The vast desserts of Sahara may look barren and desolate but they are the privileged host of an ancient wonder. No we are not talking about the pyramids! We are talking about the most nutritious fruit of the dessert: Dates! Due to its immensely rich nutritional value the dates are sometimes called the ''Bread of Sahara".
History of dates
Dates have served as a staple food for centuries especially for the people of Middle East and South Asia. It is believed to be originally cultivated in Iraq and in lands on the banks of Nile and Euphrates Rivers of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.
The dates were harvested by the ancient Egyptians and they also made wine out of it. History suggests that cultivation of Dates was common in the eastern part of Arabia around 6000 BC. Even before that, it is believed that the dates were a local favourite of Indus valley civilization in South Asia.
From the Middle East the date trade spread to South West Asia, Spain and Italy and it was introduced by the Spaniards the North and South America around 18th century.
What are dates?
A date is a fruit grown on date palm trees, botanically known as Phoenix dactylifera ,The name ´date´, also known as dactylifera in Latin derives from the Greek word both dáktulos which means ´finger´ referring to the shape of date. Dates are oval or cylindrical in shape. Their size ranges 3 to cm in length and up to 3 cm in width. Each dates contains a stone in it usually 2 cm in length There are many varieties of dates available usually differing in colour, ranging from red to yellow.
Cultivation of Dates
As believed the birth of date cultivation took place in the Persian Gulf area or in Mesopotamia. Today, it is widely cultivated most prominently in Middle East and other parts of the world. It is now classed as one of the standard crops of world agriculture and is widely grown in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Spain, Italy, China and USA.
Types of dates
There are more than 600 varieties of dates known today, and "Ajwah-khujoor" is counted amongst the best. The difference among them is usually because of the amount of glucose, fructose and sucrose content. They are also categorized according to the texture. There are three major types of dates cultivated nowadays:
Soft dates: They are freshly harvested and very soft. 'Barhee', 'Halawy', 'Khadrawy', 'Medjool' are examples of soft dates
Semi-dry dates: These left a little longer on the tree to dry after ripening. 'Dayri', 'Deglet Noor', 'Zahdi' are a few examples.
Dry dates: These types of dates a left hanging to the palm until they are really dry. 'Thoory, for instance is a dry date cultivated commonly in the Middle East.