, one male can pollinate up to 100 females. Since the males are of value only as pollinators, this allows the farmers to use their resources for many more fruit producing female plants. Some farmers do not even maintain any male plants as male flowers become available at local markets at pollination time. Manual pollination is carried out by skilled labourers using ladders, or in some areas such as Iraq, they climb the tree using a special climbing tool that wraps around the tree trunk and the farmerýs back to keep him attached to the trunk while climbing. Less often, the pollen may be blown onto the female flowers by a wind machine.

The Date Seed & How Dates Grow

Dates contain a single seed about 2ý2.5 cm long and 6ý8 mm thick. Three main cultivar groups of date exist: soft (e.g. 'Barhee', 'Halawy', 'Khadrawy', 'Medjool'), semi-dry (e.g.'Dayri', 'Deglet Noor', 'Zahidi'), and dry (e.g. 'Thoory'). The type of fruit depends on the glucose, fructose and sucrose content.

Dates grow in large clusters that develop beneath the leaves and can weigh as much as 40 pounds. Large trees will yield more than a 1,000 dates each year, although they do not all ripen at the same time so several harvests are required. In order to get fruit of marketable quality, the bunches of dates must be thinned and bagged or covered before ripening so that the remaining fruits grow larger and are protected from weather and pests such as birds.

The Stages of Date Ripening

Dates, as well as having different colours, tastes and textures throughout their ripening stages, they also have different names in Arabic for each stage. The first stage is known as Hababook or Habamboo and at this stage; the dates are small round and light green with horizontal stripes.

The following stage known as Kimri is where the dates become oval, greener and are bitter.

The next stage is the early ripening stage where the dates are yellow or red, have grown to their full size and taste crunchy but dry with a slight sweet taste. Here they are called Khalal or Basar.

Then comes the fourth stage when the date is known as Rutab and at this stage the date is ripe, soft and moist.

If the dates are left to sundry on the tree, they are called Tamar and this is the final stage of ripening. Although any of the last three stages of ripening are when the dates are picked, fumigated, cleaned, separated, packaged and then sold to the consumer.

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